Friday 10th March 2017

Whitsunday Islands

Our sea day yesterday was a bit uneventful, with the most remarkable thing being the amount of heavy rain that we sailed through!

In the morning we went to a cooking demonstration by the Executive Chef and one of his senior colleagues – it was worth going for her alone! She was cocky and confident, good at explaining what she was doing and answered questions really succinctly. Even her boss deferred to her. In 45 minutes they made a chocolate ganache, lemon curd and tiramisu, which we got to sample at the end.

After lunch we went to another lecture, this time on the area from the Whitsunday Islands to Cairns. The lecturer maintained that Captain Cook should really have named his discovery the 'Whitmonday Islands', because he'd forgotten to allow for having crossed the International Date Line, but this seemed hugely improbable – Cook was such a superb navigator.

After dinner the night's entertainment came from a comedian, who, interestingly was English. After all, our sense of humour doesn't always appeal to that of our American cousins. Nevertheless, his hyperactive delivery of corny ancient material went down well. He claimed to be married to Kaitlyn Carr, the young Scottish musician from a couple of nights ago, which didn't seem likely, but then memories came flooding back from another of our cruises – we've seen them both before!

We set the alarm for an early start in the morning, as the ship was due to drop anchor at 7am. In the event, we both woke before the alarm, and by 8am we'd had breakfast and arrived ashore by tender at Airlie Beach in the Whitsunday Islands. Gill immediately bought ferry tickets to carry on to Daydream Island. This is a hotel resort

that covers the entire (small) island - it's only a kilometre long by 400m wide.

It's nicely laid out, with lots of trees and palms, amounting to rainforest in one section. There are lots of secluded pools that are perfect for families with young children plus several nice beaches. We went to the 10am feeding session for fish, stingrays and sharks in the little lagoon amidst the hotel buildings. The rays (not all were stingrays) were amazingly docile, coming right up to the marine biologist to be petted and fed – she called them 'the puppy dogs of the sea'.

She said that their scary reputation is undeserved and only use their 'sting' as a last resort. She didn't mention Steve Irwin. The 'sting' is just a barb and isn't poisonous. When stingrays feel mortally threatened they lash their tail at the aggressor and embed their barb in it. It has backward-facing points on it all the way down, so it can't be withdrawn. It then snaps off and the stingray escapes. A new one takes two years to grow.

She fed the sharks on half pieces of fish that she wedged into a long pole and then dangled in the water. Apparently, sharks don't eat every day and are quite lazy. They prefer to clear up injured or dying fish that are simple to catch. Both made many passes before grabbing what was on offer and dashing off with it in great excitement.

We took some fish food to the nearby beach and had a pretty amazing time feeding mainly mullet. If you stand knee-deep in the sea and scatter the pellets immediately in front of you a feeding frenzy develops almost immediately! I was surrounded by dozens of mullet about two feet long who, in their desperation to get at the food, swam right up against me and through my legs. They even started nibbling at my clothes and my skin! It wasn't unpleasant – more like being swamped with eager kittens. Gill went snorkelling before we left the beach - it really was a quite idyllic place.

At 1pm we made our way back to the ferry and returned to Airlie Beach to explore for a while before returning to the ship in time for its 3pm departure. We went to a pharmacy to get me some ear drops to clear the blockage in my right (good) ear that's been bugging not only me but also Gill since before we left home. Normal conversation has been very difficult, and we've shied away from sharing tables at dinner because I simply wouldn't be able to hear what anyone else was saying. Deafness is really very isolating :o(

The journey on the tender took a full 25 minutes, but it gave us the chance to gaze on the wonderful turquoise sea and blue sky dotted with white clouds – impossibly beautiful!

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