The Hungry Wanderers

Eating and exploring our way through the world

The Great Barrier Reef

Posted by gingerbreadpirate on March 17, 2010

We were wondering what exactly we were going to do on our first day in the Whitsunday Islands.  We knew there was a lot to do, and we considered the Great Barrier Reef, but as the Wife doesn’t swim, and I swim terribly, it seemed like it might not be the best place for us to pop out to, particularly when you consider that the tours take an entire day, and the whole trip would run about $450 AUD.  Once we were on the island, though, we realized we had traveled roughly 11000 miles to get here, and that this would very likely be our only opportunity in our lives to go visit the largest of the natural wonders of the world.  So, despite the cost, and our lack of <ahem> aquatic-aptitude, we decided to jump in and go see something completely unique.

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If you’re note familiar with the Great Barrier Reef, it is a system of coral reefs that run for over 2300 km off the northeast coast of Australia.  It’s huge, and the only Natural Wonder to be visible from space.  Coral is a living organism, a not-too-distant cousin of the jellyfish, and the coral is home to hundreds of species of other animals.  I believe this specific reef is about 15 km long.

As a point of interest, if you ever go to the Whitsundays and want to see the Great Barrier Reef, we noted that the tickets were $30 AUD cheaper on land at Shute Harbour than it was on the island.  So if you know you’re going to go, save the $60 and buy your tickets on the mainland.

So, off we went.  We were up early, as we left the blinds open last night, and we woke up to see this.

IMG_5148 It was a good start to the day.  We took showers and got dressed in our fabulous bathroom at the Reef View Hotel.  Our boat was due to depart at 9 am, and we were asked to be there at 8:45 am.  As has been the norm for our trip, it rained on our way to the jetty (dock).

Once we got there, the staff told us, multiple times, at several different points, that the weather would be windy (28-35 knots), and the seas would be choppy once we left the protection of the islands, with waves potentially being over 3 meters (up to 10+ feet).  Our catamaran held 200 people, but it wasn’t all THAT big, but we decided to brave the seas to get out to the reef.  The staff also recommended seasickness tablets for anyone that even THOUGHT they might get sick.  I’m not at all prone to get motion sick, but when they said waves up to 10 feet, I decided that an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure, and took some medication.  The Wife made the same decision.

IMG_5377We don’t know if we would have gotten sick or not, but we were certainly glad that we took the medication.  As we entered the rough seas, we were all asked to sit, and not get up for any reason.  The staff took posts at the front of the boat watching all of us, armed with cups of ice cubes, hot washcloths, collapsible emergency oral-evacuation containers (barf bags).  Several passengers took advantage of the staff’s preparedness, as we rock, rolled, and yawed out to the reef.  The boat was freezing, and we wondered why it was SO cold at first, but then a crew member mentioned that if you get hot at all, you’re FAR more likely to experience sea-sickness.  The Wife and I really felt for a couple of our very sick shipmates.

On the ship, they had some posters up.   I saw this one, and for a split-second questioned our decision to come as potentially over-zealous.

IMG_5212 17 species of sea snakes, eh?  Oh, and as a bonus they’re among the MOST venomous in the world?  Perhaps getting in the water with them isn’t the smartest thing, then?

“Aw, naw, mate!  No worries.  MOST are not aggressive.  And with those short fangs, you’ll be ‘right.”  Whew!  How reassuring.

To be honest, though, let’s face it, I’ve come all this way, and if nothing else, being killed by a venomous serpent, halfway around the world from home, while on holiday would leave a great story for the nieces and nephews.

After a couple hours, we got to the reef and the platform owned by FantaSea, ReefWorld.  It was a very large (80+ meters) platform, floating right next to a beautiful reef.  The cruise included access to the platform, snorkeling from the platform with all appropriate equipment, a semi-submersible boat that cruised the reef, a viewing tank to see the groper fish, and a buffet lunch, with morning and afternoon tea.

IMG_5197We got off the ship, onto the platform, and did a little exploring.  It was still very windy.

IMG_5183That’s our ship in the background.  Notice that it’s not a small boat.  It holds a couple hundred people, and has three decks.

IMG_5184 This was one of the other platforms, although we’re not sure what it’s for.  Notice the streamers standing straight out from the wind (35+ knots).

We did have a great view of our reef, though.

