Cyclone Debbie didn't stop us from having a great time! 3:59pm, Wed 12 Apr 2017My fiance and I have both visited the Whitsunday's before this trip; however, it had been a few years since either of us had been to this gorgeous part of the world. I had two friends I use to work with in the UK, who would also be joining us. Neither of them had ever been to Australia before, so we were elated to take them to the Whitsunday's. Since Sam was the only one with any considerable amount of boating experience, the girls and I were keen to meet with a sail guide prior to departure. Terry was fantastic! He has such a great personality, filled with energy and certainly very knowledgeable about the Whitsunday Islands. He gave us great tips on where to fish, where to hike, and the best places to stay on the Whitsundays. I have to say CCY staff were so organised and helped us feel very prepared for our departure.
Day 1: We set sail for Cid Harbor. The weather was beautiful and we were all keen for a swim, snorkel, amazing feed and cold drinks. We even got some fishing in along the way.
Day 2: The next day was a bit rainy, however, we had a great hike to Whitsunday Peak. By the time we got to the peak we were all soaking wet, and despite being fogged in we were all still laughing and having a great day. We then set sail for Tongue Bay where we planned on staying the next night. There was a lot of rain that day, but we busted out the rain jackets and carried on having a great time. Having a reunion in the Whitsundays with my old time friends was beyond amazing, and very special to show them a part of the country I now call home (I've now been living in QLD for 3 years, originally from Canada, where my Aussie fiance spent nearly 7 years living). I couldn't wait to show them Whitehaven the next day. It had been over a decade since I last saw this famous beach.
Day 3: The journey from Tongue Bay to Whitehaven was certainly adventurous and a bit wild. We could tell a storm as coming, but we were determined to see this gorgeous beach. Upon arriving and setting anchor the skies cleared, the sun came out, and we were set to take in a gorgeous day on Whitehaven. Slowly the other nearby vessels sailed away and it was just us and float plane left. We watched the float plane take off and were now the only boat on Whitehaven. We watched a beautiful sunset, BBQ'd a feast and really took in how special this night was. Whitehaven did not disappoint!
Day 4: We knew a storm was coming and decided to go back the way we came, due to rough waters. We radioed into the CCY team, who then instructed us to head to Hamilton Island marina. Cyclone Debbie was on her way and we were going to be prepared. My two friends were meant to be flying out of Hamilton Island in a couple days, and since we knew of the impending storm they tried to change their departure day sooner. The Hamilton Island Marina are also brilliant. We checked in and they fully updated us on the conditions, when the cyclone was due to arrive, how we needed to prepare, and what we should expect. Huge shout out to the Hamilton Island Marina staff, who certainly do their job amazing! We spent the night at the marina, my fiance and I packed an evacuation bag, and my friends prepared to fly out the next day. We then spent the rest of the evening exploring everything Hamilton Island had to offer, finding ourselves escaping the rain, having dinner and playing pool at the Marina Tavern.
Day 5: Unfortunately when my friends went to leave for the airport the next day, all flights were cancelled and they realised they would be experiencing the cyclone with us! Hamilton Island was more than prepared and ready for Cyclone Debbie's arrival. The atmosphere was certainly orderly in preparation. By noon that day, the marina staff gave us the evacuation order and we were all taken to the Hamilton Island Convention Centre to bunker down for the night. The Convention Centre was certainly ready for our arrival. We were supplied with blankets, pillows, non-stop movies, meals, and even a popcorn machine. Finally, we could certainly tell Cyclone Debbie was here. She was sounding powerful and she wasn't going anywhere in a hurry!
Day 6: We continued our day in the shelter. By this point we had started to meet some familiar faces we recognised from the marina. By this point we had lost internet and phone service so we had no way of knowing where Debbie was or what direction she was going. The strength of Cyclone Debbie became very apparent midday. We were all bunkered down in the main movie room, when we noticed a hole in a door had busted through. The staff and security then evacuated us to the front lobby/eating room, but even then we could feel and hear the power of the cyclone. The wind was ripping through the main room and pushing against the fragile doors in the lobby room. My fiance, Sam, joined a group of men in holding up a mattress against the doors until security and staff could evacuate families to one room, and everyone else to the two near by bathrooms. All we could do was wait, and we waited for nearly 5 hours. I have to also give a huge shout out to staff and security members who volunteered and spent their time with us in the shelter with very little sleep. They certainly brought security and safety to those who might have been afraid and continued to maintain a calm environment throughout. I don't think any of us would have guessed the storm would feel so powerful or go on for so long! We spent a second night in the shelter.
