The Greatest of the Great – A Barrier Reef AdventureThe Great Australian Bight, the Great Sandy Desert and the Great White Shark are all, well, great. But when you’re talking all things great, there’s one Aussie attraction that stands alone at the top of the dais, and that’s the world-renowned Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and is the largest tropical reef ecosystem on the planet. Extending 2,300 kilometres from Bundaberg in the south to beyond Cape York in the north, it spans more than 300,000 square kilometres, making it larger than New Zealand. It’s even larger than the Great Wall of China, and is the only living thing that can be seen from outer space.
Recently I was lucky enough to spend four days and three nights aboard the Coral Expeditions 11 – a 44-berth, 35-metre vessel – snorkelling, scuba diving, and discovering some of the world-renowned coral reefs, cays, and bays of this exquisite natural wonder.
We visited four separate reefs on our trip – Sudbury, Nathan, Noggin, and Coates – all of which are located between Cairns and Hinchinbrook Island. Over the four days we travelled approximately 327 kilometres.
With all the recent publicity given to the coral bleaching epidemic that has tarnished large swathes of the Great Barrier Reef, it was with a mixture of trepidation and excitement that we first set off from Cairns harbour on a sparkling, sunny morning.
In the early afternoon, after three hours of slicing through the calmest of waters, we reached our first destination, Sudbury Reef. The colour of the water was a mix of sapphire blue and a sprinkle of emerald. If I’d seen it in a travel brochure instead in the flesh, I’d certainly have assumed it’d been photoshopped.
Before entering the water, a scuba diving and snorkelling expert briefed us on all aspects of water safety, then it was time to pull on our sexy full length stinger and jellyfish proof suits, which are there prevent any possible poisonous encounters with the deadly box jellyfish and some its pain-inducing pals. Thankfully the suits were thin and felt like little more than a second skin. We just looked preposterous. I personally resembled an Oompa Loompa from Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
Diving down into Sudbury Reef’s coral gardens was like falling down the rabbit hole and ending up with Alice in Wonderland. Some of the coral colours I didn’t know existed in nature – deep purples, vivid greens, fluorescent yellows, and deep maroons, mixed in with the intriguing shapes of the reef, some of which looked like giant brains and alien profiles. The huge variety and fish down there was mind-boggling.
A couple of exhilarating hours later and we were drying off to be taken to a nearby sand cay for sunset drinks. We were the only people on this tiny sand island, and as the sun slowly and languidly disappeared it completed a day that will never be forgotten.
The next day we awoke to find ourselves moored off Dunk Island, where we took an early morning guided walk to the summit of Mount Kootaloo. It was a challenging two-hour rainforest walk, but the views at the top made it all worthwhile. Another option for guests is an easier rainforest and beach walk.
Our next destination, Nathan Reef, was where I had my one and only scuba dive of the trip, and seeing the reef from a fish’s perspective was nothing short of breathtaking.
After our afternoon snorkelling and scuba diving session, drinks were served on-board, followed by a delicious restaurant quality dinner, before we finished off our night in front of an inspiring David Attenborough documentary about – surprise, surprise – the Great Barrier Reef.
Soon after we were gently lulled to sleep in our snug maritime-styled air conditioned cabins, reenergising our underwater batteries for the next day’s reef adventure, which saw us getting salty at Noggins Reef, where magical manta rays, schools of grouper, and friendly reef sharks abounded.
Our last night on-board the Coral Expeditions 11 concluded with a quirky quiz amongst the guests. It was like a United Nations gathering, with travellers from Sweden, Switzerland, USA, Canada, and Australia, ranging in age from a 17-year-old girl to an 86-year-old Aussie gent who was is as alert as a meerkat and involved himself in as much physical activity as he was able to. He certainly made me lift my game!
The Coral Expeditions Company has certainly got the cruising formula down to a fine art, and this memorable trip was enhanced by staying at two superb Hilton Hotels when on dry land: the Hilton Cairns and the Double Tree by Hilton Cairns.
If you’re looking to hit the Great Barrier Reef, you’d be a fool to look elsewhere.
Double Tree by Hilton Cairns
(07) 4050 6070
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