Arrival in Hervey Bay by Greyhound revealed a quite large and sprawling town with a plenty of traffic and a busy Centro shopping facility.
The Woolpackers Hostel is a really chilled place with very nice recently created dorms, rooms and communal area, as well as a partially manned reception. Megan, owner, mum and onsite general is a delightful host with the big aussie gusto for life.
My day one acclimatisation consisted of dumping my gear in the dorm, a walk down to the beach for a really smooth coffee at Lillianas and a stroll out along the short local pier to chat to yet another frustrated angler (who passed on his unused frozen squid bait on to me as he tramped home empty handed). A short walk further along the front delivered me to the road bridge where bats (actually flying foxes) are to be observed heading out for their daily nocturnal forage for food at dusk. Expecting to see small, fragile european sized bats I was amazed by the sheer size of these buggers, effectively the B52 bomber version of flying mammal. Indeed, observing them hanging upside down en mass in the trees immediately transported me to the 1980's vampire b-movie sets and when they flew overhead the instinct to duck down was strong!!
Following a visit to Woolies to buy anything but more instant noodles I trundled into reception to ask a few tour questions and secure a last minute berth to watch whales the next day. Given that the ever popular "Blue Dolphin" trip was sold out for the next 3 days I plumped for a 3/4 day trip on Shayla, a similar sized 10.5 metre catamaran.
They picked us (my giant Korean dorm mate "Wilkinson" and I) up from the hostel and by 8 am we were chugging out of the marina and heading towards the massive bay alongside Fraser in the Coral Sea. Some 2.5 hours later we were well alongside the flank of Fraser Island and intercepting radio chatter about the various whale sightings so far that morning, the hot news filtering through was that a mother and her calf were somewhere in our vicinity. With most of us straining our eyes on the horizon looking for telltale spouts or humps it was indeed the Fool who spotted our first whale, some 3-400 metres straight ahead, although I did bottle the traditional "thar she blows" cry as I wasnt entirely convinced. From then on we played hide and seek with the hump backed whales, initially a mother and calf, who were understandably keeping a safe distance from our boat, and then with the playful pod of 4 that dived, divided, rejoined and even snuck up from behind to provide us with fleeting photo opportunities. Whilst we were not treated to any spectacular moves involving partial or full bodies leaping clear of the ocean we did get a few tail splashes and a flipper wave. To a person we all whooped and hollered at every sighting (apparently they often get attracted to noise and motion on the surface and come in to investigate).
After a pause for onboard lunch we set a course heading in towards Fraser Island's shore but saw no further whales as we set the sails and were blown homeward. The consensus from all of the passengers was that we were all very happy with every aspect of the trip so if you find yourself in the area dont just settle for the popular Blue Dolphin boat trip, ask about Shayla and book with Robert and his team.
Checking out of Woolpackers the following morning was a slightly bizarre affair as I literally crossed the road to Palace Hostel to stay a few extra days for free by doing some housekeeping in exchange for a bed.
Days 1 & 2 went by smoothly enough with just Jane, the housekeeping manager, and I servicing the various units however on day 3 there were 4 helpers so we whizzed through the lot in double quick time enabling me to get showered and off to Centro for wifi, latte and much needed roll on deodorant. Later it was back to the hostel to try and upload photos (fail) and off for some night fishing with John and Denise, a recently married, middle aged, nomadic english couple who were on what seemed to be a never ending travelling honeymoon. That evening I finally christened my rod with my first catch, a turdy toadfish - but at least it was the biggest one of the night.
Footnote on Palace Hostel: Be warned if you intend to make this your base for a few days - all of the 3-day Fraser Island 4-wheel drive tours run by Palace Adventures start at the hostel so be prepared for the excitable participants to be partying fairly late the night before and rising at around 5am to make to 06:00 start. Similarly when they get back they party long and hard to consume the alcohol that returned from Fraser.
I enjoyed this town, both hostels are very comfortable albeit quite different, the resort is built on adrenalin and sand filled adventures on Fraser Island (so I am told) and for whalewatching of course!
Travel day tuesday and a reunion with the Marina awaits.