Day 7: early the next day, we joined our new friends who we met in the shelter and all walked down to the marina to assess the damage the cyclone had caused. We all had moments of shock to see the devastation in front of us, but I want to say the community spirit we felt from this point forward was incredible! We were all experiencing the same emotions of shock, exhaustion, but most of all relief. We all knew we were in the same position. My friends from the UK started to find their means of getting off the island as soon as possible. They had connecting flights to NZ, so it was important for them to depart soon. My fiance and I still had our 4x4 parked at Abell Point, so we were ready to spend a few days on the island, knowing that we would be out of service/communication for a couple days. We gathered that night with some of our new friends on the marina. We had a warm and delicious dinner on one of their catamarans, who thankfully was not at all damaged during the storm. The boat we had chartered had some damage during the storm and we could no longer sleep/stay there. We are forever grateful to the amazing people we met on the marina who put us up on their catamaran for the next few nights! Such generosity from strangers touched us deeply!
Day 8: My friends made it to the airport very early the next morning. We heard from them later that there was a sense of panic and urgency to get off the island at the airport, but 7 hours later they were able to get off the island. The amazing Sharon from CCY was also able to send us through a message/text that day. There was one spot on the island where we could stand and receive messages and receiving hers was much welcomed. Although there was limited service over the next couple of days, and we walked many kms to find that service, Sharon always updated us with what she could and was the first person who informed us of the condition of our vehicle. We heard our vehicle had actually been on the news and was inundated with water, so at this point, we knew we would need to make arrangements to fly home.
Over the next couple days, Sam and I continued to visit with the various friends we had made on the marina. The Hamilton Island Bakery brought us great warmth during this time too. The staff at the bakery were incredible! Every morning they were handing out free food and warm chai teas and hot chocolates. Very comforting after feeling wet and damp for days! The Reef View Hotel were also incredible in that they were serving three meals a day to anyone left on the island. A huge shout out to all the staff on Hamilton Island for staying positive and continuing to do great work even when some of them had lost their home or accommodation. There truly was a positive and supportive vibe throughout the entire island!
Our flights off Hamilton Island were cancelled, so we ferried to Airlie Beach and were kindly greeted by Sharon who first took us to our vehicle. We even got to see our Sail Guide, Terry, who greeted us with his positive attitude and a great smile. We are so thankful for everything Sharon has done for us. She is truly an amazing person who made our departure from Airlie Beach easy. She not only picked us up from the ferry terminal but also arranged our airport transfers. She even arranged for our 4x4s keys to be handed over to our insurance company when they would arrive a couple days later. She also arranged to have some of our personal items be mailed back to our address in Brisbane. Above and beyond service!
Thank you, Sharon!! We are so grateful for your kindness and everything you have done!
This certainly wasn't the type of holiday we planned for, but really it was an amazing adventure and despite the conditions, we had a really good time! We are already keeping in contact with our new friends we would never have met, had it not been for Cyclone Debbie and we are already planning our next holiday to the Whitsunday Islands.
CCY company and staff are incredible and we can not wait to plan our next booking with them. Their service, throughout a natural disaster, proved to be incredible!! In fact, the service from all the Hamilton Island staff and the marina were fantastic. We can not wait for our next visit and have even started to discuss a possible elopement/wedding there...after all we made some incredible memories there.
Penned by Grace Ewing - a passenger on board Cumberland Fling. During Cyclone Debbie.
General Manager Sharon McNally said "Sam and Grace, are not only considered loyal customers but they have become dear friends too. In very exceptional circumstances, they remained so calm and positive, it was truly a pleasure to meet them both!"
Sharon added, "We are just very sorry we couldn't do more to retrieve their car from the APM car park, prior to Debbies arrival."
"Sam and Grace were worried about our boat, whilst we were more concerned about their safety and the car. It was a funny situation.
Thankfully everyone is safe and the boat is fully insured. CCY extend huge thanks to the exception staff and owners at Hamilton Island!"
CCY offered Sam and Grace a $3,000 charter-voucher towards a return trip.
Our very generous Tourism CEO has also pledged flights to get the Brisbane couple into the region.
"Everyone at CCY looks forward seeing the couple on board again soon, perhaps even to the tune of wedding bells," Sharon said. "hey, no pressure Sam"