Although our budget was tight, we decided we just couldn’t leave Queensland without swimming amongst the only living organism seen from space: the Great Barrier Reef. We went door to door along the numerous tour companies in Airlie Beach negotiating our hardest – and my yells of ‘just book us on any boat’ mixed with Charlotte’s cries of, ‘I just want to see Nemo!’ were fairly successful: we bagged a full day trip out to a snorkelling pontoon for $140 each (cheap by Australia’s standards).
The voyage out to the pontoon was traumatic. The sea was incredibly choppy, and the boat persistently rocked for the best part of two hours. The waves lapping at the side of boat were nothing to the waves we felt internally. It was a scene of total devastation. Crew members were called back and forth to clean up various messes and the sick bags were passed out in towering bundles. We sipped our cups of tea quietly and tried to avoid looking at the poor blue-tinged children behind us.
Just before lunch time we arrived at the pontoon; an innovative and spacious floating deck where a couple of boats could moor and allow people to walk around. Still feeling as though we were swaying, we sunbathed for half an hour to try to rid ourselves of nausea.
The included lunch was fresh shrimp and a large variety of salads – half of which unfortunately blew away in the high winds and became fish food.
Feeling rejuvenated, we decided it was time to hit the reef. We each donned an anti-sting suit, life jacket, mask and flippers (Charlotte unfortunately decided to do this still onboard the pontoon and consequently needed a metre clear radius around her to walk) and cautiously stepped down to join the hoard of other snorkellers.
The marine life was jaw dropping: we saw fish of every colour, huge corals and at one point even a jumbo sized, hump-headed wrasse fish! The snorkelling area covered both deep parts of the sea and shallow areas of reef, and the cliffs between them were some of our favourite areas to look at. If you’ve got the funds, we’d strongly recommend opting for the diving – the most intriguing fish were several feet down and we’d have loved to have been closer to them.
We found the snorkelling a little difficult as the current was strong and we were blown off course once or twice, but it seemed very safe: the area was marked out with rope, buoys and floating viewing rails, the staff had taught us signals for distress, and helpers on dinghies circled us constantly.
The return journey was much the same horror-film scene as the outbound, except this time we ventured outside and were rewarded with large cold waves washing over our heads. I wrapped my head in a towel and clutched a sick bag for the entire journey, whilst Charlotte was pale and shivering.
I highly recommend this trip – just check the weather and pack the anti-sickness pills!
Bowled over in more ways than one,