Another Tick On The Bucket List

Trip Start Sep 08, 2011
Trip End Jan 08, 2012

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Where I stayed
Airlie Waterfront Backpackers

Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Wednesday, November 30, 2011

As beautiful as Airlie Beach was; the reason why I was there was to see one of the natural wonders of the world. I'd visited Uluru and the Bungle Bungles, but today I was all set to see the only natural phenomenon that is visible from space: the Great Barrier Reef.

Knuckle Reef, just one of the coral reefs, was about 100km from Airlie Beach, so it took us about 2.5 hours to get there, picking up other passengers on the way – it was interesting to see a boat-to-boat transfer in the middle of the high seas; the people that were picked up were staying on one of the Whitsunday Islands and were joining us for the day. Even so, there were not that many people on the boat, maybe 50 – 60, given the size of the boat, I was expecting many more.

Part of the package was to snorkel above the reef, particularly as part of a snorkel safari which was a guided tour of the reef, however, it would be 'necessary’ to wear stinger suits to prevent being stung by jellyfish. As far as I could see, that was where the main problem would be. Despite assurances to the contrary, I had my doubts about whether they would have a suit big enough for me, but I was determined to go see the reef and if I had to take the risk of seeing it (or rather, a tiny part of it) without one, then so be it.

The other problem, perfectly described by one of the crew on the boat, was that I’d tried to snorkel a little bit before (in Barbados, I believe) and it had been a complete disaster. I hadn’t been able to keep water out of the snorkel, so I kept choking on the sea water, as well as my mask kept filling up with water, so I couldn’t see anything anyway. Even with a cursory lesson for beginners, clearly this day was going to be a challenge.

The journey to Knuckle Reef was very pleasant; I met an Australian couple and a friend of theirs who was out visiting them from Britain. Like me (and unlike the rest of the passengers), they were ‘mature’ travellers. In fact, their story was quite interesting, as the couple, Peter and Christine, had recently decided to sell their house and travel around Australia. They’d bought a caravan and intended to see as much of Australia as possible, finding work when they ran out of money in order to continue their journey. Their friend, Bob, meanwhile, had just recently divorced and decided to get away from it all and, essentially on a whim, bought a round the world ticket and would be in Oz for 4 months, before travelling to Brazil and then the USA – he would be gone for seven months! Evidently, we can still show the young guns a thing or two.

At Knuckle Reef there was a pontoon, where we would be spending the day. We’d arrived at around 11am, but I wasn’t due to go on the snorkel safari until 2pm, but that didn’t matter. Nothing was going to keep me out of the water. It was the moment of truth; would there be a stinger suit large enough for me? I picked up an XXL and after a Balotelli moment (a footballer who famously had a "d’oh!" moment when he couldn’t put on a training bib), I managed to squeeze into the suit. I needn’t have worried, as the suits were a tight fit for everybody, little and large alike. What I hadn’t anticipated was that the fins (flippers) would not fit! Feeling a lot like one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters, I tried pair after pair, with the same result; who are you trying to kid??? I know I’ve got big feet, but surely they would have fins in my size? Erm,... no.

As the crew would have it, the fins were an integral part of snorkelling as they would keep me moving without expending too much energy. There was no way around it, though, I would just have to go without them. Then came problem No. 2; all novice snorkelers had to go with a noodle (a long floatation tube that fits under your arms). I’d never used one before, but it was decided that I should have two. Seriously?

There I was in my stinger suit, mask, snorkel and two noodles but no fins ready to try my luck in the Coral Sea. Just as I was about to go in, one of the lifeguards, then said, “If you have any problems, hold on to the rope in the water to pull yourself along; you don’t need to go too far, all you’ll need to see is in that area over there.” If I have any problems...? I’d been lacking confidence all day, but that pushed me over the edge. The thought of not going in crossed my mind fleetingly, but I’d come this far, I had to give it a go. So, in I plunged and immediately started drowning. I can swim, but all these precautions caused me to lose control of my limbs and I had to get out of the water as soon as possible.

When I got out they asked me how it went, I managed to splutter that it was all good, I’d seen the reef (I lied) and that I was going back on the pontoon. Doubting the veracity of my answer, the same lifeguard, who’d shaken my confidence, called over another lifeguard, or to be more precise, a dive instructor to take me out again. As much as I wanted to refuse the offer, I thought I really need to do this, so out I went with Paul, my personal tutor, for that was what he was. He walked (or should that be swam?) me through the basics of snorkelling, and suddenly it became much easier. Not only that he pulled me along on a life ring, as well as placing the two noodles underneath me so that floating wouldn’t be a problem. The best part, he pointed out all sorts of fish that I probably would have missed; he even told me the names of some of them, but I really don’t remember them.

It was a fantastic experience! One of the fish I remember was a surgeon fish, so-called because the bones on the back its tail were as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel! There were clams, blue/purple in colour, that opened and closed as the sun hit them. I saw an enormous angel fish as well as more than a few parrot fish. It was truly an unforgettable experience.

The pontoon had a giant waterslide on it, but it had been closed in morning. After lunch, no one seemed to be using it, so we, the mature travellers, decided to go first to show the kids how to have fun. Christine was the first to go down the slide, her screams all the way down attracted the attention of the rest of the passengers and before you knew it there was a queue waiting to go on the waterslide. It was my first ever waterslide and I have to say it was fun.

However, I was there for more serious business: the Reef. With my new-found confidence, I went back in the water on my own and... had no problems whatsoever. Again it was another fantastic experience, I was still using one noodle, but that was all, I was out there for ages, until it was time for the snorkel safari, where the guide took me (I was the only one signed up at that time) over the reef and explained all about the coral; it was like being on a field trip with a biology teacher – it was brilliant! All too soon, it was time to get out of the water and return to Airlie Beach.

Despite the wobbly start to the day, it hadn’t disappointed and had turned out to be a superb day, spent in excellent company.
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The BBs on

Good on ya George - glad your tenacity paid off!

Nick Simons on

Well done George. There aint nothing he can't do.

Kyzia on

I've enjoyed reading your snorkling experience as much as I did my own! What a world it is down there. We've been twice already to the Great Barrier Reef and it's the one thing I'd do again tomorrow.
No doubt, you'll be yearning to repeat the experience, so we better warn the Illes Medes, off the Costa Brava, to get a suit big enough for you!!!!

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