Port Douglas is a very sleepy little backwater town (or at least is is when we get there) about an hour up the coast from Cairns. It consists of a marina and a few main roads for the hotels, restaurants, bars and shops while the rest of it is housing for the residents. Our stop for three nights are the By The Sea Apartments
. A little over budget we booked these months ago and were kept up to date by the ladies in the apartments regarding the cyclone and the weather. Literally a week and a half before we flew into Australia a massive cyclone, Yatsi
, hit the east coast of Queensland causing a lot of devastation. It seems that Port Douglas was lucky and it was only in Cairns that we noticed any broken and snapped trees. Wasting no time (which seems to be a trend with us now) we hit the beach and managed to get a few hours in before the clouds came over. Michelle was shattered so she had some much needed sleep and met us as we were walking back up. We stopped to eat in a chain of bars a little like Slug and Lettuce bars and realised what we feared...it was not cheap to eat any more!! A little while later after discussing this revelation we headed to Coles supermarket to get in some food for the next couple of days. We had a fully equipped kitchenette in our room and took full advantage to help with our budgets. Our accommodation, although over budget, did offer quite a lot. You could use bikes, deckchairs, eskies (drinks coolers), parasols, DVD's and DVD player plus laptops...all for free. I sat down for the evening with my microwave weight watchers meal in my PJ's to watch our chosen film, Wall.E.
We were told that Port Douglas was one of the best ports from which to access the Great Barrier Reef and planned to do this on our second to last day, so day two consisted of more sunbathing, another microwave meal, another film (this time The Hangover) and a small rain shower courtesy of the dark grey clouds outside
Up early and I'm very excited about our day in the reef. There were so many different tours to choose from and different areas of the reef to visit. I'm sure everyone who was been to the reef has a different opinion about the best spots and a completely different experience from the next person. We opted, after a little research, to go to the outer reefs where the fish and coral were supposedly better, bigger and brighter. Obviously you pay more for this so a day tour, visiting three sites in the Agincourt Outer Reefs, cost us $160. It took about an hour to get to the first site to dive or snorkel, depending on what you were doing. Everyone had said about diving and I was expecting there to be heaps of divers but actually there were only a handful and snorkellers far outweighed them. We stopped and had instructions from the crew about where to snorkel along with safety advice and how to signal for help. It was a very well prepared tour and there were a lot of crew keeping watch, in the water with us and supporting us throughout our snorkel. Minutes after we arrived we heard the crew say the sharks were here. I wasn't sure I'd heard correctly until I looked at the launch platform on the back of our boat. Splashing around eating bits of food thrown in by the crew were two or three grey sharks. Ok so they weren't the size of Jaws himself but they were a decent length and size...probably about half an adult leg length
. I was a bit apprehensive at first but when I spoke to one of the crew he told me they were Grey Reef Sharks and wouldn't bother us they would just swim around the boat. It was a pretty amazing experience having them swim around underneath us but honestly they couldn't have cared less about us. They came up to the surface every now and then but once the sea of snorkellers were in the water they just circled underneath us. I'm definitely not sure I'd of got in if they were any bigger!!! So off we went snorkelling against the pretty strong currents and diving down to see the myriad of colourful fish. What struck me immediately was the coral. The pictures and postcards you see show these vibrant corals in every colour imaginable but down there they all look reasonably dull. There are still discernible colours and some are still very bright but nothing like the pictures suggest. The cyclone had done some damage to the coral and although conditions had improved and the visibility was good it apparently wasn't the very best it could be. Owing to this fact we decided not to hire the underwater digital camera until after we'd been in for our first snorkel. The array of fish was enough to convince us to hire the camera and so for the next site we were able to get some great pictures. At this point I think I should mention our attire. Australian waters are notorious at certain times of the year for stingers, or jellyfish as we like to call them. A lot of them hurt but a few of them kill so it's sensible to take precautions
. We weren't prepared however for the precautions to be quite so flattering!! We hired stinger suits and looked like some sort of badly organised underwater stealth team. The suite covered every inch of us and included a very attractive cap as well. I thought that if they were white we'd all look like the aliens from the film Cocoon. They did their job very well though as there were a few about and nobody was stung. My bright pink flippers were starting to rub but really did help to dive down. Scared of getting to much water in their masks both Michelle and Paul had adjusted their straps to a very tight position. Each time they removed them it took a good couple of hours for the lines to go down and they got some stick from the crew for it. At the second site just as we were stopping a turtle surfaced for some air. He was quite far away but close enough to see. He didn't stick around though and soon we were back in the water. During our transfer to the second site I listened to a presentation from one of the crew on the types of coral and fish we could see while we were down there. It helped to know what I was looking at and this time there was a frenzy of photography from all of us as we tried to catch the fish and coral we could see.
On our way to the third and last site we were joined by a very playful school of dolphins who swam and jumped alongside the boat. They were even riding the waves from the boat at one stage and I managed to get a few photos before we stopped. Once again we were joined by a turtle surfacing just behind the boat except this time he was closer and I thought I was in with a good chance of seeing him in action. Not to be though and so we went in for our last snorkelling session. By now my flipper feet were red raw and I'd applied a generous helping of Vaseline to stop the blisters rubbing. This is all great until you dive down to take a photo and realise your flipper-less!!
! After some careful water acrobatics and balancing with the much needed help of Michelle I managed to get my flipper back on. We'd been good all day and always made it back to the boat in plenty of time but this time we followed Paul into a very shallow crop of coral which was amazing but quite far away from the boat. It was too easy to hit the coral here so you had to be really careful. The suits offered protection from minor cuts and grazes but there was still the danger of a deep cut. We explored this area for about 10 minutes trying to chase the Nemo fish and Angel fish in and out of their hiding holes. I was getting tired and thought I'd head back so signalled to them both I was going to the boat. Looking back towards the boat all I could see was coral practically right up to the surface and for a moment a small amount of panic set in as I couldn't find my way out. I managed though and headed back, almost at the boat when they sounded the horn to signal time to go. We managed to get 178 photos although we weren't sure how many of those would be any good considering we tried a few group shots at arm length...those are never great. I was absolutely done in by the last session of swimming. My ears ached from the diving down and pressure changes and my feet were red raw but it was so worth it. To explore a small section of the reef and still see so much was amazing and although some would argue it would be even better diving, the water was so clear and so shallow that we had some perfect views of the marine life below
. I can't wait for my bed tonight and I have no doubt I will sleep like a log!
As you can imagine a rest day was much needed and what better way to recuperate than...on the beach!! Some gorgeous weather for our last day and a last chance to take some pictures of 4 mile beach, the beach right next to our accommodation. We've been lucky in that the weather has been incredible but because it's almost too hot and humid it's not their busiest season so we've had only a handful of people on the beach with us. It's a lovely place to come although I'd imagine if you were here for too long there might not be enough to keep you entertained. 4 days was just the right amount of time and the reef experience was phenomenal. Off to Cairns now for couple of nights as a stopover on the way through to the Whitsundays. We need to get back to Cairns to pick up the train so we thought we'd stay over for a night and see what it has to offer.
It's finally here...The Australian leg of our journey and the weather is beautiful. There are some clouds in the sky as we make our way from Cairns straight to Port Douglas but the views along the coastline are amazing. You can see the rainforests practically spilling over into the sea as they run down the hillsides. The ocean is vast and blue and the hills are lush and green and the windy road is very scenic even though I'm absolutely shattered and fighting the tiredness. In between nodding off I hear the driver talking to Michelle about things to do while we are here and the abundance of crocodiles...suddenly I'm awake again!!!