The Great Australian Outback, the Great Sandy Desert, the Great White Shark are all… great. But when you’re talking really great, there’s only one that stands alone on top of the dais and that’s our own world-renowned…The Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world and is the largest tropical reef eco system on the planet. Extending 2,300 kilometres, from Bundaberg in the south to beyond Cape York in the north, it spans more than 300,000 square kilometres, making it larger than New Zealand. It’s even bigger than the Great Wall of China and is the only living thing that can be seen from outer space.
Recently I spent three nights and four days on the Coral Expeditions 11, a 44-berth, 35-metre vessel, to snorkel, scuba dive and discover some of the world-renowned exquisite coral reefs, cays and bays of this legendary reef.
On this trip we are visiting four separate reefs, Sudbury, Nathan, Noggin and Coates. Over the four days we will travel approximately 327.6kms. All these reefs are located between Cairns and Hinchinbrook Island.
Evie, a marine biologist and our on-board trip director, studied marine science at a Western Australian University and each day gives us an insight into the complex and extraordinary world of this magical wonderland. There is also a scuba diving and snorkel expert to instruct us in all aspects of water safety.
With all the recent publicity of coral bleaching it was a mixture of trepidation and excitement once we leave Cairns on a sparkling sunny morning.
At 2pm, after three hours of slicing through the calmest of waters, we reach our first destination – Sudbury Reef. The colour of the water is a mix of sapphire blue with a sprinkle of emerald and if it was a brochure you’d have to think it was photo shopped.
After a delicious buffet lunch we are a given a last minute safety briefing on all safety aspects of scuba diving and snorkelling.
Before entering the water we put on our full coverage uber sexy black stinger and jellyfish proof suits, which prevents any possible poisonous encounter. The suits are thin and feel like a second skin. Apart from the fact we all look preposterous the suits protect you from being stung so looking stupid feels very chic. I personally looked like an Oompa-Loompa from Willy Wonka’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Moments later on a shimmering sunny afternoon, we’re entering the water that’s a temperature so idyllic it ensures we’re going to be spending a long time in it. The instant your snorkel and mask hit the water, you’re confronted with an explosion of brilliant colour.
First impression of Sudbury Reef coral gardens feels as if we have fallen down the rabbit hole and ended up in Wonderland. There are coral colours I didn’t even know existed – lavender purple, lime green, yellows and deep maroon mixed in with shapes of the reef that look like giant brains and other alien profiles. And the huge variety and colours of fish is mind-boggling.
Amongst the swaying living anemones, Nemo the movie star clown fish and all his abstract coloured mates play hide and seek all the while we’re surrounded by hundreds of small dazzling electric blue coloured fish. Everywhere you look there are schools of beautiful multi-coloured fish.
And to think this is our first snorkel!
A couple of exhilarating hours later and we’re drying off to be taken to a nearby sand cay for afternoon sunset drinks. We are the only people on this tiny sand island and as the sun slowly and languidly disappears, it completes a day that will never be forgotten.
Also available prior to every dive and snorkel is a glass bottom boat tour with our marine biologist Evie. This is so she can show us the best areas to concentrate on and names the different types of fish and creatures we’re likely to encounter. She also identifies and names the type of soft and hard corals on each reef.
The next day, we awaken to be moored off Dunk Island and available is an early morning guided walk in the glorious sunshine to the summit of Mount Kootaloo. It’s a reasonably challenging two-hour rainforest walk but the views at the top make it worthwhile. Another option for guests is an easier rainforest and beach walk.
Before we hit the water at our next destination, Nathan Reef, we’re treated to a top deck barbecue cooked by our amiable and charismatic Captain and Master of the vessel Charlie. Not only is Charlie an outstanding Master he is a sensational chef.
Nathan Reef is where I have my one and only scuba dive and seeing the reef from a fish’s perspective was nothing short of breathtaking and it ensures this is another day to lock into the memory bank.
Another highlight in our first two days on the reef is we have not seen the devastation of coral bleaching that unfortunately has been prevalent in the upper northern areas of the reef.
After our afternoon snorkelling session drinks are served on board closely followed by a delicious restaurant quality dinner and our night is finished off by an inspiring David Attenborough documentary about (surprise, surprise) the Great Barrier Reef.
Soon after, we are gently lulled to sleep in our snug maritime-styled, air conditioned en-suite cabins so we can re-energise our underwater batteries for the next days’ reef adventure, which will see us diving and snorkelling on Noggins Reef.
Noggins Reef doesn’t disappoint and its here I see magical gliding manta rays, schools of groupers and thankfully some-non-threatening reef sharks.
After lunch we depart to Coates Reef where we encounter a collection of coral colours along with science fiction type shapes that could’ve been a scene from David Cameron’s futuristic movie Avatar. Apparently the reef inspired this famous director for his special affects in his award-winning movie.
Our last night on-board concluded with a quirky quiz amongst all the guests and it was like a United Nations gathering as there were travellers from Sweden, Switzerland, USA, Canada and Australia with ages ranging from a 17 year old American girl to a 86 year old Australian gentleman who was as alert as a meerkat and involved himself in as much physical activity as he was able.
Unfortunately due to an adverse weather report that predicted storms, a last day planned visit to a turtle sanctuary on Fitzroy Island unfortunately had to be cancelled.
This was replaced by another morning of diving and snorkelling that certainly made up for our disappointment of not being able to see injured turtles being managed back to full health.
My travelling companions and myself had an extraordinary time and we were blessed with some of the most magnificent Great Barrier Reef weather and the calmest of cruising conditions.
The Coral Expeditions Company has certainly got the cruising formulae down perfectly as this was a memorable trip. •
Photography by Daniel Resnik
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