When I woke up, I thought I was still dreaming. The images that flashed before my eyes were both familiar and strange. Familiar, because these were things that filled my days growing up in the Philippine countryside: banana farms, cane fields, and other verdant seas. Strange, because I didn’t expect to see them here, in Australia.
When I think about Australia, I think about crimson deserts, vibrant reefs, and glowing cityscapes. None of the Aussie postcards I had bragged about the greener pastures. A stupid misconception, given that Australia is a continent on its own, and thus harbors a wide array of landscapes.
My destination: Airlie Beach. A small town along the eastern coast of Queensland, Airlie Beach is a top beach destination in Australia, best known as the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands and a jump off point to the Great Barrier Reef. Coming from the city of Cairns, north of the state, it took us around 10 hours to reach the famed beach.
WHAT'S COVERED IN THIS GUIDE?
To Fly or Not to Fly
We could’ve flown. There are a few flight options for those who want it fast, fast, fast. Hamilton Island (HTI), one of the larger Whitsunday islands, has its own airport. Qantas flies directly from Cairns (CNS) to Hamilton. Virgin connects in Sydney or Brisbane; and JetStar in Sydney. From the island, one has to take a ferry to Airlie Beach.
But as with most things fast, it comes with a price. One-way Cairns-Hamilton fare for a direct flight plays between AUD 400 and 500. If you have the money but not the time, it’s a wise choice.
However, a non-direct flight with one stop is within the AUD 250-400 range, and the total travel time (mostly waiting time) can take as long as seven to 27 hours (for real).
Long Bus Rides
Traveling by bus is much, much friendlier to the wallet. It is best for those whose pockets aren’t as deep but have all the time in the world. Greyhound, for example, charges only AUD85, one way for a 10-hour journey.
But if there’s one quirk about myself that I have discovered over the past years, it’s that I don’t mind long bus rides. Scratch that. “Don’t mind” doesn’t quite cut it. I actually, honestly enjoy it for a tall pile of reasons. On top of the mound: It gives me ample time to just be with my thoughts. Many of my ideas — marketing strategies, film storylines, and personal projects — were conceived in between the aisle and the windows of a humble bus. I was actually looking forward to the long ride.
Departure was scheduled at 8:15am. As early as 7:30, I was already at Stop D of the Reef Fleet Terminal, just a 10-minute walk from YHA Hostel Central Cairns. The red Greyhound bus arrived on the dot, always a great thing especially that it was a bit cold and drizzling that morning. I fell in line as the driver hopped out and then collected all luggage. When it was time to hop in, I was greeted by well-maintained interiors. No weird odors or trash of any kind.
I wasn’t given a seat assignment, which confused me a little bit. “Do I just sit anywhere?” I asked the driver, who gleefully replied with, “Anywhere but the driver seat.” I dashed in between rows of four seats, all looking neat and comfortable. The best part, wi-fi. An actual working wi-fi. Stop spoiling me, Australia!
I find a great deal of excitement in getting a glimpse of small towns as our bus sweeps through the land. I’ve always looked at townships and villages as characters, each with a unique personality and appeal, and watching them appear and disappear in a blur of colors can be quite entertaining. It’s like a series of brief love affairs. Townsville, for example, looked pretty darn interesting as our bus slowed down for a quick stop. It made me curious. It made me want to visit next time.
I also met two Filipino women when we stopped for a meal in Cardwell, one of the most memorable moments throughout the entire trip.
Even the scenery did not disappoint. The glass window next to me became a screen, flashing wonderful framed landscape images in endless succession: virid plains, ivory shores, and rustic villages. At one point, I was treated to a majestic view when the road climbed and ran above a thick rainforest canopy. At another, a perfect rainbow appeared, arching over the road. It was as though I entered a dream. And the more I think about it, I did. Queensland, to me, was a dream and I was finally living it.
Greyhound Australia plies the Cairns-Airlie Beach route daily. To book or view more info, visit: www.greyhound.com.au