Snorkelling the Reefer

Trip Start Feb 05, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Nomads Serpent Hostel

Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Sunday, February 19, 2012

As a rule of thumb, the higher North and the further out you venture, the quality of coral and marine life improves proportionately. We decided if we were going to do the reef, we should do it properly and extravagantly forked out a bit extra to sail from Port Douglas. This would allow us to snorkel on the outer Agincourt Reef - allegedly the best place to snorkel in the country.

Port Douglas harbour is pristine, perfect and looked as though someone had just finished hoovering up. As Francesca looked for somewhere to put out her cigarette, Caz remarked that 'stubbing a fag out anywhere here would be the equivalent of stubbing it out on a cream carpet.'

We were sailing with a company called Silverswift, whose expedition took up an entire day and visited three different reef sites. Our fellow passengers consisted mostly of people who smelt of wealth and an old man with willowy legs and donning budgie smugglers, with an over-eagerness to take our photograph.

As it is jellyfish season we were issued with extremely unforgiving stinger suits in addition to our snorkel and flippers. These suits clung to our every curve and putting them on was like squeezing into an elongated glove with the elasticity of a small rubber band. Wearing them in the scorching heat seemed to make about as much sense as stripping to your underwear in a snowstorm. We did a few lunges in them on deck to try and make them give a little.

Our first drop was at a site called 'Three Sisters' - named so for the three pointy heads of coral that protruded from its waters. It took around an hour and a half to reach this spot, which we spent basking on the upper deck, trying to keep hold of the complimentary tea and food we had overdosed on. The journey was mildly rocky and Caz struggled with her sea-legs whilst Sophie sat forlornly in the lower deck struggling with her stomach.

My sister Phoebe dived the reef last year and claimed it was one of the best experiences she'd had on her travels. The closest thing she could compare it to was dropping into the Disney film 'Finding Nemo' - a magical, colourful, pure world - and Phoebe is not one to flower her words. Determined to capture this wondrous experience, we hired a waterproof camera for the day. A steal at $14 each when split five ways.

As we anchored off at Three Sisters the staff chucked tiddly fish in the water to attract bigger ones to our area. Soon enough fish were leaping out the water and a baby shark circled the boat. We plopped into the water, and true to Phoebe's word, it was like entering a magical kingdom. Brightly coloured shoals of fish swam centimetres from our faces and glowing coral carpeted an ocean ridge below us.

A tactic I found made you appreciate this secret kingdom more was to position your goggles half above the water and half below it. This way you could see both the endless, empty ocean horizon and peep at the land of colour below it simultaneously. It came as a pleasant surprise each time you split your vision this way. Finding beauty beneath something that seems so plain and unassuming. Much like finding a treasure chest buried beneath a supermarket carpark I imagine.

I also found that by stopping and floating, much like a corpse, you noticed the smaller life on the reef and the habits of the fish. If you were very quiet you could hear content munching as fish fed off the reef. Plus it was much easier on the legs.

We splashed around Three Sisters for around an hour, trying to take some snaps on our hire camera - surprisingly hard. Our next stop was a twenty minute sail away to Turtle Bay. En-route a member of the crew gave a talk on what sort of marine life we could expect to find there. She mentioned Angel Fish, who are anomalously faithful for fish and mate for life. When one of them dies, the other one deliberately stops eating, so they too will perish. They could teach humans a thing or two.

At Turtle Bay we had a light lunch before getting in the water. I avoided the prawn and octopus carcasses on offer. The quality of reef at Turtle Bay surpassed that at Three Sisters. It was more diverse, larger and home to more elusive marine life. We also caught a glimpse of its famous local resident - a tonk grey fish with eyes that move independently - called Greg. Here we were able to venture out further into the ocean and separate ourselves from the rest of the passengers. There is noting more off-putting when your trying to be at one with nature than a Japanese tourist kicking a flipper in your face,

We also enjoyed the company of a large sea turtle for a few minutes, as it swam up to the surface for air, before it grew tired of us and swam off into the dark of the ocean.

By the time we reached the last drop, our legs and necks were tired from all the kicking and gawping. We opted to join a guided tour led by the lady who had given the talk. She dived to the bottom of the ocean and pulled out a Sea Cucumber, a heavy red thing that looked like a rubber toilet brush head. She passed it round and let the group all have a good grope before placing it back on the ocean floor and giving it a little pat on the head.

This, however, was the highlight of the guided tour. As it turns out, being part of a chaotic convoy of tourists all wearing flippers isn't too much fun. We snuck off from the tour and spent that last half hour mucking about in the water.

We arrived back in Cairns exhausted and drowsy from the boat journey back. A tropical rainstorm was brewing and when I looked in the mirror I realised I had brought home a little souvenir of the trip. My goggles - beaming at me from my face through a stencil of sunburn. All just in time for our move down the coast.         
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