Before we left on our round-the-world, Australia was high on our list of must-see spots. However, four weeks into our East coast road-trip from Byron Bay towards Cairns, we just weren’t feeling it. Tired of long days of driving and exorbitant prices, we were heading North to see friends in Port Douglas, but still searching for the magic we had been hoping for. We found it at Airlie Beach. This small beach town has the laid-back vibe and beach town atmosphere that we had imagined Australia to be. Board shorts and flip flops were the fashion choice for both the tourists and the towns 7800 residents, and we were happy to join the crowd. We camped a mere 2km from the main strip at the Big4 Airlie Cove Resort, the triple digit heat causing us to scorn the hippie van in favor of a camp cottage. Way over budget? Oh yea, but we were here for the Whitsundays and with my birthday looming realized there was no point being miserable. Wandering town was a joy with the one main drag lined with small stores, tattoo shops, and jewelry stores offering up opals and didgeridoos. After days of driving, it was lovely to just wander and windowshop. The highlight of our stay was the full day spent on the Mantaray, cruising the coastline, visiting Whitehaven Beach, and experiencing some of the best snorkeling we have ever encountered. Whitehaven Beach is world-renowned for its particularly fine white powder sand, a dramatic contrast to the brilliant turquoise sea. Declared off limits to development, Whitehaven feels a world away, even though it is in close proximity to Airlie. Snorkeling was irrelevant, with the lukewarm water so clear we simply stood waist deep and watched the rainbow-hued fish circle our legs. Our day did include snorkeling,however, and our first experience with stinger suits. Heading to Australia, I was more than a bit nervous about the variety of deadly things waiting for me in their waters. Great whites, stingrays, jelly fish ~ positively a cornucopia of things that could kill me! Admittedly a nervous ocean swimmer under the best conditions, I worked on calming my breathing while waiting for the stinger suits to be handed out, a necessary defense against the many deadly jelly fish in the area. I imagined something thick, like a wetsuit, so imagine my distress upon being handed a thin piece of pantyhose like material! THIS, this was supposed to protect me against a box jelly fish??? Reluctantly I slipped on my thin suit and slid into the water, immediately forgetting my fears. The life under the water of Mantaray Bay was stunning! Surrounded by lush green islands, the scene was gorgeous even on board, but the true magic lies underneath the surface. Coral in a million shades of pink and turquoise and coral, brightly colored tropical fish, and slippery eels all created a fantastical scene. Our full day surrounded by such beauty renewed our spirits. Australia had been challenging us and we had been struggling to appreciate our time there. Airlie Beach proved to be the Australia we had been searching for.