The Great Barrier Reef

Trip Start Apr 10, 2006
Trip End Feb 07, 2007

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

When the alarm went off this morning we awoke with that horrible feeling you get when you have hardly slept, like your eyes have been shut for about five minutes. Like practiced Army cadets or super hard ninjas we were silently, having prepared our clothes the previous night. I feel that this should be the way all people who have to get up early in Hostel behave. Unfortunately more often than not, early leavers will put their alarm on loud, promptly ignore it until every other person besides them is awake and then noisily realise that they haven't even begun to pack, thus spending the next hour making a racket and drawing upon themselves the hatred of the rest of the room. The worst thing is etiquette dictates that you have to lie there and look like it's not a problem and that you can sleep through the noise. Not that i have rage issues at all!

So anyway, yes, the Barrier Reef. As we left our room, we necked a couple of sea sickness pills each, as two hours out to sea is not a good time to discover that you don't have great sea legs. Feeling prepared and smug we went and caught the transfer bus that would take us to the Rum Runner. We stopped outside a Chemist so that unprepared people (also known as Lamos) could get their pills. It was around this time that I noticed Tamsin was looking a bit funny. She is a delicate flower at the best of times and the pills seems to have had a funny effect on her. Grinning slightly, she explained that she felt a bit light headed and "funny". A few minutes later the guy on the bus asked who had taken two pills. We put our hand up and the man asked how we were feeling, the guys down the front responded that they felt like "they were tripping". No wonder Tamsin looked Pie Eyed. The man explained that they had the potential to make you feel very woozy and to make sure we got plenty of coffee on the boat. This, i thought to myself, should be an interesting trip! To quote Tamsin's diary entry "Overdosing on Seasicknes pills, not very Rock and Roll is it?"

By the time we reached the beach Tamsin looked a bit perkier. We saw our boat moored off shore around two hundred metres or so. To get to it we had to wade about half that to a smaller shuttle boat. Now, you'll recall what i said in the previous entry about the sea and Crocs. Add to this the fact that it was still officially the season for Sea Wasps (Box Jellyfish - if stung, difficulty breathing, excruciating pain, and i quote the warnings here "an overwhelming feeling of dread" - I should bloody think so! Anyway these symptoms soon pass as you swiftly die of cardiac arrest - they are abundant from Nov to May and the beaches are closed - as they were at this time). Unsurprisingly, Tamsin and I both went pale, and this time it wasn't from the sea sick pills!
Nevertheless, swallowing our fear, we carefully waded out to the boat; every bit of seaweed making us jump. It was all fine in the end, although I'm sure we lost a few party members to the treacherous two feet of water.

The trip out to the reef took about an hour, as it is quite a way out to sea, which comes as some surprise. Apparently it takes about three hours from Cairns. I had always pictured it as just off shore, but there you go, it's just lucky I wasn't driving the boat! The waves were fairly big and the boat was rolling around a fair bit which made quite a few people look a wee bit green around the gills, having necked our sea sick pills, we were fine. While on route the friendly crew made us sign forms absolving them of any blame should we drown or get eaten or lost or whatever else; very comforting.

Soon enough we arrived at the bit of reef where we would be spending the day. It was absolutely beautiful. In the near distance was a sand cay, covered in resting sea birds. The sun shone brightly and the sea was the kind of crystal clear blue that you usually see in holiday adverts. All around us were huge dark shapes in the water, that were the various outcrops of coral. After a quick safety briefing we donned our wet suits and flippers and grabbed our gear. We were also given big tube floats that help the spotters on the boat see you if you are in trouble (presumably if they see a person-less float they know it'll be one less for lunch). Kitted up we jumped in. The water was pretty warm, but snorkeling is always a bit unnerving as it really takes your breath away when you put your face down. The water was fairly deep, maybe 12 feet, but really clear. We had been directed to swim to a reef to the right of the boat and work our way around. From the boat it had looked quite near, however the winds had picked up a bit and we were swimming against the tide, it was bloody knackering! In addition the waves were just the right height to fill our snorkels with water. It was pretty annoying, but we persevered.

Swimming over the reef itself was amazing. It is nothing like when you see it on TV, and initially can seem a bit washed out. This is because the light from the sun gets filtered out until there is only blue and green light reaching the coral. As a result everything has a green/blue tinge and the bright colours that you associate with the reef are absent. Apparently the best way to see the reef is at night as you take down huge white light torches that show all the colours off. Nevertheless as soon as you get near to the coral you start to see loads of fish swimming under you so close that you can touch them. The only way to describe it is as if you are swimming in the best aquarium in the world. Only it is ten times better as it is totally out in the wild. At times it can be a bit unnerving as there are some damn big fish down there. I loved it and it made up for the waves and the other minor annoyances. As with most things in life, when you look back on them it is only the good stuff you really hold onto as the annoyances are transient and, ultimately, irrelevant.

Anyway, we swam back to the boat to catch some of the gorgeous sun before lunch. We were both pretty worn out from the swim so were glad to relax. Lunch was laid on and was a lovely platter of cold meats etc. This was a lifestyle i could get used to. After lunch we made another trip out on the reef. The waves had picked up even further so the going was tough. We went a fair old way though and came back feeling quite satisfied. After a few minutes I was itching to get back in. Having just dried off, Tamsin opted to stay on board, so i swam off on my own. It was creepy being out on the reef alone, but I did see loads of cool fish, including some Nemos, which were very cute.

Back on board, it was near enough time to go home, so they gathered up (hopefully) all of the straggling snorkelers and we set off. THe trip back went smoothly aside from the shuttle boat getting stuck even further from the beec laeding to an even more terrifying wade to shore. This time it was from a really long way out and while it started of at knee level, in places it went really deep and the water temp would change, either really hot or cold. We were dropped off at the hotel and, reminded of how disgusting our room was, promptly went to the Dragon fly Cafe again, where we remained until we were too tired to care if the room was dirty.

The next day we woke early (again) and checked out of the hostel. After a quick poke about the locality, we grabbed some coffes and killed time before being picked up by our bus back to Cairns. Our first stop on the way back was the Mossman Gorge, a beautiful trail kept by Aboriginies. We had a good look around and were told by our guide that there would be a chance to go swimming at a watering hole. Unsurprisingly absolutely no one took him up on this offer. It was a very pretty place though and if you ever see any pictures by Peter Lik (he's a famous Ozzy photographer) the Gorge is a star of many of his pics.

The second and final stop of our trip was a place called Port Douglas. PD is a hugely posh resort town where peopel go when they have enough money not to go to Cairns. The big hotel has a Helipad where they flew Bill Clinton in on his numerous stays there. It was very nice, but the only thing we could afford was an ice cream cone! It was a shame that we couldn't have spent more time there, but in Australia, you think that about a lot of places. Maybe one day when we are rich, we will go back there.

We were eventually dropped back off at our hostel, which was great as Tropic Days is such a clean place, it was wonderful to be back there. We wouldn't be staying long though as we had places to be...
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