At 6pm on my first night on Hamilton Island, I had a choice of watching the television news or watching a sunset.
As the daylight faded I was becoming increasingly aware of a beautiful glow in the west, and the ridge of a hill dotted with palm trees silhouetted against the rich sunset colours. Being August, we were only a third of the way on the return journey to the Summer Solstice. In the tropical north of the Sunshine State, the day starts early and you have no need of Daylight Saving Time. These are sensible people up here.
As I took my place on a comfortable banana lounge on my elevated balcony, I used my iPad to stream the radio news instead of watching the TV. However, after just a few minutes, I became aware of other sounds competing for my attention – the dusk sounds of the local bird life.
I was far from home in the warm air to escape, not only Australia’s cold south, but also my daily routine – which has a lot to do with news gathering and reporting. So it wasn’t a hard choice to banish all reminders of the world of journalism and just lie back and soak up the natural world around me.
There was no mistaking the harsh squawk of parrots. But I couldn’t name the bird species that produced the other calls, as many and varied as they were. I’m as much an ornithologist as I am a brain surgeon.
I laid back and listened to the birds, mixed with the happy sounds of a group of people in one of three swimming pools 12 storeys below me. Half an hour later it was just about dark and stars were beginning to appear. I could hear the sea but not see it. Just the lights from homes and other buildings nestled between and on the hills around me.
The island’s main marine area was abuzz during the day with locals and visitors, some of whom no doubt here for what’s known as Race Week. It was the first day of an international yacht racing event – a fact I learnt from Kathleen, who I sat next to on my Qantas flight from Melbourne. That flight was her last leg from Perth, ahead of meeting some friends for Race Week – an event she was happy to educate me about, and of which I was happy to learn.
The flight into Hamilton Island is quite picturesque on a sunny day, especially for a Whitsundays virgin like myself. I didn’t hold it against her, but Kathleen had the window seat I really would have liked. That left me on the aisle which, in Business Class, wasn’t so bad. Yes, Business Class – I wanted to get as much out of this holiday as I could.
Across the aisle was actor and media personality Magda Szubanski. She was dressed comfortably for flying and didn’t look like she was in the mood for being disturbed. A reciprocated smile at one point was about as much communication as we shared.
I hold Magda in high regard but as much as I would have enjoyed telling her why, I had a greater desire to respect her privacy. It was best to let her enjoy the flight, free of my fawning. You never know who you’ll be flying alongside when you pay the bit extra for a seat at the pointy end.
It also gives you a good view of the cockpit door, from which emerged the First Officer midway through he flight. I found myself staring at him due to his remarkable resemblance to former US President Barack Obama, although perhaps about ten years younger. So this is what Barack is doing now!
The presidential pilot chatted for a few minutes with two of his cabin crew. The conversation seemed light and happy, which was reassuring. No mid-air dramas then.
Just a few minutes after he resumed his place behind the locked door, another political looking figure appeared. The Captain could have been mistaken for the infamous Australian Governor-General John Kerr, as he appeared at the time he sacked Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
Again, facial expressions were reassuring, and no political plotting was indicated.
Meanwhile, by 7pm on that first night on Hamilton Island it was dark enough for fireworks – which I could clearly hear but not see. They were part of Race Week celebrations at the marina, which was behind my field of view.
I learned later that Magda was there for the Race Week opening Showcase, one of many onshore events to accompany the offshore racing.