Our days 85 to 88 on Green Island Cay

Trip Start Jun 16, 2012
Trip End Oct 14, 2012

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Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Sunday, September 9, 2012

We left Port Douglas on Sunday at about 9:30 for the drive to Cairns down the good ol' Captain Cook Highway. We stopped at Clifton Beach for petrol and then went straight to the high speed catamaran terminal and checked our luggage in for our trip to Green Island. From there we went to the Telstra mobile phone shop where we had got our Aussie sim card, which was supposed to have way more far more airtime & internet time than we would need while we are here, but we ran out of internet time on day two, Telstra hasn’t heard of customer service and operate on systems that are so slow and antiquated they take 48 hours to do anything. We had tried to register on the internet to transfer air-time from our main account to our internet account, but we found out after a 30 minute internet chat, then an hour on the phone that when we got the sim card they had mixed up Al’s name and got his date and month of birth completely wrong. Both undertook to fix it but 2 days later we still couldn’t do anything. Anyway, the shop got us in the right direction, but it was only a day later that we could use their service. Made us appreciate Vodacom & MTN service levels.

We then took our Jucy campah van back and walked along the Cairns Esplanade to find a lunch place before our boat left. Cairns, like Port Douglas and many of the towns along this coast, is at the mouth of a river which is affected by the tides. The view out from a very nice esplanade is over a muddy river bed to the sea which is 200 to 300m out at low tide – which confirmed to us we had made the right decision not to stay in Cairns. The town is nice and has a good feel to it, but on this coast we feel you need to be on the sea.

Further along the esplanade the marina starts where the main river is deeper and this is a pretty sight. We ordered a quick lunch at one of the many restaurants looking over the marina, but the service was so slow we had to take doggie bags and eat on the boat. In spite of this, the calamari salad and duck spring rolls were surprisingly good, particularly surprising because we didn’t think spring rolls would ever taste the same after Thailand, but we had ordered them as these were the only two very quick meals on offer.

Green Island is a sand cay 27km out to sea from Cairns in the Inner Great Barrier Reef. A sand cay is an island that forms on top of an existing reef when wave action pushes sand, coral and shells onto the leeward or calm side of a flat reef. In the right conditions an island forms and over time seeds that blow in or wash onto the island germinate and grow into the dense forest that we have found on the island. There are apparently 300 cays in the Great Barrier Reef and this is the only one with a rain forest. It is pretty small, about 660m long, 260m across at its widest part and is 12 hectares in size but the reef around the island is 1200 ha. The birdlife is pretty good, and the fish life and types of corals huge and varied, apparently 200 types of hard corals and 100 soft corals.

After we checked in we did a bit of a recce of the island. Sadly it is mainly set up for the hordes of day visitors that descend on it each day, and the hotel, with about 40 suites, seems to be a side-line. As the last of the day visitors leave on the 16h30 boat, so do most of the staff and everything pretty much closes. There is one (expensive) restaurant that stays open until 21h00 and they have a happy half hour on the beach at 17h30 where the serve free beer, bubbly and fruit juice, but that’s it. The chalets are very nice inside, but the entire resort needs Sol Kerzner’s intervention.

We had our free drinks on the beach, watched the sun go down over the mountains in the distance, and had a walk along the beach. We spotted a green turtle feeding in the small waves lapping the beach, watching it for ages and when it got dark we went to dinner in the restaurant. Al’s Aussie lamb rack was delicious, but Deb’s R400 veal cutlet was from a tough old cow that could even have been a billy-goat it was so tough, and the waitress was 'sorry’ about it, so we stuck to room service for dinner after that.

Monday we lazed on the beach for most of the day and went snorkelling a couple of times. Close inshore there is quite a bit of sea grass, with a few fish in it. The reef we swam to was colourless compared to what we were expecting, but exactly what Sue had warned us. After chatting to the dive guys, we were given directions to a couple of good spots, but they told us that at spring tides the reef immediately around the island is out of the water at low tide, and is bleached by the sun. This we saw on Wednesday when we left the island a day before it was spring low tide. We snorkelled at the good spots and were pleasantly surprised, the coral and the fish were great, but it was quite a swim to get there, and felt like twice as far to get back. Our legs and ankles sure knew we had had a few long swims later that evening.

On Tuesday after breakfast we spent half an hour doing a diving refresher course with the dive guys and then headed out a further 20km from shore on a big motorised catamaran to a group of reefs in the Outer Great Barrier Reef called Norman’s Reef. The dive company has a massive 100x30m pontoon moored there permanently with all the mod cons you can dream of to run an underwater sport business, including showers, a bar and eating area, sundeck with loungers, a full equipped dive shop complete with compressors, a separate snorkelling prep area and platform, a glass bottomed boat, a submarine, an underwater viewing room and a helicopter (with a SA pilot, Dave). As we got off the Cat we were kitted up with masks & fins, full length lycra suits and short wet suits, given our weight belts and then buckled into BC’s and headed down some stairs in the middle of the pontoon onto a platform under the water where the dive master continued our refresher course until we were both confident to go down under.

Talking Deb into doing a dive was a little bit of a challenge as she wasn’t too keen to dive with her last logbook entry & dive having been 15 years ago, but she coped really well & after our first 40 minute dive her eyes were sparkling with excitement. She loved every minute of it and we both signed up for a second dive. These were the best two dives we have ever done, and saw thousands of beautifully coloured fish and the corals were just amazing. On our first dive it was the two of us, the dive master, Kento, and one other person & the second dive just us and Kento. They don’t seem to have many certified divers visiting the pontoon and he seemed to really enjoy not having to baby us, and was amazed when we had two such long dives and still had air for more. Unfortunately they run a tight schedule, and we surfaced after the second dive to find the pontoon cleared and the cat waiting to pull off as they have to be back at Green Island to take the last of the day visitors and the staff back to Cairns at 16h30. If we get the opportunity, we will dive again when we go down the coast to Townsville.

This is the third of the Seven Wonders of the World that we have visited and experienced on this trip and another life ambition achieved. The entire reef visit and particularly our dives have to go down as an awesome life experience.

We got back to Green Island a little late (because some naughty divers had held up the boat), dropped our kit in our room, had a shower and the went for a walk around to the far end of the island, which is quite different to where we have been spending our time & pretty rugged being on the windward side of the Island. We walked back down the centre of the island through the rain forest. It was quite lovely and we could appreciate the 2000mm annual rainfall the island receives. Most of this rain is during the Queensland rainy period from mid-November to February.

Wednesday we had breakfast and then spent the morning on the beach. Chatting to someone as we checked out of the hotel, they told us that it had rained the whole of the previous day in Cairns while we were 47km out on the pontoon in glorious weather, and that she had left Cairns in the rain that morning. We caught the 12h00 ferry back to Cairns & as we left it was low tide two days away from new moon, and already large parts of the reef, that the island is part of, was out of the water. They have as much as a 3m difference in water level between high and low tides at spring tide, so we could understand why those parts of the reef are bleached and lacking much colour. The weather was starting to change and a strong wind had come up. Fortunately Al seems to have got his sea legs and didn’t feel ill on the choppy sea

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