It’s just past midnight on December 26th and it seems time to share a very Merry Christmas to everyone back home the States! The time difference here in Australia makes it odd. I am heading to bed soon and for you guys, the day is just beginning.
With a head start on you guys, I’ll share a bit about my Christmas sailing adventures. The past two weeks were filled with one tour after another leading up to this last one, a Christmas tour of the Whitsunday Islands off of Australia’s East Coast.
Traveling solo can make holidays an odd thing. I spent Thanksgiving with new friends in Melbourne and it was low-key and fun. For Christmas, I feared that I would be alone if I stayed in a hostel, so I booked myself onto a sailing trip through the Whitsunday Islands. The Aussie Lonely Planet had a few recommendations on where to spend the holidays, and I thought the Whitsundays sounded the most special. It was stunningly pretty! There was little Christmas specific cheer, but the blue waters and white sand made for a fantastic holiday adventure.
The Whitsunday islands boast nearly pure silica sand that sparkles white. It’s one few spots in the world with such pure sand, and as my boat skipped over the deep turquoise water, it seemed the perfect place to send y’all holiday greetings!
Interestingly, the reason for the pure white sand has to do with the topography of the ocean floor. The silica washing up on the beaches is 98 percent pure silica due to the ancient underwater volcano. The volcano is no longer active, but two Tectonic plates are forever rubbing together below the surface. This rubbing creates new silica sifting to the surface, and these sparkling white beaches are the fantastic outcome of that endless physical fight.
Around these islands, the water is shallow for several of hundred meters from the shoreline. It makes for a great afternoon beach day. Once we arrived at the Whitsundays, we donned our stinger suits (it’s jellyfish season and stings from certain types can send you into convulsions or possibly kill you!) and enjoyed the beach on Christmas Eve.
Once ashore, many backpackers dozed in the sun. Others, waded through the water and staged a useless resistance against the battering waves. Eventually, my skin was crispy tan and I’d had run out of shady spots where I could hide from the sun. We all retreated back to the boat and then headed to a popular snorkeling spot known for its shallow reefs and colorful fish.
The coral was gorgeous and better preserved than some of the reefs near Cairns. A parade of colorful fish filled the reefs, everything from Parrot Fish to a huge Maori Wrasse. Tuckered out from snorkeling, I headed back to the sailboat to recharge. Then, well, all I can say is that a second wave of energy rushed through me when I saw the a huge waterslide extending from the side of our sailboat, the Atlantic Clipper.
Our sailboat had both a water slide off the side, and an jumping spot from the highest deck. It was a straight shot from the upper deck into water! I nervously watched a few of the daring guys take flying leaps from the top deck, then I mustered the courage to jump with two other girls into the deep waters.
What a rush! I’m not the most adventurous person, I so I’m proud of myself for launching my body off of the boat. The adrenaline rush is reason enough to take a few more adventurous risks on the road.
Sunset on Australia’s Whitsunday Islands
Each evening, most of us watched the pretty sunsets from the bow of the boat. We had a few storms during my trip, and so sunsets were eloquent in their dark brooding colors, and as the sun broke through the clouds a riot of saffron and honey shot into the lighter parts of the sky.
One of my favorite evenings was when a family of dolphins visited the boat. It happened a couple of evenings in a row, and the dolphins splashed around the boat, playing with our attention before darting into the ocean’s dark anonymity. And the evenings were made doubly special by the chance to lay on the bow of the boat at midnight and watch shooting stars dart across the Milky Way Galaxy. As we bobbed in the middle of the ocean, there was no light pollution to affect the views. I spent hours watching millions of stars and constellations move across the night sky.
I’m not familiar with the constellations in the Southern Hemisphere, so my buddy Karl — an Aussie from Sydney — was kind enough to point out the Frying Pan and the Southern Cross. Between the dolphin sightings both nights, the beautiful starry nights, and morning sightings of turtles coming up for air — I am one happy Shannon!
The Aussies here don’t seem to celebrate Christmas to the same degree as the U.S., so it was interesting to spent the holiday here. Since my family is on the other side of the globe, I am thankful that I could spend the holiday with an eclectic mix of Germans, English, Irish, and Dutch backpackers —I was the token American.
Together, we all blended our Christmas traditions into raucous Christmas carols sung with enthusiasm and while wearing cheese Santa Claus hats on the other backpackers. It was fun and a lovely way to spend the day, but I do miss everyone back home. I have just a couple weeks left in Australia, then onward to Southeast Asia. Hard to believe how fast the time passes on this round the world trip. I am sending tons of love and positive thoughts back to the States. Merry Christmas!