JUST off the Queensland coast is a little marine wonder called the Great Barrier Reef. You may have heard of it. On Monday I went there.
Setting off from Cairns Marina at 8am, our sailing boat, called Ocean Free, took two hours to motor to Green Island (it wasn't a particularly speedy boat, but the view and sea breeze made the time pass rapidly). Mooring to a buoy just offshore, we were given a quick rundown about snorkelling, and then allowed to jump in.
I have never snorkelled before, nor used flippers. Thus upon entering the sea (which was surprisingly cold) I was faced with two quite taxing challenges. Legs flailing about everywhere, I hyperventilated my way to a floating platform, taking quite panicky breaths, not quite sure how to breathe. The difficulty lies in having to restrict all breathing to the mouth, since the nose is blocked off. While floating this is surprisingly hard work.
Eventually however, I calmed down and breathed steadily, still kicking my legs in quite comical directions. Suddenly I could see what I was surrounded by. Colour abounded everywhere, from the fish and the corals; weird and wonderful shapes created a remarkable landscape. I was swimming over corals shaped like trees, worms and giant brains. There were clams and the most exciting fish. I regret I am unable to tell you the names of the fish I saw, on account of not knowing, but as accurately as I can describe there were Big Ones, Small Ones, Long Ones and Rotund Ones. One fish had a beautiful purple body with bright green fins. It was so stunning I actually said "wow!" out loud, which I regretted instantly, as salt water filled my snorkel and eye mask. What was remarkable was when I bobbed up to find the boat, I would return to have fish, rainbow coloured or jet blue, swimming happily within grabbing distance.
Lunch followed, a smorgasboard of meats, salads and breads, before boarding Green Island itself, a rainforested site conserved as a National Park, with a $500 per night resort (which hosted the world premiere of Finding Nemo. The island used to be the home of the Gungandji people, but is now home to the largest crocodile in captivity. Warmed and eager to snorkel once more we returned to the boat and jumped straight in, far more confident and spurred on by the news some divers had seen sharks and turtles. I saw neither, but I was not disappointed, because the Reef is perhaps the most beautiful habitat I have ever seen.
We sailed with the wind behind us part way home, wined and dined with platters of fruit, cake and cheeses, and landed in Cairns at 5pm. It had been a fantastic day.
I may not have Internet access for two weeks from Friday, so there may be no more updates until then, which is a shame, because I want to tell you all about the rainforest, the mudskippers of the esplanade and our hunt for platypus (possibly). We're off to do a conservation project near here until then, so we may and probably will be in the middle of nowhere.