We fly over rolling swells, landing in the trough of waves to quickly relaunch off the approaching crest.
I cling to my husband’s waist as I’m launched off the seat of the jet ski and crash back down with a thud.
I’m glad no one can see my face – it’s contorted into a mess of fear and ecstasy.
Salt water evades sunglasses and stings eyes. I laugh, squeal and grit my teeth. The waves seem endless and we fight to stay in control.
We line the ski up neatly in the Coral Sea but the chop sends us haywire. We’re thrown awkwardly into the air and land sideways on the up of a wave. We fishtail like a car on a wet road.
Finally, the water calms as we curve around a narrow sandbank and bring the jet skis into line. Then it’s my turn to drive.
The water is glassy and shallow. We snake across the surface in a long row of obedient ducks. As we get more confident, we get faster, making s-turns more sharply.
We slash the water, casting white spray around us. Then our Ecojet Safari guide, Ben, slows, gives us the hand signal to stop and takes off to the back of the row, where one jet ski sits idle. A couple have thrown themselves off and are laughing in the water.
It’s good fun and soon all the ducks are back together and making their way out into the chop of the Coral Sea, near Hydeaway Bay, just a hop from Airlie Beach.
We have a long stretch back over the top of waves as we streamline to an estuary. I take it easy out in the open, happy for my husband to be in charge, but when the water turns silky again as the estuary begins, I’m back in front.
“There could be crocs in here,” says Ben. “You don’t want to fall off.”
With those sage words, the ducks slow down but it’s difficult to be cautious on a jet ski. These beasts beg to be shown a good time. Plus, they handle much better when they’re going fast.
So I take off, carving the green flat water and curling around islands of trees. Floating logs are inspected as we zip by and so are the muddy river banks, but no crocs are seen.
The tour passes quickly and soon we’re crossing the open water, flying high off the jet ski seats and slamming back down. Again I’m laughing, squealing and gritting my teeth.
By the time we arrive back at our starting beach, we’re full of beans but also exhausted. Mango daiquiris from the bar at Montes Reef Resort are well deserved.
A jet-ski tour is a great way to see another side of the Whitsunday Coast. It gets you away from the regular tourists day tripping to Whitehaven Beach and Hamilton Island.
Sundowner Cruises in Airlie Beach also offer a unique experience away from the tourist crowds.
On one afternoon during our long weekend getaway from Sydney, we hop aboard the Sundowner Cruises’ catamaran, joining locals having work parties and Queenslanders celebrating milestone birthdays. The middle-aged men are dressed in Hawaiian shirts and the gaggle of merry women in short nightclub dresses. They all scoop up the complimentary sparkling wine waiting on the bar top.
Under a slate sky and with the fragrance of frangipani in the humid air, the catamaran cruises away from the recently built Port of Airlie. We weave around small sailing boats as we travel to Mandalay Point, where a cluster of beautiful homes reside amid tropical vegetation.
We never leave the bay – that’s not what this cruise is about. We’re here to appreciate the beauty of Airlie and its suburbs from the ocean, and to watch the sun set over the sea.
Nicole and Jeremy Graham have owned Sundowner Cruises for eight years. Their quiet months are February and March, when the weather in tropical Queensland is often wild, while their busiest time is the calmer August.
Nicole is positive about the future of tourism in Airlie, following a $22.5 million upgrade that was completed in September.
The money was spent on improving Airlie’s stormwater and drainage systems, moving power along the main street underground, and beautifying the town with a new road, footpaths, lighting and landscaping.
Nicole says the popular backpacker town hadn’t been touched for 20 to 30 years and had been in need of a facelift. Now, she says, it looks like a resort town, the way it should.
Kevin Collins is also happy with the changes, although that’s no surprise given he’s the councillor for tourism at Whitsunday Regional Council and co-owns a popular restaurant and rum bar in town.
Collins has lived in Airlie for 30 years and says residents are lucky to have Hamilton Island on their doorstep.
“Hamilton is the reason that Airlie Beach is not just another little coastal backwater seaside town. There’s a hundred of them up the coast,” he says.
“It is always the key driver of the whole of the Whitsundays and it’s such a great help to us.”
One of the great things about Airlie, he says, is that it’s small and can’t grow any larger because of the hillside that rises steeply not far from the coastline. He compares it to Noosa on the Sunshine Coast.
Collins is known as “Dr Rum”, with about 420 rums behind his bar at Fish D’vine. When we call in for a drop and some dinner, the place is abuzz with locals and tourists.
We dine on chilli mud crab in between tasting the blueberry and raspberry mojitos. It’s a delicious end to our seaside escape in the Whitsundays.
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: Airlie Beach is about 150 kilometres north of Mackay, Queensland. Proserpine Airport, a 40-minute drive from Airlie, is the main airport. There are a handful of hire car companies based at the airport, and shuttle bus services are also available. Alternatively, you can fly to Hamilton Island and catch one of two ferry services to the mainland.
STAYING THERE: Peppers Airlie Beach is a short walk out of town on Mt Whitsunday Drive. There are a range of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. The two- and three-bedroom apartments are great for families, with large bathrooms and balconies that overlook the bay. The resort also has a medium-sized pool and large restaurant area. For rates, call (07) 4962 5100 or check out peppers广西桑拿,广西桑拿网,/airlie-beach.
PLAYING THERE: Ecojet Safari will pick you up from your hotel and transfer you to Montes Reef Resort, where guests will have lunch before going jet skiing. The half-day tours cost $190 per person twin-share ($380 per jet ski). Stinger suits are recommended and supplied. For more, call (07) 4948 2653 or check out ecojetsafari广西桑拿,广西桑拿网,
Sundowner Cruises’ Sunset Cruise is two hours and costs $39 per adult (including a glass of sparkling and nibbles). It costs $29 per child (aged three to 17) and is free for children under two years. For more, visit sundownercruises广西桑拿,广西桑拿网,
Be sure to call into Fish D’vine at 303 Shute Harbour Rd for dinner and rum. Check out fishdvine广西桑拿,广西桑拿网, for more. For other activities, go to tourismwhitsundays广西桑拿,广西桑拿网,
*The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism and Events Queensland