Family fun in Queensland and Lee's first skydive - 30 June-7 July, 2023

The idea of a family holiday on Hamilton Island was seeded a year ago when Jase & Trace's family spent time there and it was a long time coming, but our break in warmer climes finally rolled around. With all the usual dog-sitters being away at the same time, Lola got her own little holiday too at Top Dog Pet Resort!

It was a crazy early start on Friday 30th June for us to drive up to Melbourne airport. We picked up Joan and Al just after 5am and had an uneventful trip, parking up in the Premium section of the terminal 4 car park at about 6.40am. Being school holidays, the airport was super busy and hence why we'd pre-booked parking. Checking-in and dropping luggage was easy enough and we soon found the rest of the clan after we went through security. Our JetStar flight was delayed by an hour but made up some of that time in-flight, depositing us on the ludicrously-short Hamilton Island airport runway at midday. It was just a short shuttle bus ride from the airport to our home for the next four nights, the Whitsunday Apartments. Although it was only about 1pm, we could check-in and access our apartment, so we were soon enjoying the spectacular wide open views across the Whitsundays from our 12th floor balcony. It was cloudy but mild, so we all chilled around the resort for a while before our first walk into the main street, the only shopping street on the island. The sole IGA supermarket was doing a roaring trade and we stocked up on some goodies for dinner. After wandering back to the apartment and relaxing, we headed out to One Tree Hill, the popular island spot to watch the sunset. It was a spectacular display! Heading back, we all gathered in Marni's apartment for dinner to round out a very long first day!

It was another early start for some of us on Saturday, Xavier's 17th birthday! His desire to celebrate the event by skydiving resulted in Lee signing up as the only other family member willing to join him, so Lee, Adam and Xavier made the early trip down to the Hamilton Island marina for an early ferry over to Shute Harbour. The skydiving company had already been in touch to say that windy conditions meant that our skydive would be delayed. It was a little choppy on the ferry over but the 35-minute trip saw us ready and waiting for our pickup by Skydive Australia by 8am. It was a very short trip from Shute Harbour to Whitsunday Airport, from where the skydive plane would depart. After checking-in, we were told to head to the The Hangar cafe to await further instructions, so we relaxed there and watched several scenic flights and other skydive planes take off. It was a stunning day, with clear blue skies, perfect! It was a while before we were asked to return to the skydive centre and Adam left soon after as they kindly offered to drop him out to the landing site so he could see us come back. Xavier and Lee went through the safety videos and it was soon time to get kitted out with the hefty harnesses that would strap us to our tandem partners, the mature Col for Lee and the youngster Troy for Xavier. Hopping into the small plane (with a full load of five tandems), the young female pilot wasted no time and the climb was steep! The views out over the Whitsundays as we made our way up to 15,000 feet were amazing, but it was soon time for the serious business to begin - and Lee was in position number 1, right next to the door, first to jump! Once Col got the OK, we shuffled into position with Lee's legs hanging under the plane, head back on Col's right shoulder - and boom! The next forty seconds was a rough, exciting, noisy, amazing freefall ride before Col pulled the cord to deploy the parachute and calmer conditions prevailed for the rest of the trip back down to earth! After freefall, there was more time to take it all in and even to have a go at piloting the chute, and the descent and eventual landing onto the Proserpine cricket club was all very smooth. Adam got to see both Lee and Xavier land safely, we'd done it! The transfer back to the airport took about half an hour and gave us both time to wind down from the adrenalin rush! After returning our gear and farewelling the rest of the crew, they kindly dropped us back into the Port of Airlie for us to grab a return ferry back to Hamilton Island. The whole experience with Skydive Australia was awesome, professional, friendly and helpful. We managed to get onto the 12.50pm ferry and were hopping off at the Hamilton Island marina by 2pm. Heading back to the resort, we caught up with the rest of the clan relaxing by the pool - and certainly got hero welcomes! We made the most of the sunny afternoon with the steep walk up to Flat Top Hill, giving us stunning views back down to Catseye Beach and beyond. Later on, we headed out to One Tree Hill again for the sunset and then enjoyed pizzas (from the Pizzeria & Gelato Bar) down at the BBQ area just behind the foreshore. What a day!

It was nice to finally make a more leisurely start on Sunday. It was a nice sunny morning and breakfast on the balcony taking in the lovely water views was a great way to start the day. We joined Joan and Al for a walk into town and back, before it was time to head out to our activity for the morning, an offroad adventure tour! The rugged Can-Am four-wheel drive ATVs were two-seaters and I ended up driving with Joan as passenger. After some very basic safety and familiarization, we were off and these little cars were awesome fun! The back trails we were following were very rough in places and very steep too, so it was challenging learning how to manage the vehicle, but we all made it to the first stop OK, Resort Lookout. From there, we hit more trails to get to Flat Top Hill before the wild descent (in low range) down to the peaceful Coral Cove. The guides provided entertaining information at each stop with plenty of time to enjoy the views before moving on. The last section was steep back out of Coral Cove and through Palm Valley to the starting point again. The tour was a heap of fun, it was great to drive the little Can-Am and Joan did well to open her eyes for some of the trail driving!

Heading back to our apartments for a quick lunch, most of us then needed to be down on the marina by 2.30 for our booking on the jet boat. Sadly, the operator cancelled operations for the rest of the day due to the marine conditions (which didn't look at all rough) so we were to be disappointed (and the boat didn't run again during our time on the island). Heading back to the resort, some of us wandered out from Catseye Beach as the tide went out, in search of the turtles which commonly appear on the low tide. A long walk out didn't get us far enough to see any, but it was nice to experience the tropical waters. We popped back into town for a coffee and rounded out the day with a family dinner down on the resort patio.

