My Saturday started at 4am as I made my way to the airport to catch my three and a half hour flight to Cairns, Queensland. Day 1 involved picking up the hire car and driving along the coast to Port Douglas, lounging on the beach for a few hours, eating fish and chips, swimming in potentially crocodile and jelly fish infested waters and ending the day catching up with a friend from New Zealand and watching the fireworks at the Cairns Festival. It was a picturesque Saturday and one that I thought surely couldn’t be topped. I was wrong.
I had a booked us a day trip to The Great Barrier Reef with a small company called Seastar Cruises for the Sunday. I didn’t know much about the reef except that it was along the coast of Australia and that David Attenborough has a new documentary. I now know so much more like the fact that it actually stretches over 2300 km and can be seen from the outer space. I also know now that the reef is dying, its under attack by many enemies (a big one being climate change) and pretty soon there won’t be much to see. A sad fact that upsets me now more than it could before.
The day involved going to both the middle reef and the outer reef and trying out scuba diving and snorkeling. I am not a confident swimmer so I oped for a small cruise of no more than 35 people and the cay meant I didn’t have to snorkel in too deep water. I was wrong about the depth but I was right in choosing the cruise – it was fantastic!
Our first stop was Michelmas Cay where I was trying out the introductory scuba dive and finishing off with some snorkeling. The cay is a hot spot for birds – the largest sanctuary in Queensland. It was surrounded with water of different blue hues. The view of the cay from where the boat had been anchored was breathtaking, it felt like a heavily photoshopped image. You couldn’t wipe the smile of my face, that was until I was given the scuba diving briefing.The instructor informed the group how to equalize pressure in our ears by pinching our nose and blowing – a teaching I had learnt from my Bali dive. However, the next lot of information definitely alarmed me to the seriousness of diving. The instructor informed me that I couldn’t do more than one dive as I was flying the next morning and doing so could potentially cause death. He continued his warnings by urging us to never hold our breath underwater as doing so could cause irreversible lung damage as the lung would act like a vacuum and could potentially explode. Following this 20kg of equipment was placed on my back and I was told to step into the water but keep looking into the horizon with one hand on my breathing apparatus and the other placing pressure on my googles. It is obvious to see if the instructors job was to scare the shit out of me, he did. But, he did a good job since I was more aware of my surroundings and made a conscious effort to follow best practice. It was a little shocking that none of this was explained to me on my first dive trip in Bali – or perhaps not. Once we were in the water, one diver lost his cool because he couldn’t breath under the water, while another diver couldn’t make it all the way down and had to go back to the boat. The numbers dropped from four to three. However, as soon as we properly began to explore the reef, interacting with the jelly fish by catching them in our hands and slowly releasing them, gnawing at the various fish – the tension just faded away. I was in awe of this whole new world living right below us. The largest organism in the world and possibly the most beautiful.
The dive ended all too quickly and I was taking off my tank and equipment and getting my snorkeling gear on. I decided to swim out to the cay from the boat because the sand looked exquisite and my toes just had to be wriggled on them. At this point, the smaller motorboat came to the cay and asked if I wanted to taxi back to the boat. I made the wrong decision and said yes which meant I missed out on seeing the turtle that I was told was in the water.
Our next destination was a thirty minute ride into the outer reef, Hamilton Reef. As there was no sand from the cay, the visibility was said to be pristine, and the waters were deeper – almost twice as deep. This was evident by the fact that I could see fish swimming in the waters from the boat deck. I had just under two hours snorkeling at this reef and every second of it was spent in the water (my sunburnt body in the outline of my swimsuit is not thankful).I decided to take the snorkel tour for the first few minutes but soon got too impatient and began to explore the reef myself. On the tour, we were introduced to a sea cucumber which started to pee as I held it in my hands! The instructor also showed the group how to close a clam reef by swimming over it. The clam would shut and reopen after three minutes and on a daily basis it cleaned 21,000 litres of water, a fact that I am still astonished by today.
Exploring the reef was a magical experience and one that I wish to repeat again every soon. A whirlwind weekend trip was just not enough. I saw hundreds of fish and at least fifteen different varieties. At the start of the day, I was fearful that I might be scared of the deep blue water but a sense of calmness took over me as I swam over both soft and hard reef and then on top of the deep blue ocean which had no bottom. You discover more about yourself in the strangest of situations! I was fortune enough to witness this UNESCO World Heritage Site on this sunny 32 degree day. A day that I will never forget. The Great Barrier Reef truly is one of the greatest wonders of the natural world.
My next challenge may just be a liveaboard trip or perhaps I need to become a certified diver!