Great Barrier Reef, Ocean Freedom, Turquoise Waters and Sunshine!, Colourful Fish, Weird and Wonderful Coral, Snorkelling, Wonderwall
Yep- another early start, up at 5.30am and down at the docks for just after 7am. After checking in we found our boat and were welcomed with a hot drink and pastries! The horizon was clear and the water was really calm- good news for my sometimes sea sickness prone tummy! The boat went out to the reef, it took about an hour and a half, and we got on our fins and selected a snorkel. Ajay had the brainwave of hiring a really good underwater camera and had organised it the day before. With our gear on we got into the water, camera in hand and got snorkelling. Words cannot do the Great Barrier Reef justice. Its the largest living organism in the world, is over 2000kms long and can be seen from space. We saw loads of colourful coral, countless varieties of fish, a reef shark, plenty of nemo's and took loads of photos!
We stopped for a fabulous lunch (salad, potatoes, pasta, veggies and seafood), rode out to another spot and continued to snorkel. We also went over to a sandbar island and continued to take photos. The current was much stronger in the afternoon and it was hard work swimming at times. Ajay was getting tired too, so we called it quits (just before we were about to finish anyway as it turns out) and stuffed ourselves with fruit, cake and cheese on the way back to Cairns.
An amazing day in all, the only downside being overhearing some really horrible racist comments being made about the Indigeneous Australian/Aboriginal Population. We had been warned by some friends and other travellers about this before coming to Australia, but it was still shocking to hear all the same. I had heard some snippets of similar comments on the trip up to Cape Trib and Daintree River, but these comments were said loudly, with real vitriol and with added contempt for parts of Australia with the original indigeneous names. The persons involved were quite happy to shout abut their opinions and didn't seem to think they were saying anything wrong, but I decided I would try and find out as much about all of the communitities within Australia where possible. I had a nasty feeling that this wouldn't be the last time we would come across these opinions though.
Aside from that, I would quite happily spend a much larger chunk of time exploring other areas of the reef, but I suspect you could never see it all in a lifetime.....
Without doubt the biggest attraction that Cairns has to offer is its proximity and number of services to visit and explore the Great Barrier Reef - reputedly the largest living structure that can be seen from space. It stretches 2300km off the east coast of Queensland from just north of Bundaberg to Torres Strait and is 80km at its broadest. Furthermore, the Great Barrier Reef has the greatest biodiversity of any ecosystem on earth with over 1500 types of fish, 400 types of coral plus many other types and species such as seaweeds, clams or molluscs, and birds. There are also manta rays, squid, turtles and other marine life.
We had been looking forward to seeing the amazing coral reef here as soon as we had included Australia on the itinerary way back in the initial "high level planning phase" (read back of a fag packet or, more truthfully, an A4 piece of paper as neither of us smoke!) so it was great that we had the opportunity to experience this must-see highlight so early in our stay in Australia.
From the multitude of various Great Barrier Reef tours, we opted for a company called Ocean Freedom which had received some favourable reviews and offered a 20m refurbished cruiser (19m just wouldn't cut it!). It was a great choice as we had a brilliant day: the water was relatively calm throughout and we went snorkelling in a couple of prime spots including the 'Wonder Wall' on the outer edge of the Upolu Reef and the Sand Bar island where we drift snorkelled back to boat. The colours and shapes of the various coral were simply beautiful and we saw lots of psychedelically patterned tropical fishes and other marine life. We also saw a reef shark! Luckily for us we did not have to wear stinger suits as there were no jellyfish at this part of the ocean at this time of the year. I had also hired out an underwater digital camera so was able to take lots of photos to capture what we were seeing - check the pictures!
The lunch on board the cruiser was ace (a huge buffet of pasta, meats, salad and vegetarian options) and we also had some time to sunbathe on the top deck and enjoy the views of the pristine turquoise waters, clear blue skies and radiant sunshine.
Now the science and learning part. All coral are primitive hollow sacs with tentacles on top. Hard corals excrete a small amount of limestone as an outer skeleton that protects their soft bodies. The Great Barrier Reef (and all other reef for that matter) is created by billions of skeletons of dead coral polyp which have cemented together over time into an ever-growing bulwark. The structures vary from staghorn to brain-patterns to flat plate or table corals. All need sunlight however so few grow deeper than 30m below surface. Coral skeletons are white, while the kaleidoscopic colours of the reef come from the living polyps.