Great Barrier Reef

November 1, 2013

Today was our last day in Cairns, and it was a bit complicated. We were up early to have breakfast before heading down to the marina to board the Passions of Paradise catamaran. We parked the car under the Shangri-La Hotel and then checked in and boarded the boat. We left the marina at 8:30 am, along with several other boats, and headed out to Michaelmas Cay. For about an hour and a half we motored, eventually arriving at the low sandy island. This was home to thousands of noisy Common Noddies and Bridled Terns. Humans were only allowed on a small roped-off stretch of the beach, so as to not disturb the birds.

Here we got suited up and ready to go snorkelling. As today was the first day of “stinger season”, the time of year when stinging jellyfish might be about, it was highly recommended that we don stinger suits. These were full-length Lycra costumes with mitts to cover the hands, hoods to cover the head, and stirrups under the feet. They were very cold and clammy to put on, but on the other hand they did provide a bit of extra warmth while we were in the water. So we didn’t begrudge the $8 we paid to rent them.

We opted to start by having a small boat drop us off on the beach and start snorkelling from there. It was a bit tricky putting on the fins in the water, but then we were off. Near the island the bottom was sand, very finely-ground coral which was pale beige in colour, and there was only one kind of fish. But once we were out over the coral reef the number of fish increased, as did the varieties of coral. It was fun to watch the various multi-coloured fish nibbling on the coral, some of them swimming around in schools while others were more solitary. They were similar to the fish we had seen in the Galapagos, but different species. The giant clams were new to us, though, and they were very cool-looking with a variety of decorations around the edge of their shells.

When we returned to the boat it was lunch time. From the boat we could see some white-tipped reef sharks and some very large black grouper-like fish. Lunch consisted of several types of salad, sweet and sour chicken with rice, and bread and sliced meats. Quite a nice spread. When everyone had eaten we motored over to another spot which was part of the outer reef. We had been told that was one of the special features of this tour. And it did indeed have even more spectacular types of coral. It was truly amazing to see how many different sizes, shapes, and colours there were. The fish species were more diverse as well. Anything from black-and-white striped fish to tiny metallic blue ones to large multi-coloured ones. We saw some clown fish, but not the orange-striped one like Nemo. However there were no giant clams here. We snorkeled here for about an hour before it was time to board the boat again.

Before we set off the crew did a very thorough head count. (There was an incident a few years ago where two people were left behind by a dive boat.) And on the way back they put up the massive sail. There wasn’t much wind (which was good for snorkelling) so eventually they had to haul in the sail and motor home, but it did help their (and our) carbon footprint a bit.

Rosemary had rented an underwater digital camera, so we took that back and extracted the memory card from it. After a quick and forgettable pizza dinner we retrieved the car from Shangri-La (only $7 for all-day parking!) and headed off towards the airport. During the short drive we had a very brief rain shower which was the first rain we had had on the trip. We had to wait quite a while for somebody to show up at the Hertz counter, so eventually we went and checked in for our flight before going back to return the keys. We found there was yet another new flying rule, namely spare batteries had to go in our carry-on bags.

Once again Qantas was a good airline to fly with. Boarding was very quick, we left on time at 8:40 pm, and to top it off we even got a dinner on the 2 hour, 35 minute flight to Darwin. At the end of the flight they announced that because of bio-security measures we weren’t allowed to take any plant-based items into Darwin. Fine time to tell us that! When we got off the plane it was 10:30 pm and the temperature was still 27°C. We retrieved our bags, which had passed inspection by the sniffer dog despite containing an apple and some rice, found the shuttle bus, and headed downtown. By the time we arrived at our hostel and got into our room it was nearly midnight and both of us were very tired.

Next: Kakadu

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