The Great Barrier Reef

Trip Start Jun 30, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Sunday, January 22, 2012

On arrival at Cairns airport, first thing to hit us was the heat. It had been nice and sunny (at times) in various other places in Australia, but Cairns was by far the most humid. We hurridley made our way over to the car rental agency, and picked up our car. Getting into the air conditioned car was a relief, and we wondered how we were going to get used to this level of humidity. We started making our way to Port Douglas, which was going to be our base for the next three days. Driving through we noticed plenty of sugarcane fields, reminding us of Punjab, and there was even a cane railway line.
On arrival at Port Douglas, we stopped at the information centre, who recommended that we go up to the Daintree rainforest and see Mossman Gorge. This was like a large swimming hole in the forest, and was sacred to the indigenous people of Australia. It was about a 2km walk, which wasn't too bad as the rainforest provided some shade from the blistering heat. The area could be summed up as pristine rainforest, cool streams, towering mountains and the dramatic Gorge. I (Sharndeep) took a dip in the gorge, which was a great way to cool down. The rapids were quite strong in places, but I didn't venture too far away from the banks. There was also a cultural centre which gave people an opportunity to interact with the Kuku Yalanji, who are the Indigenous inhabitants of the land. We decided against doing so, as were feeling a bit jaded after the early morning start (preceded by a relatively late night)
Our main reason for going to Port Douglas was the Great Barrier Reef. There were numerous companies offering to take us to the outer reef, and it was difficult to decide who to go with. After speaking to many of the locals one company's name kept coming up - Calypso tours. So we booked our trip for the following day and packed our gear. Contemplated buying a disposable camera, as we had done in Tobago, but eventually decided to invest in a digital underwater camera. [Forgot to change the date on camera settings, hence all photos are stamped with 2011] Only drawback was that they only had a pink one in stock, so guess that meant Parminder would be in possession of it the majority of the time.
The boat was a large three storey catamaran, and we were pleasantly surprised with the staff to customer ratio. We were sailing to Opal Reef, which was part of the outer reef; over two hours away. It was a gorgeous day, and with the sea breeze, the humidity factor was neutralised. There were divers and snorkelers on board - we were with the latter group. Once at the reef Charlie, our Geordie guide ran through a few do's and dont's. The coral is actually a living organism, and stepping on it would lead to it being killed, so we took extra care not to become murderers. The water was warm, but we had to wear stinger suits, as it was jelly fish stinger season. Apparently the stings were extremely painful and in extreme circumstances had caused death. The suits also would prevent sunburn - a welcome relief after our unhappy experience first time snorkelling in Bali. The tour was very professionally organised, even children as young as 8 were being guided through their first snorkeling experience.
As soon as we got our head down into the water, the magic of the Great Barrier Reef engulfed us. Fish were in abundance, and we were literally just above the coral reef in the middle of the ocean. I (Parminder) spotted a baby shark.  We had been informed about sharks being present, but apparently there were never any that would lead to a real life Jaws scene. First time in, it took a bit getting used to the snorkel. We went for a further two dives. Each dive was more enjoyable than the last, and it's difficult to put into words how amazing the marine life was. Lost count of the number of clown fish (Nemo's) we passed, and even swam right next to. The water was totally crystal clear, giving fantastic visibility. Although we were satisfied with the pics our new camera took, it still didn't do justice to the views were treated to. It was a shame that we hadn't made it up during whale season, as I'm sure that would have just been the icing on the cake.
On our last day in Port Douglas, we went for a walk on the four mile beach. We were advised to avoid swimming in the sea due to the aforementioned stingers and noticed there was not one person in the sea. We wondered to ourselves how it would be having a beach on your doorstep, without being able to go for a swim. There was a small area sectioned off from the rest of the sea with nets and whatnot, which people could go swimming in though. The sand is so firm that the beach has been used for horse, motorcycle and foot races. Beginning at the northern rocky headland, Four Mile Beach stretches for kilometres without a trace of development. The beachfront homes and holiday accommodation are very well hidden behind the lush vegetation.
Port Douglas is a delightful little coastal town, with a distinctive laid back atmosphere, and a low-rise tropical old world charm. The tallest building has to be smaller than the tallest tree. A place with no traffic lights, no fast food chain joints (yes, no McDonald's!) and no parking meters. The fact the local residents took on the Golden Arches is one example of how they have managed to maintain Port Douglas' Tropical North Queensland seaside village charm.
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