The Great Keppel Island

Thursday, March 15, 2007

An early morning departure from Hervey Bay was somewhat marred by people being tired and grumpy, maybe because of the party the night prior. In a bus with no assigned seating, Brad and I had apparently ruffled some feathers by sitting in someone else’s spot. For example. So we gave them their spot and that left me in the back of the bus which was rather quiet and not a great place to sit. Still, I did manage to finish my book, The Eight, just in time to pawn it off on someone else. Though I haven’t done so successfully yet. We pulled into a different hostel than where PC has stayed in the past, and man, it was not in good shape. The place looked old and haunted, there were lizards running up and down the walls, the bathrooms had two out-of-order toilets, shower heads that leaked more water in an arc onto the floor outside than down – if you were lucky enough to have a shower head – and broken windows covered with posters on the mangroves.

While the place, located outside Yeppoon, did have electricity, it didn’t have much else, so we ran into town hoping to get on the internet. Of course, the cafĂ© closed right as we came into town, so the guys just hung around in the town’s pub and had a couple beer. It was actually a decent place and we were enjoying our solitary solidarity when 20 mins later, pretty much everyone else stumbled onto our pub too. This might sound negative but it was actually fun – we plugged the jukebox and hung out visiting. We went back to our hostel to have dinner and catch up on some odds and ends and just hung out at the dinner table some more. Bored on the bus earlier, I had checked my horoscope for the day and it recommended social activity, so I think I got my quota in.

It was a late night and a fairly early morning, but there was no time to feel too tired as we were off to Great Keppel Island. The ferry ride was raucous but I didn’t feel nauseous (unlike poor Kate) until after we landed, and even then not too bad. There was a lot of up and down and it was pretty fun to just stand in the wind, hat tied to my head, absorbing the sea spray. Now that we’re in island mode, it also seemed important to kick it off properly, so we all grabbed some beers and did so in style. Even the captain, when making his announcements on where things are located, mentioned us having already found the beer. When we arrived, we met PC1 as they were departing and discovered that Anthony and I (the only two certified divers on the trip) were going to be doing a dive at 11:00 that day. On the Great Barrier Reef. This was momentous because I’d been looking forward to this even before leaving Canada and also because it was our last big excursion as a group. Of two.

First, we unloaded our stuff in our beach house. Which is quite an amazing little place. A huge living room with leather sofas, some big round dinner tables, patios, adjoining rooms with separate bathrooms, and a sizeable kitchen. The guy who ran the place gave us a bit of talk and scared most of the crew about swimming by telling them things like there were marine stingers that couldn’t be seen or even felt and 20 minutes after being stung you’d go into shock and if there weren’t an ambulance and paramedics nearby, you were dead. Completely bogus, as we later confirmed. After his spiel and unpacking, Anthony and I set off along the paving stone path toward the dive shop, got our gear, and set off. Now, without sounding disappointed, because it was a pretty sweet dive, it wasn’t exactly the reef. Keppel is part of the reef, but it’s not really the part you go to see or hear so much about. Still, we saw some really cool stuff. Stingrays by the barrel full (including a blue spotted lagoon ray), a sucker fish (it looks like a shark because it has fins), a puffer, and tonnes of other fish. Plus lots of coral and so on. It was my first dive without anyone there leading the way. Pete, the dive instructor, basically told us the route to follow and Anthony, myself, and a German lady set off.

After the dive, we came back to the beach house and made lunch, which for me was three pieces of corn on the cob. The weather was pretty cloudy outside and occasionally rainy, which we’ve seen a lot of here – I guess when you kill a massive spider in Australia you get a lot of rain. Anyway, I went to use their internet quickly but their machines were having problems connecting, so I covertly connected my laptop and got through no problem. At $10/hr, covertly is really the only way to use the internet as far as I’m concerned. I’m so behind in my updates, though. I just finished Queenstown photos and uploaded all my Routeburn ones (plus the affiliated blog posts) and went back to our place. The bar has happy hour from 6-7, so most of us went there and got quite happy and then we went back for dinner and hung around the house for the night, attempting handstands and gymnastic feats that would probably have been easier without any alcohol. We stayed up just past midnight to wish Meredith a happy birthday and then fell quite soundly asleep.