It was a cloudy start on Monday and a few of the girls risked a walk around town, getting rewarded with a soaking during what turned out to be the day's only significant rain! A coffee from the handy cart at the resort went down well before we all walked into town for lunch from the bakery. Returning towards the resort, a big group formed for mini-golf and the usual competitiveness was on display by the usual suspects! Our last day on Hamilton Island encouraged some of us to try our luck at turtle spotting off Catseye Beach again. Wading right out to shoulder height on the low tide, they were certainly around and the snorkel-clad folks got some good encounters with them, but we failed to really spot them again. Returning to the resort, it was soon time for dinner, with most of us assembling in Marni's apartment and the "kids" enjoying some games together during our last evening together on the island.

The forecast deluge finally arrived on Tuesday so it was a very wet start as we packed up and checked out of the resort. Most of the family were flying back to Melbourne later in the morning, while Joan and Al were due to fly over to Brisbane and then making their way up to the Sunshine Coast to start the usual long Winter stint there. We'd booked on the Underwater Adventure tour at 9am so we grabbed a shuttle down to the marina to join the large group waiting on the departure of the boat. Unfortunately, the heavy rain had stirred up the water so our ability to view the coral wasn't great and the lack of sunshine impacted the colours too. The skipper did a good job of filling in the 90-minute trip, though, taking us for a spin around some of the islands to show off the celebrity homes! Back on shore by 10.30, we grabbed the shuttle back to the resort, collected our luggage and headed back down to the marina to catch the ferry over to Airlie Beach. We were booked into the 12.55pm service but arrived early enough to jump on the 12.10pm ferry instead, there really seemed to be no point hanging around in the pouring rain! The 70-minute trip across to the mainland was smooth (if not particularly picturesque in the misty conditions) and we were fortunate to snag a taxi immediately on our arrival for the short trip to our accommodation for three nights, Sunlit Waters Studio Apartments. After unpacking and having a quick bite to eat on the balcony, we braved the weather for a walk into town. The apartments were situated atop a very steep hill just off the main street so it was a dicey walk in the slippery conditions! It was good to stretch our legs and explore the main street and waterfront area, before stopping for a long-overdue coffee at The Deck. While we were relaxing, Joan called us from Hamilton Island to say their flight to Brisbane had been cancelled! The poor weather hadn't cleared over there and the incoming plane's various attempts to land had all failed so it had returned to the mainland. Given the relatively small amount of accommodation on the island and that everywhere was booked out for school holidays, this left them in a bind. We looked into ferrying them over to Airlie Beach, finding them a room for the night and then a flight from Proserpine to Brisbane the next day. While we were lining up all the possibilities, Joan and Al got a lucky break with the resort we'd all being staying in offering to put them up for one night, as they had some capacity now that the incoming passengers on their cancelled flight had failed to arrive. This was a huge relief all round (and they did indeed successfully get off the island the next day)! With Joan and Al sorted out, we did a decent shop at the local Woolworths supermarket and enjoyed dinner in the humid evening conditions outside our apartment. Just before going to bed, Lee started to feel a bit off...

We surfaced on Wednesday and Lee was feeling really sick, with a hacking cough and congested head. We made a slow start as a result, but walked into town for a coffee from 3 Little Birds and enjoyed it sitting overlooking the main town beach. It was a pleasantly warm morning and the fresh air was welcome. With health benefits in mind, we stocked up on two litres of fresh cold press juice from Fruits 'n' Rootz before heading back to the apartments for lunch outside. A rest was in order for Lee before we set off again, this time walking along the boardwalk to Shingley Beach and onto the turtle viewing area (where we again didn't see any!). Heading back to our room for dinner, it was a very very early night for Lee.

It was another slow start on Thursday with Lee still feeling terrible. The cloudy morning was pleasant enough and we wandered down into town and along the waterfront all the way to Boathaven Beach. This lovely spot is a prime new waterfront residential area and it was a nice beach on which to just chill for a while, especially as warm sunshine had broken through. We loaded up on fresh juices again from Fruits 'n' Rootz before heading back to the apartment for a very light lunch. After resting for a while, Lee recovered enough for another walk, this time out along the boardwalk to Shingley Beach again before returning all the way back to Boathaven beach in time to check out the sunset from there. It was another small meal for Lee for dinner back at the apartment and an early night after doing most of our packing.

Friday didn't start too well with Lee fainting in the bathroom, but we managed to pack and check-out on time, with our pre-booked airport shuttle bus arriving very early at 8.30am. After a few pickups around Airlie, it was an easy half-hour drive out to the Whitsunday Coast Airport at Proserpine. Check-in was straightforward and the JetStar flight departed about an hour late at midday but made up some time to only be 30 minutes late into Melbourne at about 2.45pm. Given Lee's condition, the premium car park was mercifully close and Ky executed the drive home well, seeing us pulling up before 5pm.

We had a good time in Queensland, experiencing Hamilton Island as a family group and then some downtime in Airlie Beach. The skydiving experience was certainly something very memorable and was a great way to celebrate Xavier's 17th birthday. Lee becoming so sick towards the end of the trip was unfortunate, of course, but it was still a fun week in the sun.