Airlie Beach, Queensland. Gateway to the Whitsunday Islands and renowned for its Main Street drinking and dancing institutions. Here, 21 years ago I made many friends and even hooked up a 3 week sail along the coast while partying each night.
However, this time I was not partying in Magnums or sailing off into the sunset . Instead I was looking forward to another mode of sea faring.
For I had booked an afternoon of Whitsunday Sea Kayaking with Salty Dog Sea Kayaking, a respected and experienced tour operator, based out of Shute Harbour . I had originally hoped to book a place on their full day excursion to South Molle Island , but I had instead learned a valuable lesson. In Queensland and especially during Victoria and New South Wales school holidays, it pays to book accommodation, tours and excursions well in advance.
Thankfully, there was space on their afternoon kayak to White Rock and I was looking forward to getting out to the sea and to testing some of the features of the fabulous new Garmin Forerunner 735XT, which Garmin had kindly given me for my Australian travels (look out for a full review on Man V Fat).
In addition to the usual Forerunner tracked activities of running, cycling and swimming, the 735XT also allows me to track stand up paddle boarding, hiking (more of that in my next blog) and rowing and enables me to create this wonderful route map.
Now, I am no expert, but while they might differ greatly, rowing and kayaking both involve sticking a stick into water while sitting in a floaty mcfloatyface.
Hopefully I will soon understand and respect the finer details of rowing, when I try the sport on the banks of Glasgow’s River Clyde, but after being picked up and taken to Airlie Beach’s Shute Harbour I was given a succinct safety talk and introduction to kayaking by Salty Dog instructor Lion, who had found his way to Australia from Germany via an outdoor sports degree in New Zealand.
He explained some of the basic but key points of kayaking and requested that we respect and accept his instructions while we were out at sea. This was especially important as the wind was picking up and the water was becoming gnarly (Lion’s word). The route of our afternoon’s kayak would be determined by Lion’s reading of the weather and the sea. Given my inexperience and Lion’s local knowledge, I was more than happy to defer to his judgement.
I was also more than happy to share a kayak with Elise, a English teacher from the Northern Territories, who also happened to have some experience in kayaking while studying sports at University. I kept my own experience to myself, as busting my nose and mouth open on Tully River rapids might not have instilled confidence in my abilities.
Suitably instructed and paired, we launched our kayak into the water and set off for the agreed marshalling point. The sheltered waters of Shute Harbour were relatively calm and Elise and I quickly settled into a comfortable pace.
Too comfortable it seemed, as we were soon way beyond our group and had to be called back by Lion, who was keen that we should stay as a group.
Throughout the afternoon, Lion provided some history of the region and kept us aware of vital information such as the location of boating channels and advice on what to do if a big boat is heading in our direction. Which was basically stop or change direction as never in the history of kayak vs boat collisions has a kayak came out the winner.
As we ventured further out, Lion unfortunately but understandably advised us that we would not be going to White Rock, as the wind and the waters were both livening up. The sky might have been gloriously blue and the waters clear and relatively warm, but we were not foolish enough to disrespect the sea or Lion’s instructions. Elise and I both felt confident on the water and we were happy to race ahead of the group at times, but never ventured too far away.
While it was disappointing not to be heading to White Rock, I was really enjoying battling against the wind and swells of the sea. There is something both calming and exciting about skimming across the water and with each wave that we broke, we increased our speed. I was enjoying the workout so much, that I encouraged Elise to take a break and film our approach to the beach, where we would stop for a some snorkeling, walking and some food.
Salty Dog Sea Kayaking had provided us with Stinger suits, snorkeling gear and lunch, which were all stored in the holds of our kayaks. The kayaks used by Salty Dog Sea Kayaking seemed to be well equipped and even came with pedals that made changing direction easier for our navigator, Elise.
Once beached, we noticed that visibility in the water was not great and, as a group, we decided to go for a wee hike along the beach and a climb over the rocks, before retiring to an old beach hunt for our energy replenishing lunch of fruit, nuts and juice.
After that, it was a race back to base. O.K. It wasn’t a race, but both Elise and I had both enjoyed our battle with the swell so much, that we pushed on, ploughing through the waves, only to slow down every so often to await our team. It was exhilarating and I might need to look up my fellow Amazing Loser Chris Oliver, who is an avid sea kayaker, once home in Scotland as most of our coastline is stunning and it would be wonderful to test myself in Scottish waters.
But back to Airlie Beach it is for this post and our kayaking adventure.
Our day ended with some manual labour, as we assisted the Salty Dog team in the storing of the kayaks. This final act reinforced the idea that we were a team and as we piled onto the bus and regaled with our interpretations of the day’s adventure, I was struck with a tinge of regret.
The success of all of these trips often rely upon the group dynamic and as the afternoon had progressed, we all had become more and more familiar and friendly. Elise and I had become a good team
It would have been a pleasure to have spent the full day with this crew and as I was being dropped off at my hotel, I promised that I would share this blog on the Salty Dog Facebook page, from where I “borrowed “ a few of the pictures in this post.
So, if you are reading this on the Salty Dog Sea Kayaking page, with a view of booking a day or half day kayaking, don’t hesitate. You’ll visit empty beaches, learn about the local area and will fall in love with kayaking in the Whitsunday waters. The Salty Dog Sea Kayaking excursion was one of my favourite Australia 2016 activities and I have no hesitation for recommending them or their tours.
Or, if you are one of my pals reading this because I pestered you to, then let’s get you (you read this far) out to sea, or on a loch or even river for some kayaking fun.
It was also nice of Lion to share his verdict on my sea kayaking skills