Day 3 - Peek at the Great Barrier Reef

Trip Start Feb 04, 2012
Trip End Mar 01, 2012

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Where I stayed
Diamond Princess Cruise Ship

Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I woke up at 5:30am so sat out on our balcony as our ship wove its way through some of the 74 islands called The Whitsundays. The nearly full moon hung suspended above a silhouetted backdrop of mountain peaks, and its brilliant blood orange fullness lit a path across the waters.  It was breathtaking (I have a feeling I'll use that word a lot as I journal) to witness the moon go down and the sun come up, whiting out the overheard sky and its constellations. 

After two days at sea, our ship anchored at Pioneer Point, about 20 minutes offshore from Airlie Beach, Australia, at 7am.  I realized that we were to have set our clocks back an hour and I hadn’t done that.  So really, I was up at 4:30am! 

Lifeboats from the sides of the ship were lowered by pulleys into the ocean, and became "tenders" to carry passengers to the town.  I counted six of these tenders, plus several catamirands, and they ran to and from the ship to shore until 4:30 pm.  We boarded a tender about 7:30am and spent until about 3pm in Airlie Beach.  The humidity was 93% with a temperature of 89 degrees.  It was quite difficult to be outside in that kind of heat, because we were not used to it. But we had a GREAT day!

We boarded an 8-passenger plane piloted by a wonderful young woman, and flew for one hour to about 60 miles off the shore to the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef!  The Great Barrier Reef is a vast complex of more than 2,000 reefs and 71 coral islands stretching over 1200 miles along the North Queensland Coast.  Its waters support a rich web of marine life that includes over 1300 species of fish.  In reality we saw only a small piece of the Great Barrier Reef, but seeing it by air gave us quite a perspective of the beauty of the coral and designs and patterns of this magnificent place of beauty in the world.   The pilot took us down to 200 feet so we could get a closer view of the reef and enabled me to get some great pictures that will help remind us of this day for a long time.  The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef and planet Earth’s largest living thing and is designated as one of the United Nations World Heritage Sites. 

The pilot also flew us over many of The Whitsundays.  These islands were named by Captain James Cook as he gingerly sailed around the islands, islets and often shallow passages of the Great Barrier Reef in 1770.  He was the first European to “stake a claim” in Queensland, Australia.  He “discovered” this part of the world but that word is a relative one, since Australia’s indigenous Aborigines, intimately knew the coastline and islands of The Whitsundays for thousands of years before Cook sighted them. 

The Whitsundays have many facets:  coastline, rainforest, serene islands, idyllic beaches and exquisitely colored coral reefs.   Airlie Beach is considered to be the real doorstep to The Whitsundays, and is one of Australia’s busiest pleasure boating ports, located on the Coral Sea.

We did see a show in the big theater in the evening. Karen Beckett is acclaimed as one of Australia’s top concert singers – she put on a great show of songs from the 70s and 80s, with full shipboard orchestra accompaniment.  Again, a “sit” on our balcony sipping a glass of Australian wine put the cap on Day Three. 

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