ROAD TRIP DIARIES 27
It was our last day in Cairns and my excitement started to build the moment we checked-out from the caravan park on our way to Cairns Marlin Wharf. I was about to tick off from my bucket list the longtime dream of getting up close and personal with one of the seven wonders of the natural world.
Growing up, I have always been fascinated with the breathtaking beauty of the Great Barrier Reef. Watching videos and documentaries before made me curious about the richness and diversity of its marine life.
Although I had my own share of dalliances with the teeming underwater life in some parts of the Philippines, snorkeling in the largest coral system on earth was like fulfilling a dream of coming face to face with a celebrity that I always wanted to meet.
Our Ride – The Silverswift
Choosing the tour operator to take us to the reef was as overwhelming as finding a great spot to snorkel in an area as big as the state of Texas. There are roughly 820 operators and over 1500 vessels and aircraft permitted to operate in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Some of these offer additional attractions beyond simply snorkelling, such as visits to some spectacular islands and cays (small, low-elevation, sandy islands formed on the surface of coral reefs). In the end, we booked a day trip tour with Silverswift, a 29 meter wave-piercing catamaran that goes to three Outer Great Barrier Reef Sites. It’s small and fast which also means a smaller group and more snorkelling time for us.
Silverswift Sun deck
After paying the balance of our ticket in what looked like the Disneyland of all wharfs, we weaved our way past hundreds of tourists and some of the world’s most advanced super yachts. Now I could understand why Cairns is home to Australia’s largest tourism and game fishing fleets.
Briefing for the snorkelers
Before long, we were cruising swiftly on board an air-conditioned luxury vessel at 32 knots. Introductory and detailed dive briefings were given on the way to our first destination while snorkelers were briefed on the sun deck upon arrival at the reef site. A few passengers got seasick and it wasn’t long before I joined the rest of the group who were sucking on ice (it apparently cures seasickness). At first, I thought the culprit was too many muffins and pastries consumed during morning tea but a breath of fresh sea air was all I needed to sort me out.
Ready to Plunge
After about an hour, the boat came to a complete stop and moored on the first reef site. We were all geared up and ready to take the plunge. The divers were the first to go while the snorkelers were being briefed on the sun deck. Although excited, I was somewhat hesitant to dive straight into the water thinking it would be as cold as the water in the Whitsundays despite wearing a wetsuit. (yes, I’m such a wuss for cold).
But after testing the water from the submerged platform, I was raring to go like a child waiting outside a chocolate factory to open. It was warm and reminded me of the tropical beaches back home. Some young British backpacker couples dived straight into the water confidently clad only in board shorts and two-piece bikinis, only to swim back as fast as they could when the blond girl in a red bikini was stung by a jellyfish.
Her body was all covered with red patches and frantically quivering in the arms of her boyfriend. All the snorkelers donned a jellyfish suit after that and went back to the water like nothing had happened.
Images from our $25 disposable underwater camera
Under the Sea
Aside from a school of fish swarming near the diving platform, my first sighting was a pair of disgruntled-looking Whitetip Reef Sharks lazily hanging out at the bottom of the ocean floor. Although our guide assured us we weren’t part of its diet, we steered clear of it and went in search of friendlier-looking creatures.
The underwater photographer seemed to be the best bet to see the brightly colored Maori Wrasse. This beautiful reef creature seemed not to mind posing for pictures in exchange for some nibbles. A ginormous Moray Eel that looked like a baby anaconda popped out from the vibrant and dazzling coral and brought out the Michael Phelps in me, which I never thought existed.
After lunch, we moved on to our next reef site and were overwhelmed by swirling schools of black and brown parrotfish. We were looking for turtles but found a bunch of red and yellow clown fish instead hovering above the equally colorful sea anemone. It was a truly wonderful underwater spectacle.
With my limited swimming skills, I was surprisingly thriving in the water and was looking forward to more. This was mainly due to the “noodle” (a long, cylindrical floatation device that looks kind of like a noodle), which made snorkeling easier for me and was much better than wearing a life vest. The current was a bit strong and the water got colder when we reached the third reef site but Charles and I spent every minute in the water making the most of our time.
Me and the Noodle
The kaleidoscope of colors and the astounding vastness of the reef were breathtaking. It was like a glimpse of a whole different world that indulged all your senses. Just standing on top of boat and gazing far beyond the horizon revealed different shades and shapes of corals. It was really a feast for the eyes. We cruised back to Cairns quite pleased and satisfied with how the day turned out. It was worth every cent and we’d definitely do it again – after all, there is no way we could ever fully explore the only living creature visible from outer space in only one trip.
(This is part of our 6-week North Queensland Road Trip Series, which took place July- August 2010)
Australian Road Trip 101: A Vantastic Beginning
Road Trip Diaries # 1 – An Encounter with the Strangest Animal in the World
Road Trip Diaries # 2 – Of Strangler Figs, Leeches and Long Holidays
Road Trip Diaries # 3 - Exploring Finch Hatton Gorge
Road Trip Diaries # 4 – Cape Hillsborough: On Bush Walks Beach Strolls and Star Gazing
Road Trip Diaries # 5 – Cape Hillsborough: Sunrise and Wild Kangaroos
Road Trip Diaries # 6 – Airlie Beach: Beaches Babes and Backpackers
Road Trip Diaries # 7 – Ocean Rafting to the Whitsundays
Road Trip Diaries # 8 – Unexpected Encounters
Road Trip Diaries # 9 – Exploring Bowenwood
Road Trip Diaries # 10 – Townsville: Finding Nemo and the Sunken Pandora
Road Trip Diaries # 11 – A Visit at the Billabong Sanctuary and Castle Hill
Road Trip Diaries # 12 – Magnetic Island: What Captain Cook Missed
Road Trip Diaries # 13 – Paluma Range National Park: A Walk in the Clouds
Road Trip Diaries # 14 – Of Didgeridoo, Exotic Fruits and Why I love Camping in the Bush
Road Trip Diaries # 15 – Jourama Falls: A Gray Nomad Affair
Road Trip Diarues # 16 – The Bird Man of Tyto Wetlands
Road Trip Diaries # 17 – The Quest for Wallaman Falls
Road Trip Diaries # 18 – Hinchinbrook Island: Experiencing the Wilderness
Road Trip Diaires # 19 – The Tully Show: My First Aussie Fair
Road Trip Diaries # 20 - Mission Beach: Where Have All the Cassowaries Gone?
Road Trip Diaries # 21 – White Water Rafting at Tully River
Road Trip Diaries # 22 – Finding Our Way to the Enchanted Ruins
Road Trip Diaries # 23 – Paronella Park: The Dream Continues
Road Trip Diaries # 24 – Exploring Wooroonooran National Park
Road Trip Diaries # 25 – Cairns: Exploring the Urban Jungle
Road TRip Diaries # 26 – Kuranda Village: A Journey Through An Ancient Rainforest