I can’t quite believe it’s been over a week since my last blog post, for two reasons really. Mainly because I’ve packed so much into the last few weeks, it feels like a month’s worth of blogging, but also because time is flying by and for just a moment I would like it to stand still so that I can bask in the incredible beauty that is the Great Barrier Reef.
After Bali, we flew to Cairns in North Queensland, known for its crystal clear waters and spectacular coral reefs. Though the Great Barrier Reef reaches much further North than Cairns, this seaside town is where most of the reef tours and adventures start from, with most guide books recommending it as a good place to begin your reef exploration.
Cairns is a small seaside town, and during the day can appear deceivingly quiet. But don’t be fooled, the many hundreds of tourists are all spending their days out in the deep blue ocean. It took us a few hours for the penny to drop, at first we couldn’t figure out why there wasn’t anyone about as we strolled along the Esplanade on our first day. But, fast forward a few hours to bustling bars and restaurants and the streets full of people, and it all began to sink in. Ah! They were all out on the water. Of course they were, because that’s why most tourists come to Cairns; that’s why we came to Cairns.
Although I had done a lot of research into the different types of tours you can do before arriving, we decided not to book anything until we got there because frankly, there’s no better advice than that of the local guides who can tell you how things really are. Thankfully, our hotel had a tour desk so we ventured down there after getting our bearings to book our first reef tour.
We were staying in the DoubleTree Hilton (a far cry from the luxury of Bali let me tell you!), and although the hotel itself wasn’t great, the tour desk was brilliant. Sue, the woman running the desk, is a seasoned diver and knows everything there is to know about the reef, snorkelling and the best tours on the market. We were worried we may not get a good tour as we didn’t want to dive, but we needn’t have because the tour we ended up booking was absolutely incredible. Thanks Sue!
Like many Cairns tours, Tusa Dive offer full day tours to the reef for both divers and snorkelers and provide all equipment as well as food and drink for your day out on the water. But what made the tour so great for us was the crew. They honestly couldn’t have been more helpful, professional, or encouraging, especially to us newbies scared of the open water.
We boarded our Tusa Dive boat early and were so relieved to know there were many others in the same boat (excuse the pun!) as us. Most had never snorkelled before, and apart from some very shallow snorkelling in the Maldives last year, I have never snorkelled properly, let alone done a dive, so this put my very nervous tummy at ease so I could sit back, relax, and settle into my day at sea.
We started our morning out with tea, coffee and muffins on board as well as running through the day’s events and safety demonstrations. The plan was to visit two reefs, the first being one called Pretty Patches. The two reefs you visit on your trip are only decided on the morning, weather and water conditions obviously playing a part in the decision. We were extremely lucky to get a very fine, clear day meaning we could sail out to the furthest reefs near the continental shelf, and crystal clear water.
Nerves were building as we got fitted for our wetsuits and flippers and before I knew it, it was time to get in the water. Eek, holy crap! Like any of these scary moments in life, it was time to bite the bullet, get over the nerves, and embrace this amazing opportunitiy right in front of me, and so I took a deep breath and jumped right on in.
I’m not going to lie, the first minute or so I was a bit panicky. You jump into the water in the deep blue, no reef below you, nothing to see. Obviously the boat can’t go right up to the reef so it pulls up as close as you can and you swim over. For someone who never, and I mean NEVER, swims in the sea, this was scary. But once I got my bearings I calmed down, put my head under water and swam. And oh, was I glad I did.
As you swim, the reef suddenly appears out of nowhere, colours you can’t even imagine shine up at you like something out of a David Attenborough TV series. I’m not even joking, I could almost hear him narrating what I was looking at as I swam over many different types of coral, fish and other marine life. It was quite literally breath-taking and nothing like anything I had ever seen or done before.
We spent about half an hour in the water, took loads of under water pictures with my adventure camera, then headed back to the boat for lunch. I got out of the water and as sad as this may sound, I almost cried! It was a feeling of pure elation, and pride for what I had achieved. It may seem like a small feat to most but open water and me? I just never thought I’d have the guts. But I did, and it felt amazing!
We had a gorgeous buffet lunch on board as we left Pretty Patches and made our way over to the second snorkel sight of the day and do it all again. I found the afternoon snorkel a little tougher as the current had picked up and was quite strong – swimming against it certainly took strength and concentration. But never was I concerned because the instructors and staff on the boat were keeping a close eye on us.
As we sailed home and the sun began to go down, I was full of adrenalin and happiness from the day. It was so much more incredible than I could ever have imagined it to be. I loved every minute of it.
I knew the Great Barrier Reef would be amazing, I knew snorkelling would be amazing, but honestly, I never dreamed it would be as incredible as it was. I had imagined what it would be like for so many years, but seeing it in real life with your own eyes is another thing entirely. It is something I’ll never forget.
Obviously there was a lot more to our trip to Cairns than just the reef, we also visited Cairns Zoom, an indoor Zoo on top of a Casino, sounds strange I know but this place was incredible. I met Ruby the Pademelon, Goliath the four meter long Croc, and even got to have a cuddle with Micro the Koala, an experience pretty high up on my list of best things ever! We also strolled along the esplanade, ate some great food, drank, laughed, and pinched ourselves more than a few times.
We arrived in Australia with the best bang ever and our adventures have been incredible so far. We left Cairns and made our way down towards Townsville for an overnight pitstop before making our way towards Airlie Beach and the next big adventure on our trip.
The road trip is well and truly underway…