Friday, October 14, 2011

Great Barrier Reef

Our friend Katy (from England, goes to the Anglican church with us) decided to join us for our trip north.  That was nice and she is used to getting up early, so she helps us get moving in the morning.  She also can drive manual much better than me, so Daniel is glad to have another driver.  

The first day we basically just drove the whole time.  It takes about 10 hours to get to Airlie from Hervey Bay.  We stopped at one of the many rest stops Australia has scattered every few hours to eat our packed lunch.  Because all the roads are only two lane and don’t have much of a shoulder and you can be driving through very monotonous terrain, they have a lot of trouble with drivers falling asleep and causing accidents.  You drive 100 kph and if you get sleepy and drift into the next lane of traffic—you get the picture.  So, they have lots of billboards screaming at people to stop every two hours and they even have driver reviver stations where they serve free coffee.  It can be a bit obnoxious at times, but it does mean they have lots of rest stops, which is handy, since you can go a very long time without hitting a town.

We didn’t get to Airlie until about 8:30 pm, but where able to find our bed and breakfast and Katie’s hostel in the dark.  Airlie is definitely a tourist town, and actually has things open after 7pm, which is quite unusual in Australia.  I didn’t realize since it is a coastal town, that it is also in the mountains.  Beach means flat in my head, but we were driving right along both the coast and the Great Dividing Range.  It sort of reminded me of the south of Spain with the terraced beach houses, as you can see from the pic:

The hill up to our B&B was quite steep, as was the driveway down to our room.   It was a nice room and had a lovely view.  Below is the view from the balcony where we had breakfast.  

They also had a lovely pool I had all to myself. 

And a cat we tried to make friends with.  Clearly from the look on his face, it was against his will.

We walked around a bit that night in the main part of town, and discovered they had a large public swimming area they called the lagoon.  It was a pool that went on for ages, but they made it look more like a beach, and even had sandy areas and the requisite seagulls everywhere.  Here’s a picture:

We went to bed early as we had to be up at 7:00 to catch the bus for our tour.  We had a note left for us at the B&B saying they would have breakfast for us on the boat.  I thought this meant that she was sending breakfast with us, but she meant we would be eating the tour breakfast, which consisted of tea and biscuits (as in cookies)—not very filling or nutritious.  Anyway, we stood at the end of the driveway for about thirty minutes and finally asked the owner if she was sure they were supposed to pick us up.  It was a good thing we called, because the tour had forgotten all about us. 

We were booked on their Reef and Rags tour.  That meant the first day we went out to the reef for snorkeling, and the second day we went on the sailing yacht Ragamuffin to Whitehaven beach.  Well, a couple of days before we arrived, the Ragamuffin sank to the bottom of the marina.  They managed to bring it back up, but it wasn’t exactly seaworthy any more.  Our tour operator for the reef part, Fantasea, thankfully offered to send us on their two island tour the second day since Ragamuffin was out of business.  However, since they had to rebook us, they had forgotten to rebook our transit.  So, they had to send a taxi to come pick us up so we could make it to the marina before the boat launched.  The taxi driver was very friendly, actually driving a Prius, which he admitted was very ugly, but said it ran wonderfully.  He got us there with a few minutes to spare, and we managed to get things straightened out a bit for the tour. Here's the boat we took:

We took one of their smaller boats, and they had 5 foot swells, which meant the 2 hour boat trip to the outer reef was very bumpy.  There were several people getting seasick in the main area, but Daniel had to inform me of this because I went out on top, and sat right against the rail, so I could get the full effect of the bobbing up and down.  I also got soaked from the sea spray.  I loved every minute of it.  My sister Dana looks like she got more of the Portuguese blood than I did, but I got the sea-faring genes.  I was laughing with delight, and you can see:

 It was good to be able to see where we were sailing, too, because it was beautiful.  There were all the Whitsunday Islands scattered about, which are volcanic islands covered in green with white beaches.  I asked Katy how it compared to Hawaii since she had been, and she said it was actually much prettier here as Hawaii is very urban with tons of people.  She said Waiki Beach was just a small strip crawling with people.

We eventually docked at Reefworld, a large floating platform where the boats could dock on either side.  This thing was mammoth.  It had a sundeck on the top, two snorkeling decks where you could sort of gradually get into the water, an underwater viewing area, a place where we had a BBQ lunch, changing rooms, even a waterslide.  I couldn't obviously get all of it in one picture, but this will give you an idea:

Daniel was all for eating first since his tea and biscuit breakfast wasn't holding him, but since they didn't have the food ready, he gave in to snorkeling.  They told us it wasn't stinger season yet for the box jellyfish (the one that can kill you), but there were Irukandji jellyfish that were in season, and while less painful, can still kill you in some instances, and are nearly invisible.  For a list of all the lovely jellyfish that can kill or maim you in Queensland, look here:

So even though the stinger suits were optional, I thought that sounded like a pretty good option.  They are not flattering in the slightest, though.  They were neon pink and blue and were like a spandex bodysuit covering your whole body with mittens for hands and the only part of your feet not covered are covered by your flippers.  They even had a hood you could put on so only your face was showing, but we didn't do that.  We also put on life jackets just so we could float along easier and not get tired.  Some people had on wetsuits in addition to the stinger suits and life jackets because the water did get cold after you had been it it awhile, but the stinger suit sort of insulated you a bit.  They had a professional photographer that got a picture of us snorkeling.  His name was Gary and he really liked Katy, so we saw a lot of him.  We paid $20 and got this one picture; she paid $20, and he gave her about 25 pictures, but then she was a favorite subject for him.  I was a little miffed by the pretty girl discount, but then I didn't have to hide from Gary for the next two days, so in the end I was fine to get one picture and peace and quiet.

Snorkeling was amazing, and I stayed out longer than anyone on the whole tour.  Eventually it was just me all the way at the end of the marked snorkeling trail, and the Fantasea staff following in a little boat asking me every ten minutes if I was still okay.  Yep, just looking at all the fishies.  At one point a grouper bigger than me swam pass, which freaked me out slightly, but I reminded myself that it wouldn't eat me and just enjoyed it.  They said they occasionally get sharks and stingrays that they swore would not bother us and would be a real "treat" to see, but if a grouper freaked me out, I don't know how I would have handled a shark.

Eventually I realized I was shivering from the cold water and shaking from lack of food, so after a little over 2 hours, I headed back to the platform.  I got a few good pictures from the underwater viewing area:

I also took a short ride on their semi-sub, you can see here:

The bottom of it is glass.  It looked like this on the inside: 

You can sort of see all the viewing portals on either side.  I got a picture of the coral, but the colors are sort of distorted:

We were pretty tired by the time we got back, so we ate a quick dinner and headed to bed so we could get up and see Hamilton Island and Whitehaven Beach the next day.  I think this was definitely my favorite part of the trip so far.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that looks so cool! Kind of an effort to get TO the tour, but worth it in the end. Very glad for the stinger suits for you though. And at least your one picture was good and included a fish swimming by.