WOW, is the first thing I have to say about the Great Barrier Reef (GBR from here on out)!
We booked our trip to the GBR with a charter company called Wavelength and they had to cancel our original trip for Friday because of high winds that were then making the sea too rough. Today was supposed to be a bit better and apparently it was!
Our boat was about 60 feet long and at one point I asked the captain how fast we were going and he said 17 knots. This boat takes up to 30 passengers at a time, but today we were 26 passengers and 3 delightful crew members. There was another USA couple on board, from Spokane and the rest were Aussies.
We were heading for the reef before 8:30 AM and the ride got a little “sloppy”, one of the crew members words. Then there was a stretch where we were in ocean waves that had not gone over the reef, and there were some BIG rollers! Three of us had all taken some form of sea-sickness, but Alison, being a child of the Pacific Ocean, had no need for such things! None of the 4 of us got sick!
Our tour took us to Opal Reef, about 30km east from Port Douglas, and it took almost 2 hours to get there. The plan was to visit 3 different areas of Opal Reef, having an hour at each for snorkeling. As we got close to our first snorkel site we were fitted with thick wet suits, fins, mask and snorkel. Crew member Tim gave us a safety talk and a talk about how to snorkel. We all are experienced snorkelers, so didn’t need that instruction, but it was good to hear it all again. We then donned our gear while sitting on the stern of the boat and in we went. There was a slight chop on the water on the reef, but not enough to get in our way or prevent us from doing anything.
As we swam away from the boat, we were immediately enthralled with the magical world beneath our masks. So many varieties of coral and fish, we didn’t know where to look first. The water was warm and our wet suits kept us afloat and the hour we were given went by quickly. We had expected to see many fish of many colors, but we all were pleasantly surprised to see the many rich colors and shapes of the coral. When our first session was over, we all got back on the boat, had morning tea while we cruised the short distance to the second snorkel spot.
At the second site on Opal Reef, we had the option of taking a reef tour with either Tim or Alesha, our crew guides. We went with Tim because he was doing a shorter tour which allowed us time to explore on our own. During the reef tours we all would follow our guide to a location over the reef and the guide would explain a specific feature of the reef at that point. Because we were just floating in the water with our heads out so we could hear our guide, we were given pool noodles to give us extra floatation, which was nice during the tour, but a bit of a hassle when we struck out on our own. The tour was very informative and we were later able to go find some of the sites that Tim pointed out to us.
Lunch was awaiting us when we re-boarded the boat. While we ate a tasty lunch of sandwiches and salads, Alesha, a marine biologist guide gave us a talk on how the reef formed and things that are threatening it today (e.g., climate change). Again, very informative.
The 3rd and last site we visited on Opal Ref was a free snorkel, although we all followed Tim to the spot on the reef where the anemone grows that is home to the “Nemo” fish, made famous in the Disney movie Finding Nemo. Apparently, after the movie came out and was wildly popular, all sorts of people came to the reef and stole the anemone and the Nemo fish for city aquariums and personal fish tanks. This is one of the few placed where this particular fish and anemone can be found.
Tucker, Alison, Jim and I were the last ones out of the water after the hour at the 3rd site. All the other snorkelers were cold or tired or both! We didn’t want this trip to end. In addition to countless fish we didn’t know, we did see a nurse shark, a ray and a huge parrot fish!
This was an amazing adventure and has given us an appreciation of this World Heritage site. We only have positive things to say about Wavelength, our charter company. They were pleasant, helpful, informative and professional. We were back to Port Douglas around 5 PM, tired and hungry. Showers and snacks gave us the strength to go out to dinner, by the wharf area.
It has been a terrific day! Tomorrow we will work our way back to Cairns, where we have an 8 PM flight back to Melbourne.
Here are more photos from our GBR adventure.