After our long and stressful journey to Australia, Cairns was a nice welcome. The weather was a great bridge from Thailand to Australia. Warm, but not sticky hot. Considering it was their winter, the temperature was similar to a milder summer day in Portland. We spent the first jet-lagged day wandering around the little city. Cairns is considered the “Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.” Because of that it is an EXTREMELY tourism based city. Aside from the many bars and restaurants, most of the stores are devoted to backpackers and selling excursions to the reef and beyond. After a bit of people watching and a bite to eat, we headed to bed early since we hadn’t properly slept in a couple of days and had an early morning on the reef.
We booked our reef trip through Reef Experience, one of the last family owned reef tour companies in Australia. It was a big trip on a big boat, but the staff was very personable and friendly. We were picked up bright and early from our hostel at 7:30am and driven to the pier. As we boarded, we were fitted for masks, fins, and wet suits. Carly and I managed to find two seats together, and we set off on the two hour trip out to the reef. They had advised that we take sea sickness tablets because of the long travel time and somewhat choppy waters. We had prepared for this and had already taken a Bonine before getting picked up, but popped another one just for good measure. I guess it wasn’t good enough. I have been on my fair share of boats and have never gotten sea sick before…but there is a first time for everything. I was doing fine and listening to the presenation on the marine life we would possibly encounter on the reef when all of the sudden it just hit me. I told Carly I had to get up and couldn’t make my way to the back fast enough. They had mentioned where the bags would be in the safety briefing, but I hadn’t been paying attention to that part since this has never happened. I couldn’t find them and I was running out of time. I started tugging on all of the bathroom doors – all occupied. I covered my mouth with my hands and burst through to the back deck. Before I could even do anything, I had gotten sick all over. I joined the many other sad souls clutching bags and waited out the rest of the journey. It was a rough one. But the crew was super accommodating and understanding throughout it all and made sure I had water and plenty of bags at all times. I basically had my own bag boy. Not an ideal start to a day spent in paradise.
Carly came out to get me when we had reached the reef. She let me know what dive group I was in, but I couldn’t wait to get in the water…I had to get off the boat. Diving takes a bit of prep work and the introductory dive was only 15 minutes. So I made the decision to pass on the dive and just get in the water immediately to snorkel. Even though we were on the reef, which creates a protected area from the waves, the water was still very choppy and it made it feel more like a beating than a pleasant snorkeling experience. We were still able to see the coral and the fish going about their lives. The reef in some ways resembles an underwater canyon with coral formations at various heights and a lot of crevices. Some portions of the coral are only a couple of feet below the water’s surface, which gives you an up close look at it all. We went to two separate sites before making our way back to the city. While it was amazing to see the fish, we both felt more than ready to be done by the time we finished up at the second site. The ride back was not any smoother, but for some reason it did not have the same effect on people and the back deck was deserted.
Just a tip for those thinking of eventually going to the GBR themselves, June is actually a great month to go because it is not jelly fish season and you can snorkel/dive without the worry of getting stung!