At the end of July, I headed north to the township of Airlie Beach, on Queensland’s famous Whitsunday Coast, to escape Melbourne’s winter for just a week. I needed some sunshine to get my brain working again, and some warmth, to release my body from the five layers of clothing it had been carrying around for what seemed months.
From Airlie, ferries take tourists to explore the islands around the Great Barrier Reef.
I tend to get sea-sick at the first whiff of a wave, but I decided to test myself out with a cruise to Daydream Island, only half-an-hour out from the town. On the top deck, the wind blasted me and the sun bit into my skin but I didn’t care. This was my first view of the Whitsundays and I wasn’t missing it.
The island is small, a resort at one end, a few shops and a cafe at the other, with the choice of a flat boardwalk or a bush walk, joining them.
I came for the bush walk but halfway up the hill I was already puffing. I stopped to allow my heart to slow, reminding myself of how I have again, this winter, allowed myself to become particularly unfit. Who wants to go for walks in Melbourne’s icy wind?
I used the tree roots as steps, pushing against them, feeling the strain in my lower back. Reaching a clearing, I stared across aquamarine water to a coastline of hills covered in olive-green forest. Soft, white clouds drifted across a sky so blue, it could have been straight off a colour card in a paint shop.
‘It’s quiet, isn’t it?’ said a woman, who had come up behind me. I assumed she meant quiet in terms of not many people around.
‘It is,’ I said. She was gripping a very expensive-looking camera.
‘There are some beautiful little yellow birds,’ she said. ‘Have you seen them?’
‘Yellow birds? No.’ She scanned the trees and bushes around us, then smiled and turned to go.
‘Look out for them further up the track,’ she said.
She obviously started from the right end of the island. She was going downhill; I was still going up. I took a last look. In the far distance, lavender mountains rose and behind them, more mountains of an even deeper lavender.
Tiny, misty islands, like mirages, materialised from the water. A light plane whirred overhead and a speed boat buzzed in the distance, leaving a trail of white foam in its wake.
Back inside the forest, I stopped to listen to the silence and realised it wasn’t silent at all. Millions of leaves rustled in the light breeze filtering through the trees. Birds twittered, peeped and cheeped. A buggy, used to transport tourists, droned from the boardwalk below. I searched for the little yellow birds but they must have heard me coming.
Further along was another small clearing. A table, its top and legs made from a slice of tree trunk, sat at the centre. I leaned against it and again gazed out towards my version of paradise. Tiny finches, greenish in colour, their eyes white with black rims, flitted in and out of a scrubby bush in front of me. A baby bird chirped, flapping its wings for food. An enormous black and white butterfly alit on a branch, fluttered around me for a second and then flapped away.
I headed down some steps, intimidating, because they looked like they were leading straight into the ocean. Around a corner I came to a point, surrounded by water, sunshine sparkling and glinting white on its surface. I raised my face, looked straight into the sun and forgot, for the moment, that Melbourne’s winter existed.
The path took me along the cliff edge and downhill into the manicured lawns and palm trees of the resort.