Since Anthony and I had gone diving already, the rest of the group did their introductory dive for a good part of the next day. Which meant the place was kind of quiet and relaxing. The weather? Yup, still rain. I finished my secret kiwi stuff, which is one of those books you can make in iPhoto for Amie and then Katie and I went snorkeling around part of the island. We saw some cool things even though the visibility was pretty poor, like a giant sea turtle and a ridiculous amount of stingrays. I swam right over one at a depth of maybe three feet, which was close enough to scare it out of the sand and scare me out of my shorts. Katie heard me yelp underwater from a fair distance back. We stopped for a little rest on Monkey Beach before heading around the next cove and seeing some pretty big fish hanging around in the reef and finally were a little tired and made our way back home.

It was Meredith’s birthday, so most everyone went out for happy hour again where we discovered it was going to be karaoke later in the evening. Chelsea says karaoke the way that Frank Black does in Calistan, and that amused me, if you’ll excuse the random thought. Now, Brad and I have been vowing that we were going to do some karaoke before heading home and so the night was sealed. We went back home for dinner, which was baked potatoes with lots of fixings, and went back to karaoke. After some more drinks, Lana and Mer set the stage by heading up and singing Like A Prayer (Madonna) and then Brad and I did Daydream Believer (The Monkeys). It was pretty fun actually, but I guess only our group applauded us so I guess it wasn’t exactly amazing. Though, in honesty, I thought we did pretty well up there. Maybe I’ll check the video later and discover that is patently untrue. We all spent the night at the bar and unfortunately the karaoke ended pretty darned early, but we did get everyone up dancing and had a lot of fun. And hey, it was productive too. I discovered they have laundry facilities here. I don’t have to run around smelling of Fraser Island sweat. But I will.

Our final morning fully united and on Keppel brought the sun. It was a beautiful day with clouds hovering on the horizon in all directions but being held at bay by some merciful higher power or else some unusual winds. Regardless, we were grateful and definitely hit the beach to take advantage of it. Well, those of us not in class at any rate. Katie and I did another smaller snorkel adventure but the visibility was even worse than the day prior. Chris, Katie, Amie, and I laid on the beach and were joined by the rest of the group as they finished some tests. I took a break from the sun as I was starting to feel scorched and did a little internet stuff before returning at 3:30 to hit the banana boats. Dave threw that in for us because we’d had such shoddy weather in Australia, and it was pretty fun. I didn’t fall off though I was hanging by a handle at one point, and others most definitely did, whether with help or without.

We spent some more time hanging out on the beach and relaxing and when the sun was coming down on the horizon, it was time for some champagne on the beach at sunset. We went down to the beach and toasted and drank some more. Between Brad, Anthony, and myself we finished two bottles. Chris’ arm was really sore and he took some Excedrin which meant more for us and no alcohol for him. This would prove to be our undoing. As we sat enjoying each others’ company on our last night all together, and what is certainly one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen, a few dolphins swam up basically to shore. Were they our friends from New Zealand to see us off? For the sake of entertaining fiction I will say yes, but in any case, it was the cherry on top of the proverbial dessert that was our last day in Keppel. We tried to make a pyramid, took lots of silhouette photos, and then headed back for another final-night ritual: our secret kiwi exchange.

For those who’ve just tuned in, the secret kiwi is basically a random draw where you make a gift for someone that, I suppose, embodies their journey or something about them. Lana, who eats almost everything with chopsticks for some reason, got some homemade and wood-burned ones from Dustin, for example. Chris got a poster for his collection and Anthony also got a painting of his highlights. He gave Rachel, our resident coke fiend, a Coke bottle filled with sand and decorated in shells. Brad got two paintings from Lauren, Kristin got a box with shells from all over and some cool quotes painted on the side, Alli got a handmade picture frame, and, well, I could go on and on. For my part, Albrie is sending me a video of everyone leaving me a message. I can only imagine what they’ll be saying. As unappointed group photographer, I decided to give Amie a photo book that I think turned out really cool. I may make one for myself. We went through highlights of the trip and I, for some reason, felt it my duty to go through my highlight of each person. Which took a long time but I like to think, true or not, that it was an uplifter.

Then we headed out to the beach to look at the stars, which were pretty amazing that night, too. Of course. It was a perfect night. I guess I was trying to attract the dolphins or sharks or something, because I went and fed the fish. When I came back, we looked some more at the stars and Brad was passed out on the sand – this was at 10:00 - and was dragged back to the beach house by Alli and Mer. The rest of us went out to the bar and I definitely drank some water. A lot of it, largely thanks to Chris. I was getting pretty tired myself, so I wove my way home and, trying to feed the dolphins once more, fell asleep.

Keppel Photos

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