Have you been to the Barrier Reef? My haughty response was always “Nah, but I have seen tons of coral reefs in tropical places before.” The credulous reply was habitually, “You have too! It’s one of the highlights of Australia!” This groundhog day conversation had annoyed me to no end. After a few trips Down Under and repeatedly fielding the question we decided to discover what all of this fuss was about. Nug and I booked cheap flights to Cairns on Jetstar in April and packed for a week in “Tropical Queensland”. On the flight there I read about all the critters that can kill you in dreadful ways. “I don’t think I want to leave the room,” I confided to Nug. As we walked off the plane the sticky tropical heat clung to us like stink to a Frenchman. The volcanic mountains soared skyward and we literally swam through the humidity to our Rent-a-Bomb rental car (You can’t beat this outfit for cars that look like they came from the dump or the cheap price). We hadn’t even left the state of Queensland but it felt like we were on a tropical island. We jumped on the “Tropical Great Ocean Road” and rubbernecked amazing scenery as I tried to navigate hairpin turns. Everything was electric green…except the water which was a poo brown and reminded me of a dirty day in Jax Beach. We made a pit stop at a beach and were encountered by signs warning of “Marine Stingers” or jellyfish. In April the box jellyfish, which has the world’s most deadly venom, is prevalent. It is an odd feeling to sit at the water’s edge and know that less than 10ft away is a creature that with the slightest brush of its tentacle could send you into painful spasms which could lead to your demise. Needless to say the water was to dirty for a dip…oh, and the jellies made it even less inviting.
We continued to Port Douglas and passed what must have been 200 roundabouts…apparently they don’t believe in traffic lights. Port Douglas was an amazing island style town with great restaurants, mountain views, and a fantastic waterfront market on Sunday. We explored several national parks including Cape Tribulation, Mossman Gorge, and the Daintree Rainforest but our main goal was to get to the Great Barrier Reef.
We booked a cruise on Calypso and were met with a morning of off and on rain. Either way we were committed as we rode to a patch of reef 32 miles off the coast. The woman next to us was horribly sick the whole ride. If it wasn’t for Nug’s foresight and the sea sickness meds my landlubber ways would have had me competing with her in a barf contest. I skeptically mentioned that I hoped the ride would be worthwhile, while harboring low expectations. We arrived at the 1st snorkel spot and it appeared to be a random spot in the middle of the ocean. Nug and I pulled on musty jellyfish condoms (lycra body suits to protect from marine stingers) and were the 1st ones off the boat into the water.
My pompous façade was instantly washed away as I stared in wonderment at the underwater scene. The sharks, rays, turtles, thousands of fish, corals, and cornucopia of colors were stunning. I thought I had seen great coral reefs before but this was like the allegory of the cave for me. I thought my head was going to explode! The 4 hour journey went by in what felt like 15 minutes. On the ride back I had to admit, “The Great Barrier Reef is the real deal,” before I passed out in the corner like a tuckered out child. Now I am just trying to avoid being one of the zealots who bombards people who have visited Australia with the annoying question, “Have you been to the Barrier Reef?”
If you have made it this far and can bear any more here are 2 vids from our snorkel trips to the reef!