Nothing says Australia like the Great Barrier Reef, it was always going to be a must see and there is a plethora of options open to any tourist visiting the east coast. You can snorkel, dive, take glass bottom boats, sailing trips, overnight trips… The list goes on and on. All of the trips cost a pretty penny and picking an option that was right for us was really important.
A friend of ours who lives in Australia told me we should focus our efforts and finances with a multi-day trip in the Whitsundays and I really should have listened. Instead I got a bit greedy and decided that we should do tours from both Cairns and Airlie Beach to check out the reef in different areas. Don’t get me wrong, we had a great time on both trips but if I had my time again I would choose to extend the trip we did in the Whitsundays over a few days.
I was completely ignorant about the Great Barrier Reef before we got to Australia. I knew it was big but it stretches 2000 km down the coast! During our time in Cairns we took a catamaran to one of the outer reefs for a day of snorkeling. The reefs closer to Cairns suffered quite a lot of damage historically and we didn’t want to contribute to that. Instead we chose the smallest boat in the harbour, this allowed it to anchor very close to a beautiful reef that other boats wouldn’t be able to get close to so it received very little traffic.
The crew was a bunch of three great guys, two Aussies and one Brit who had moved over to enjoy the sunshine long term. They were really informative and guided us around the reef the whole day, pointing out things that I would have gone straight past without noticing. Without a doubt the highlight of the day was seeing a giant sea turtle chilling out amongst the coral. We also clapped eyes on a reef shark, a barracuda, Nemo, batfish, giant clams, blue coral and countless schools of fish.
Our second trip started from Airlie Beach some 800 km south of Cairns and it was on a beautiful tall ship. I’d never been on a proper sailboat and to sail around the Whitsunday Islands was something I’d declared as top priority. We had such a fantastic day, met some wonderful people, learnt the basics of being a deckhand and got to experience the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef again. There is nothing like the feeling of gliding quickly through the ocean with only the creaking of the deck and the rigging for noise.
We snorkeled off two different islands in the Whitsundays and man they were beautiful. The beaches have the most brilliant white sand and beautiful foliage, proper Robinson Crusoe stuff. The reef areas we saw were incredibly pristine and absolutely teeming with fish of all shapes and sizes. My only regret is that we didn’t take the time to sail for 2-3 days.
We’ve dived and snorkeled in the Red Sea in Egypt and the Andaman Sea in Thailand and they don’t hold a candle to the Great Barrier Reef. The colours are absolutely phenomenal, you can’t believe that nature could produce such vibrant shades of red, purple and orange. I’m gutted that my small camera broke and I can’t share any underwater photos from our second trip but I definitely won’t forget the things I saw that day.
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