Cairns, Cairns, Cairns. Well what else is there to say except GREAT BARRIER REEF! Oh, and an ironman we were wholly unaware was being held but made for an interesting and enjoyable Sunday afternoon watching people stagger across the finish line. Before that though the day of our flight arrival was grey and rainy, but still a balmy 23 degrees, the hostel we were staying at smelt of damp and had springs in the mattress that jabbed you in the back, an inauspicious start if ever there was one, but on the positive side there was free pancakes for breakfast on Saturday. After a night out on free wine courtesy of a bar manager we met over at Gilligans, we rapidly checked out and and moved over to the much more pleasant Corona backpackers, a colourful, small, cosy spot just down the road. We had booked our reef snorkelling trip with them the day before and were early to bed for an early(ish) start on Monday morning.
So, to the main body of this blog post - snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. The company we'd booked with, Reef Daytrippers, were all really nice and with only a small group of us on the boat, about 20 I think, there was plenty of space to sit in the sun, no-one getting in each others way on the reef, unlike at Ningaloo reef in Exmouth, and enough food for seconds! The reef itself, well, where do you start? After the first plunge into the cold water, which you acclimatise to quickly enough but then slowly turn blue as the cold seeps into your skin, there is an underwater world of which I've only ever seen on tv and didn't quite believe until I saw it with my own eyes. The corals are a lot different to those I saw on the West Coast, whereas there they were all browns and creams and generally dull colours, as well as being solid coral, out here it is a rainbow of colours, reds, purples, ochres, fluorescent greens, yellows, oranges, so much more colour than you expect to see on the ocean floor. As well as the brightness of colour there is so much movement, imagine waving feathery fronds, shuffling spaghetti strands and pulsating velvety surfaces alongside the hard corals, such as the brain coral, golf ball coral, mushroom coral, lettuce coral…I think you can pretty much imagine what they look like as the names are very descriptive. I was a little concerned at some dead looking patches which in hindsight I should really have asked the guys about but they didn't seem overly worried about it.
The stars of the reef really are the fish. Now I'd seen most of the fish over on the West Coast but seeing them twice doesn't make them any less impressive. We had an optional guided tour where one of the guys on the boat pointed out interesting things we probably (read: definitely) would have missed had we been floating along on our own. First thing to pop up, only a stingray chilling out on the sandy bottom with his little eyes poking out. Was all a bit Alien for me! Fluorescent parrot fish, huge angel fish, a shoal of absolutely ginormous hump-headed parrotfish, silvery flute fish (looked a bit like eels), a few variations of butterfly fish (they really are like the butterflies of the sea), groups of tiny bright blue fish darting around here and there, giant clams about 2 feet across with the most glorious colours peeking out from the inside, and deep blue starfish the size of a dinnerplate. There is so much to see you can't really catalogue them all and even on websites I've checked the variations are so wide it's difficult to get an exact idea of how many species we saw apart from the ones pointed out to us by the guide! We also stroked a sea slug - a sentence I never in all seriousness thought I'd have cause to write in my lifetime. It was slimy, like what I'd imagine a wet mole feels like...
We also managed to find Nemo - twice! He isn't as good at hide and seek as he thinks he is, although the clown fish were a lot smaller than I thought, but super cute darting in and out of the anemones.
The highlight of the trip for me was swimming with green turtles. Yep that's right, one swam past me relaxed as you please so I managed to get a really good look and follow him a little while. They are just so cute and amazingly graceful under the water, in total contrast to on land. I think they are one of my new favourite animals, and I was actually more thrilled to be swimming with one than with the whale sharks!
We got two trips into different sections of the reef, after dinner we went back in and boy was it cold second time round! Our bodies had evidently reacclimatised to the heat of the sun so as a result I didn't stay in as long as the first time, but still enjoyed it. The return to land was quiet, although we got a free glass of wine and a fruit platter I wasn't aware of so that was nice. In bed at night I could still feel the motion of the boat, leaving me feeling almost drunk and not a pleasant experience, but worthwhile for the turtles alone.
The only downside to this trip - I ate too much cheese and felt ill when we were back on dry land! How I'll cope on a two day Whitsundays trip I don't know.