After a pretty intense driving day the day before, this is the story of how I was written off the road for three days in the most beautiful place on Earth.
Before I get started with this story, I’ll have to remind you of another one that happened exactly a week before in Brisbane. As I’ve been living in a camper van, you need to take what you can get when it comes to cheap showers on the road. I’ve tried a gym in Phillip Island, a leisure centre in Wollongong, a public beach shower in Byron Bay and finally, in Brisbane, I thought I’d try a public pool to be different. I actively avoid swimming because I’m not a huge fan. In fact, I haven’t been to a public pool since I was a child way back when I had 20-20 vision and so I didn’t know about the no-swimming-in-contact-lenses rule. If the optician told me about this when I first got contact lenses, I must have written it off as irrelevant to me because I don’t swim anyway.
Long story short, I went swimming in a public pool in monthly disposable contact lenses because I didn’t want the lifeguard to think I was a weirdo. I even made up a story about facing my fear of water so he didn’t judge me for only swimming a lap. I don’t have a fear of water, I just hate swimming. One week later, and I get conjunctivitis in what is considered to be the most beautiful place on Earth. There I was, on Hill Inlet, barely able to see the famous swirling sands because my eyes were glued shut. Is this karma for lying to the lifeguard?
Anyway, I reached Airlie Beach late at night and I could feel my eyes growing tired in a new way. A couple of days before I had passed out from a migraine near the town of 1770 and I imagined something similar was about to happen here. Something important I should mention from this day is that I basically tossed all my stuff aside and my glasses ended up… somewhere inside the car. Every day the first thing I did was put on my contacts and taking them off was the last thing I did at night because I couldn’t be bothered to search for my glasses and I hadn’t had a chance to look for them in the days following. I called mum and told her I thought I had conjunctivitis but it was nothing to worry about, it wasn’t painful and it was only in one eye. I’d be fine, right?
Mum advised me to wear glasses the next day but I said I couldn’t as I’d booked a snorkelling tour and you need to wear those weird goggle things and I don’t think you can wear them over glasses. I’m sure I’d be fine. Famous last words.
The next day, I actually did feel fine. The squishiness of my right eye had gone down and I seemed to be all well and good so I left early in the morning to go on the snorkelling tour.I ended up really liking this tour. The coral reefs in the Whitsundays are sadly bleached so the coral pictures were a little gloomy but I still enjoyed it all the same. We saw plenty of fish and that was cool. After the snorkelling portion of the day, our guides took us to the famous Whitsunday Island to see Hill Inlet and I would just like to point out for context that this was the absolute pinnacle of my East Coast road trip. This was the point I decided I needed to snap out of my depression and appreciate the trip for what it was because I didn’t want to reach the top of Hill Inlet and think anything other than ‘this is beautiful’. Ah, these weird expectations I had for myself. When I did get to the top of the hill my first thought was ‘wow, this is beautiful but why can I barely keep my eyes open?’It only got worse as the tour went on. Next we went to a private beach where the sand felt like champagne bubbles under your feet. Thank goodness for my other four senses in this moment, because my eyes were almost useless now. I quickly scanned the island and took as many pictures as good before clambering back on the boat and requesting some eye drops from the first aid box.My eyes hurt a lot by this point. I’m already pretty sensitive to light and the bright white sands and the bright blue sky and the bright, crystal clear waters were doing nothing for my corneas so I sat in the shade of the boat with my eyes closed and wanted to cry because the pain was so intense and I needed to come up with a plan of action for what to do when the boat returned inland.
When we finally got back to Airlie Beach I sprinted to the pharmacy. They told me I needed to visit the ophthalmologist, which sucks because they’re twice as expensive and I needed to drive there. The pharmacist assured me I was okay to drive even though I repeatedly told him I couldn’t keep my eyes open for longer than a second and surely that is not a good condition to be in for driving. Either way, I didn’t have a choice so I drove five minutes down the road to the ophthalmologist.
The doctor confirmed that I did have conjunctivitis and that I was dumb to go swimming in a public pool in contact lenses. She also said that on my left eye I had (this is gross, please stop reading if you hate this stuff) CUTS from the sand. Yep, sand had sliced my left eye. I paid $70 for the service and the medication and decided to book a hostel for the night because there was no way I wanted to try and find a creative way to shower that night, which is a shame because Airlie Beach has a lot of very convenient public showering methods and I found this out the next day.
This is also the point of the holiday when I realised I am incredibly stupid with money when I’m upset. I re-emerged from the hostel after nightfall as my eyes couldn’t handle the day light. I wandered into a travel agent to find out what I could do in Airlie Beach for the next two days while my eyes recovered and I saw a poster of an aviation tour. Yep, gimme that. I’m injured, I deserve it. I tend to be extremely dramatic when I think I’m dying from conjunctivitis. I booked the aviator tour for the day after next.
The next day in Airlie Beach I had brunch because I’m a brunch addict, then I explored the very small town to see what was what. It turns out that Airlie Beach has very little to do besides the lagoon (which is where the free showers were). I got a pizza and read my book in the hostel for the rest of the day. Some travel days aren’t that exciting and I figured I deserved a rest considering I was dying an’ all.
By the third day, my eyes were a lot better. I had a follow-up appointment with the ophthalmologist and she said I was almost fully healed as the cuts had gone and there was only a slight bit of the conjunctivitis left. I was free to leave Airlie Beach if I wanted but wasn’t allowed to wear contact lenses till I got back to Melbourne. No big loss.
My Aviation tour, which I vaguely remembered I impulse bought, was in the afternoon so after another brunch, I travelled back to my hostel and waited to be picked up.
They drove us to the smallest airport I’d ever seen and we checked in. It was a weird experience because you have to abandon your liquids beforehand and you’re assigned a seat and have to watch a safety video, just like on a real plane, but then they do weird things like assign you the co-pilot seat and the pilot tells you you’re not allowed to touch or play with any of the buttons. How dull.I decided I was the lucky person who got the co-pilot seat because I was the only person travelling alone and everyone else was sat next to their travel partner. But as we flew over the world famous heart-shaped coral reef, I was well aware that I just took myself to one of the world’s most romantic places and that I might have to take myself to all of the world’s most romantic places because nobody will ever love me because I have a treat-yo-self problem when things go wrong.The views from the plane were pretty spectacular. I mean, the pictures speak for themselves. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Whitsunday Islands are the most beautiful place on Earth and if you find anywhere better, best not tell me about it, because I’ll impulsively spend all my money to go there and probably get glaucoma anyway.