Tours and Excursion, Travel Reviews

The Great Barrier Reef (Its not always how the travel brochures show it!)

There are many things we can control in life, unfortunately the weather is not one of them!

Northern Australia was hit by a couple of bad cyclones last week and whilst we have never been directly in their path they have still left some strong winds and heavy rain in their wake.

I have been fortunate enough to have done some spectacular snorkelling in my life but it has long been a dream to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, sadly today didn’t quite live up to the dream, purely because of bad weather. I do however have a bit of a reputation for mother nature unleashing some of her extremes when we are travelling so I guess in reality we have been exceptionally lucky with the weather so far this trip.

We have had quite a lot of rain since we arrived here, that’s not a surprise in itself, we are in Port Douglas which is surrounded by rainforest so you do expect a little of the said rain – and when they say that this is the place where the rainforest meets the reef though they are not wrong:

The picture above is taken at the Crystal Marina in Port Douglas where we started our journey to the outer reef yesterday with Quicksilver Cruises. The water looks pretty calm here – but don’t let that fool you as it was very quickly to change!

Firstly, although our day wasn’t quite the experience we had imagined, this was purely down to the weather and nothing to do with the Tour Operator. I thought Quicksilver Cruises were absolutely fabulous from start to finish and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.

We were picked up from our apartment at 9.15am and after another couple of pick ups were transferred to the Marina which was just minutes away. We were checked in quickly and were able to start boarding immediately, where we were welcomed with teas & coffees.

Cam and I took our seats at the very top of the large catamaran ferry in the open air, however before we even commenced our sail the heavens opened and we had to re-locate downstairs indoors.

We departed the marina at 10.00am and within minutes of leaving the protection of the harbour we were out in some pretty choppy water with winds of around 20 mph. We rocked, we rolled, we bumped and we made our way 78km out to the reef which is a journey time of around 90 mins. I was very thankful for having good sea legs and for Cameron inheriting them too because there were a lot of sick bags being handed out!

On the plus side the crew were fantastic, there are hostesses on board as well as a dive team, lifeguard, marine biologists and representatives of a helicopter company as helicopter flights were also available directly from the reef.

Cameron is too young to dive yet, but Quicksilver do also offer the chance to book onboard for certified and non certified dives, ocean helmet walks and escorted snorkelling. There is a dive lounge on board where everyone received their appropriate briefings.

All passengers also received an audio video presentation from one of the marine biologists and one of the lifeguards.

We arrived at the outer reef at around 11.30am, I think that everyone was VERY glad to be getting off! Quicksilver have their own large and well equipped pontoon out on the reef where we then spent the next few hours.

Each guest is sized up for a lycra stinger suit which you must wear in the water to protect again jelly fish.

Once fitted with your stinger suit you are then given a life jacket, fins, snorkel and masks…and are ready to go. (If I had one complaint about the day it was the fact that whilst sitting on the edge of a semi submerged platform on the edge of the water struggling to get fins and snorkel on both myself and Cameron – instead of crew being there to help us, we were being stepped all over by a photographer desperate to get shots of everyone entering the water in order to sell them later)

The snorkel area does have a rope boundary going all the way around with floats where you can rest, however because the water was still pretty choppy and there was a strong current everyone was getting swept to one side of the rope. Had I been swimming alone I could have probably swam against it but I was trying to also keep hold of Cam so we didn’t get separated. He is not yet a strong swimmer and had never used fins before, he was also getting anxious having been told there might be jelly fish in the water.

We snorkelled for only around 20 mins before Cam decided he wanted to get out as we were simply pinned to the rope by the current and he was getting crushed and kicked in the face! Hence not the best snorkelling experience we have ever had.

Having dried off we had lunch, which is a very substantial buffet served on the pontoon. We then headed towards the semi submersible boats which leave the pontoon every half and hour. We managed to see a few more fish this way and admire the corals but again with the water being so choppy it made for a bit of a rocky trip.

Our last stop was the underwater platform on the pontoon where you can go below the surface of the water and watch the fish from there. That was enjoyable but I am sure where there is less wind, rain and current the visibility would have been better.

The catamaran left the pontoon at 3pm to start its 90 minute crossing back to Port Douglas. The rain had stopped by this time but the wind was whipping up and the sea even choppier. We were among only about half a dozen people who braved the open top deck. I loved the ride back but think I was in the minority as the boat was rocking and rolling a lot in the wind!

All in all we still managed to have an enjoyable day although it wasn’t quite what we would have liked it to be!

Our excursion was booked as part of a travel package with Freedom Australia several months ago. If I have learnt one lesson it is to not pre-book such excursions so far in advance. If I were to do it again I would wait before arriving in a destination and then review the forecast for the next few days ahead.

I can however put another tick against my bucket list as I have now snorkelled on the Great Barrier Reef…it just happens that we didn’t get to see that much!!. We still have 10 South Pacific islands and Hawaii ahead to explore though so fingers crossed there’s plenty more time ahead to still share the underwater world with Cameron in calmer seas.

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A couple of days after originally writing this blog we saw this sign in Kuranda – only the Aussies could get away with this honesty, but it did pretty much sum up the weather during our trip!

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