The main event of our Queensland adventure was a full-day snorkeling trip to the Great Barrier Reef. Port Douglas is the central hub of reef excursions in Northern Queensland, and we managed to snag ourselves a day trip despite many of the outfitters being closed for the offseason.  All aboard, full speed to the reef!

If you look at a map of Australia, the barrier reef is hard to miss.  It’s that massive quasi-land mass that appears just off the northern east coast and spans a distance of more than 3,000 kms (1,800 miles).  Larger than the Great Wall of China, it’s the only living thing on earth visible from space and one of the 7 Wonders of the World and one of Australia’s 18 World Heritage sites. (Nerdy legal side note re: World Heritage listing below)

Even from the relatively close ocean side town of Port Douglas, our trip to the reek took over an hour, during which we were forced to soak up the sun and watch the beautiful landscape (including Daintree and Cape Trib from our previous days’ adventures) whizz by.

Once we made it to the reef, wiggled into our full body lycrasuits (protection from the jellies!) and strapped on our fins, it was time to get wet!   We dived in, and found the world of wonder awaiting just under the surface. 

Seriously, words cannot describe the magnificent colors, shimmering textures, shapes and contours, and random congregation of life that is the coral reef.  From near nothingness and open ocean near the boat, the reef was bursting with life, with thousands of fish of all colors and sizes darting about, finding nibbles to eat off the reefs’ edges. It… was… unbelievable.

We visited 3 different dive sites, and each had a different appeal.  The first was all-round-reef and a good introduction:  some depth, some close up, lots of room to figure out how to keep the water from sweeping into your mask and up your nose.  The second was a close-up snapshot:  reef plateaus so high that you had to suck in and let the current propel you over the tops, with the colorful fractals only an arms’ length below your outstretched surface skimming body. 

The third offered perspective, and unparalleled  interaction with the ocean (and was by far our favorite).  Unlike the first two sites, which were on the sheltered side of the coral crescent, this site was 2 coral islands looming in the middle of nothingness, on the ocean side.  You literally had to swim through nothing but blue to the coral edge. In one moment (if let’s say you spent half your time swirling around in circles in the great expanse) you could be face to face with the brilliant and vibrant life system that is the coral reefs and no more than a second later, staring out into the nothingness of deep, dark, shimmering blue. 

By the third time, the more relaxed boat patrons were slow to get in the water.  Steve & I were the first two in, and I promptly swam out to the farther coral island and truly got lost (in a good way).  Not seeming to notice that I was quite large and clumsy, I swam in at least 5 schools of fish monitoring the perimeter of the reef, darting to and fro from all sides and in front of my face.  I plunged down the edges of the reef, and then coasted the (quite strong) ocean current over the coral tops.  With the ocean waves, the serene surroundings, the lack of other snorkelers… it really was like I was swimming among the fishes, as one. 

(Yes, I realize how earth-hugger hippy that reenactment sounded.  I care not.  Swimming and being one with nature makes this hippy dippy heart happy!)

Steve & Wes really enjoyed the third site too, plunging down deep at the edge of the reef to get a better and deeper look.  If you’ve ever seen Finding Nemo, Steve described it best, it was the dropoff.  (and if you haven’t seen it, rent it, then read point 2 below because really, the cartoon colors are exactly what it is like!)

 

We took many pictures with an underwater camera on loan from Adrianna & Krisztian, but I’ll only a post a few here:  1) It was too amazing for words, and too amazing to be synthesized in a series of snapshots.  Pictures don’t nearly do justice to the real life reef.   All I can say is, you’ve got one year, 6 months.  Get here!  2) Turns out, the big blue ocean is, well, kinda blue.  Most of the pictures, even when taken close up, had a distinct blueish hint when we looked at them above water that tainted the vibrancy of the real deal.    (We also picked up a few pics from the professional photographer on board)

Nerdy legal side note (cont.):  In Australia, due to a young and quirky federalist system, the only way for the Commonwealth (federal gov.) to protect and regulate natural parks and forests is to apply to the UN for “World Heritage” status. States have expansive powers in Australia, and the federal government was deemed time and time again without constitutional power to regulate natural spaces, even in the face of pressing national policy concerns such as environmentalism, until it figured out how to work the system.  Since World Heritage status is conferred by the UN, under a treaty relationship with the Australian Commonwealth, designation of state or private property as World Heritage gives the Commonwealth new and unfound powers.)