I once spent several nights in an old army surplus tent in the Masai Mara. As part of the induction to the campsite, I was told that a few weeks earlier a pack of lionesses had hunted down and killed a zebra not ten feet from my tent. They then spent several hours eating and sleeping off their feast. No one was harmed, but no one could escape their tent until the lionesses departed. Against the odds, I slept like a baby.
I figured a night under canvas on the magical Whitehaven Beach wouldn’t prove to be any different. How wrong I was. There may not be any lions but, as the character, Melisandre, says in Game of Thrones, “the night is dark and full of terrors”. The gusting wind rattled the trees above my tent, leaves tumbled loudly to the ground, birds screeched all night long, on the ground lizards and other creatures scurried around.
Nature is really noisy. In the pitch dark night, all the noises were amplified to become terrifying creatures creeping up on me as I ‘slept’. I know I eventually got some sleep, because I definitely woke up as it started to get light in the morning. It was a relief to discover I was still alive. To celebrate, I went down to the beach and splashed into the water to wake myself up.
The few boats that had moored here overnight were gently bobbing in the turquoise waters. The beach was completely empty and the only sound was of waves rolling onto the sand. It was a beautiful scene to gaze upon, the picture of an idyllic tropical paradise. I wandered back to the tent and made myself some breakfast, the forest seemed empty of any of the previous night’s terrors.
Near the campsite is the start of a trail that runs over the top of Whitsunday Island to Chance Bay, a sheltered cove on the other side. After breakfast I set off to explore the hinterland. It was humid inside the forest, but I eventually emerged into an open area on top of a hill. The views over the island were fabulous. I plunged back down the track and back into the claustrophobic confines of the trees.
The track brought me to a beautiful small beach in a perfect cove. There was a single boat moored up, which must have spent the night in the bay. After the sticky interior of the forest, I cooled off with a swim in the water, and then just sat down on the beach for a while. It was very peaceful. The people on the boat emerged and were preparing for a day’s sailing. I waved ‘hello’ and set off back to my side of the island.
In my absence, Whitehaven Beach had been transformed. It was 10.30am and the first day trippers had arrived, a large boat was disgorging 50 or 60 people, who immediately fanned out to find their own spot of white sand. I made myself a coffee and watched as a few more boats arrived and deposited their passengers. A sea plane landed and came to a halt just in front of me. The tranquility shattered.
My own boat wouldn’t arrive for another three hours, so I took the opportunity to walk the length of the beach again. After all, it may be some time before I get to spend time on a beach as glorious as Whitehaven.