The Great Barrier Reef

What a fantastic day we’ve had today. Woke up early – 6.30 and got a taxi down to the jetty. The boat we are going out on is a big catamaran called Passions of Paradise. We’re welcomed aboard and offered coffee and muffins which go down at treat and once the crew have introduced themselves we’re off.

The Great Barrier Reef, stretching along the length of the Queensland coast is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. The coral polyps are made up of tiny animals. They excrete a small amount of limestone in order to protect and support their soft bodies and as old ones die, their skeletons bind together building an ever growing reef. The sheer size of the reef makes sit difficult to understand how this amazing ecosystem could be in danger but threats from land based pollution, global warming and over fishing are damaging to the reefs future. I have read that the Australian government have taken steps to try and combat this.

An hour and a half later and we arrive at Michaelmas Cay. This is a small reef island in the middle of the ocean and the sand is pristine white. One of the crew Emma explains that it is a protected part of the national marine park due to the bird population and the boat we are on is the only boat of the 71 that sail out of Cairns allowed to moor there. Maisie and I are ferried across to the reef island and having struggled into our wetsuits, fins and snorkel masks put our heads under the water for the first time.

It’s so cool. Just 10 feet from the shoreline the seabed falls away and an amazing, strange and colourful world is revealed. There seems to be so many different types of coral. We see soft brown stringy coral and purple and yellow hard coral. The fish are amazing, huge parrot fish are all around. We have seen them before when we visited the Red Sea Coast in Egypt. (Another of the worlds top dive sites) but there are lots of them here. I ‘m lucky enough to see a big stingray, right by the waters edge and best of all are the giant clams. Absolutely massive, Maisie could have sat in them. You could see their clammy mouths sucking in and out and their huge curved shells covered in little barnacles. Really amazing!

We have half an hour swimming around which is enough. The water temperature is around 25 degrees but despite our wetsuits it feels quite cold and I’m glad to get into the boat. Simon and Ali are diving but Maisie is too young and we have decided to have a ride in a glass bottomed boat instead. It’s really good; Nicky gives us an interesting and informative tour of some of her favourite spots. We see Nemo and learn all about life on the reef.

We get back to the catamaran and catch up with Simon and Ali who have both dived for the first time today. They loved it and what a fantastic place for your maiden dive. Simon swam with a green turtle; he said it was around 3 feet long. How cool is that. There are some great underwater photos taken as proof! Lunch is served at 1ish and what a feast. Lots of different types of salads, cold meats and huge fresh prawns with a selection of fresh fruit for pudding and a nice cold Corona. Yeh!

We motor on after lunch to Paradise Reef. By now the sun is lovely and I lie on the front of the boat on the bow net in my bikini. Emma takes Ali and Maisie out snorkelling, with floats and a ring. It’s really great, as she shows them a giant clam closing, squids changing colour and shoals of fish all around them. The sea is very rough but they’re well looked after and I’m really glad that we splashed out and went with a more expensive company. When everyone gets back on the boat cheese, crackers, salamis and pickles are offered and despite our large lunch we dig in.
For me one of the best things was on our way back. The Captain shut the engine off and we sailed back. It was fantastic, pretty rough and bouncy. Most people stayed inside but me and the kids stood outside clinging onto the rail and occasionally getting a drenching. It was exhilarating and a perfect end to a wonderful day trip. At last we can see Cairns in the distance and the kids have a time for a quick cup of tea and biscuits. Emma shows them some card tricks which have us all flummoxed and we look at the photo’s taken by the crew throughout the day.

We chat to a couple of lads from Holland; they are at the end of their RTW trip and as they are due to fly home in 3 days, ask them if they have any camping equipment they want to sell. As luck would have it they are after 40 dollars for their tent but Simon offers them 20 and it’s a done deal. One of the fellas from the hostel has given us a really good sleeping bag which we’ve laundered and we’re almost ready to go at the weekend.

Back at the hostel, Simon cooks us Thai red curry for dinner. My friend Nicky emailed and asked if I had missed doing any cooking. What a laugh, as she well knows I never did any at home anyway. Eating out for breakfast, lunch and dinner had been for me one long, happy menu choice and I don’t think I would ever get tired of it. We have a few beers, swap reef stories and Bruce our new Aussie mate lends me his sweater. Lovely way to end a really special day.

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