Great Barrier Reef

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August 28th 2009
Published: August 31st 2009
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You worry sometimes, about how many times you can get excited about seeing another beach, another mountain or even another town. Have we seen it all before but in a different shape? The whole east coast of Australia is full of amazing beaches but there is only so many times you can think a beach is the nicest one you have ever seen. You just think silently, well, it’s the same as the one down the road, stunningly beautiful, but, the same. We have often discussed about getting ‘sightseers overkill’. We have seen so much now we had hoped we wouldn’t become blasé (Michelle likes that word but I know it as Unmoved) about things. Then you go snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef and you get absolutely blown away. Blasé/Unmoved. What the hell do they mean.

We arrived in Airlie Beach after another mammoth drive from Rockhampton. The drives recently have been getting longer and some days we can drive six to seven hours straight. When we got there we went straight to the booking office recommended in the Lonely Planet. We wanted to do a tour of the Whitsunday islands and we needed to go the next day on the trip. We were given all the options and then the lady threw a spanner in the works. We only planned on spending one day in Airlie Beach but she could get us two separate tours on different days for a very good price. One tour was to see the Whitsunday islands and visit Whitehaven beach. The other was to snorkel in the great barrier reef. Separately they would cost Aus$150 each but we could get the two combined for Aus$200 each. Not ones to miss out on a good deal we took the offer.
The tour through the Whitsunday islands was on a sail boat and as there was no wind we didn’t get to use the sail that much. We also passed by a big Yacht race of over 80 boats going absolutely nowhere because of the lack of wind. The islands are amazing but not the most spectacular thing you will ever see. There are 74 islands in total mainly all uninhabited. One of the main islands is Hamilton Island. It is owned by one man who owns everything on the island, including the shops and restaurants. Beach front houses go for near 3 million Australian dollars and nothing is cheap there. It has its own international airport which is said to be the toughest to land on in Australia. There are two high rise buildings on the island that I think take from the character but all in all it looks pretty cool. There are no cars either and you have to hire a golf buggy to get around the island, again, owned by the same man.

Our sail to Whitehaven beach took about two and a half hours to get there. The beach is made up mainly of silica and apparently if the sand gets hit by lightning it would turn to glass. The sand is so white that from a distance you could confuse it with snow. We stayed there for 2 hours, had a swim and lunch before returning to our sail boat by dingy. On our way back we saw some more Dolphins and Minke whales but only from a distance.

Next day we were up early to catch the bus to the harbour for our tour to the Great Barrier Reef. Our boat could take up to 300 people but luckily there were only 70 on board. We departed at 8am and would not arrive at the reef until 11am. It is a good bit out from the coast obviously you can see, by the time it took us to get there. Along the way we met an Australian couple from Sydney. We ended up spending a good bit of the day with them talking about all sorts. They were in there early to mid 40’s and he was in the building trade. They had a boat in Sydney and they said if they had met us there they would have taking us out no problem. Some people say it, just to get it in that they have a boat but he genuinely meant it. They even gave us his e-mail address at the end and told us to send on our home address and he would send us the DVD of the day, that he had bought from tour company. He knew we couldn’t afford it and has offered to send it to Ireland when we get home. That is the second time someone has done that. When we swam with dolphins a guy who’s wife was in the pool videoed the whole thing. He just came up to us and gave us his email address and said send him our address and he’ll send us a copy. Its amazing how friendly people have been to us all along our travels and we have yet to encounter any nastiness from anyone(other than Aussie drivers but that’s for another blog!).

I got my usual spot on the boat. Up the front on the top deck. We had been told we would see whales along the trip so we hoped that maybe we might see a whale breach. The boat stopped at two different islands to pick up people going to the Reef. We were going to a place called Reef World. Basically a big pontoon out in the middle of the ocean beside the reef. It wasn’t long before some one spotted some whales and everyone was getting excited. Our luck was in as well. The whales breached a few times but getting it on camera is hard. I got one photo and if you look closely you can see the whale. The journey to Reef World didn’t feel that long and when we got there we all headed to get our snorkel gear and wet suits. They had warned us about basically, killer jelly fish, and to wear stinger suits. It was optional but it was also out of season for the jelly fish. They told us there was a chance and with the unusual hot weather there could be some in the water. When we saw what a stinger suit looked like we decided against it. It covered the whole body like one piece suit and came in baby blue or pink. We decided to take our chances on the jelly fish rather than commit crimes against fashion. I wish now I had put one on just for a photo.

It wasn’t long before we were in the warm waters and snorkelling around the reef. It was shallow around the coral so we swam around the edge of it until the tide got a bit higher. Immediately we were surrounded by fish, some curious and others nervous of our presence. Out of the 70 people on board I’d say only about 20 snorkelled. It gave us time to swim around without crashing in to others. When we decided to come back in for lunch we couldn’t believe we had been in the water for over an hour. It only felt like 20 minutes. Lunch was a big bbq full of all sorts of meat and fish with plenty of salads too. As we didn’t want to get straight back in to the water we took a spin in a semi-submarine for a different view of the reef. We saw 4 different turtles and many kinds of fish. After returning we got back in the water for one last swim. Again we spent over an hour exploring the reef. Strong tides made it hard to stay still and if you didn’t concentrate you would end up along way from where you thought you might be.

A loud siren sounded to say we all had to come back in as it was time to leave. Back on board the boat we watched the video that was made of the day and looked at the photos taken of us in our wet gear. The journey was quick again, even if it was three hours, and we talked for most of it to the Australian couple. When we got back that evening we discussed where the Great Barrier Reef falls in list of everything we have seen. For me it is No.2 just behind the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina, for Michelle its No.1. It really was that good. Its another of those great things we can now say….. “Well, remember the time we swam the in Great Barrier Reef……………..

In a bit. DH

Song of the blog: Oasis - Slide Away (Still in mourning!)

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2nd September 2009

I am back on schedule with the blogs guys, wow, again amazing pics!! bring on the Asia blogs, 3 months til home time, eeek!! xoxox
3rd September 2009

3 months and 16 days actually!

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