IMG_5226After exploring, we immediately began looking for the snorkeling gear.  Because there has been a sharp spike in encounters with the irakanji jellyfish this summer, we were all provided with stinger suits; basically thin, synthetic suits used to protect the wearer against jellyfish stings (spandex or neoprene or something, but NOT a wet-suit).  We weren’t required to wear the stinger suits, and the irakanji jellyfish isn’t anything like the box jellyfish, but it’s a jellyfish in the same hemisphere as the Box jelly, so I figured I wouldn’t be TOO cavalier about it all.  As I suited up, I also wondered if it also protected against MOST of the reef’s sea snakes.

After getting suited up, mask, fins and snorkel on, we jumped in.  All kidding aside, at this point we really did have second thoughts.  As I said, we are not model swimmers, and the seas were actually quite rough.  The waves were tall and erratic.  The current was strong.  The winds at this point we peaking over 35 knots.  It was, to be honest, a little scary.  Once again, though, we’d come roughly 11000 miles, and turning back once we were ACTUALLY in the water just seemed ridiculous.  There was a rubber tender in the water watching the snorkelers, and there were a couple “lifeguards” watching for swimmers, too.  Also, in addition to everything else, we had life jackets on, not only to help with swimming, but just help with floating while snorkeling.

So in we went.  They had several ropes identifying where you could and couldn’t go on the reef, and I noticed that almost every single snorkeler was using them as guides around the reef.  Basically, no one was swimming; everyone was navigating their way around by pulling themselves around on the ropes.  The water was pretty murky, relatively speaking, since it was so rough, but there were still heaps (very Aussie word) of fish RIGHT there swimming around us.  We could see the coral pretty clearly, too, but just not as clear as you might see on some documentary.  While we were there, they had an underwater photographer snapping pictures of everyone.  Check it out.

IMG_0536 Well, almost everyone.  That’s me on the left… I promise!

We snorkeled around for probably 20 minutes before we were just too beat up by the surf to stay in.  We got out of the water and dried off.  Several of the people we got in with were getting out right around the same time, making us feel a little better about our short excursion.  I think the general consensus was that the water was pretty rough to be out in it for too long.

Fortunately, we had some other great options!  We popped inside for some lunch, which was pretty good.  We figured it was probably best to eat before too long, since the ride back promised to be interesting.  Lunch had the best selection of salads of anything we’d seen in Australia, so we went to town on the fresh greens.  They also had chicken satay, steak, and fish.

After lunch we went out and rode the semi-submersible boat around the reef, and took some pictures.

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Here is a snapshot of some of the corals.  You can see that they come in different colors and shapes.  Sadly, you can’t VIVIDLY see the shapes and colors they come in.

IMG_5355Here is a typical anemone, like the ones in Nemo!

Our underwater photographer, Aaron from VidoesDownUnder, also gave us a photo (one his own) once we purchased a handful of other photos.  Check it out.  Aaron was a fantastic photographer, and just seemed like a genuinely nice guy.  Thanks, Aaron!

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It was time to go, at that point.  We bought out photos, and before we actually left the dock, they asked us all to sit down.  Once everyone was seated , they counted us, twice.  The numbers didn’t add up to the number of people they brought.  So they counted us again.  Once all the math worked out, and they accounted for everyone, we were able to depart.  That made us feel better that we wouldn’t be left behind!

They also told us to that the ride home would be rougher than the way out.  I think, though, that no one was cavalier enough to ignore the suggestion of the crew to take the seasickness medication, because we had far fewer problem passengers, despite the rougher waves.  The crew still took their posts up front, watching over us, but on our deck, only one person had a problem.

The waves were big, too.  We frequently had waves hit the windows, even though we were sitting on the upper deck.

IMG_5391 Once we were inside the protection of the Whitsunday Islands, things calmed down, and we could go out and actually enjoy the nice weather again.

IMG_5396We also enjoyed afternoon tea.  Finally, we reached the harbor, and debarked.  We decided that for $505 ($225 AUD per person for the trip, $5 for credit card processing, and $50 for the pictures), it probably wasn’t worth it as a singular experience, but in the greater context of the event that was seeing the Great Barrier Reef, up close and personal, it was definitely worth the expense to do once.

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One Response to “The Great Barrier Reef”

  1. stacy said

    Your photos are awesome. I adore the simplicity of that second to last one. It sounds like a great time – well written narrative.

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