Saturday, June 20, 2009

what's so great about the barrier reef?

Today we see the Great Barrier Reef! We met our boat at 7:30 AM, we were cruising w/ “Ocean Freedom,” and we were happy to see that our boat was small compared to the other reef cruises. We had 6 crew and about 30 passengers. We sailed at 8 and got a briefing on our day and safety. The cruise out was perfectly smooth and totally beautiful. The weather was warming up nicely. We anchored at a relatively deep area (~20 meters) with coral all around. It’s the Upoluu Reef, one of 2500 or so reefs in the GBR. They pointed out Upoluu Cay that we would visit later on. It seemed very small, but they assured us that it would expose a lot when low tide happened.

We grabbed our gear & got in the water. Immediately we saw some angel fish the size of couch cushions! There were 6 or 7 of them right by our boat. We made out way over to the reef and spent about 45 minutes looking around. We saw SO much stuff – countless fish of every shape, size, & color. Sea cucumbers were everywhere, giant clams, bright cobalt blue starfish… We got out for about 10 minutes to warm up, then I went on a little speed boat up-current to get out & drift back over the reef with a guide. The guides were very helpful about pointing things out to us. When I got back to the boat, I saw that Michael had gone on the glass bottom boat w/ everyone else, so I just warmed up on the sun deck for a while until they all came back & lunch was served. It was a huge lunch of prawns (ick), pasta salad, meats & breads, etc. SO MUCH! After lunch we got on the glass bottom boat & headed over the Upoluu Cay which was now 2 islands! It was amazing how things changed w/ low tide. Huge sections of reef were now exposed & the stuff just under the surface created a really spectacular turquoise color. When we got the cay they dropped us off at the smaller island (about 50 feet out, it was so shallow) and we waded across to the bigger one. We lounged in the sun for a while, then it was announced that 2 of the crew had brought a soccer ball for a game of “footie” on the cay. Michael and I watched and spent some time wading w/ the fish. It was a really beautiful time – a pristine sandy island in the middle of the barrier reef on a gorgeous day. What a unique experience.

After a while, the tide started to rise (so the island started disappearing) and we snorkeled back to the boat, probably 250 m away. We saw a “nemo” fish in a sea anemone. I know they are clown fish, but the guides called them “nemos” all the time. We also saw some rays very close to the boat. We got out of the water and were done snorkeling for the day. We went back up to the sun deck to warm up and dry off. Unfortunately it was on the chilly side during our return trip with tons of sea spray. It was a bumpy but exciting trip. During this part of the trip they served us cheese & crackers, fresh fruit, and little desserts. I would absolutely recommend this tour company to anyone! We were sad to get off the boat in Cairns because the staff was just so nice. They had learned all of our names by the end of the day. It was a great great great day.

We made our way back to the hotel for a shower, did most of our packing, then went out for – surprise! – pizza. And then – bigger surprise! – gelato! My gelato was “tim-tam” flavored, which is some sort of candy? It tasted like chocolate and was good J

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