Australians are used to travelling. We live in such a large country that even travelling domestically requires hours on a plane, or what can feel like never ending car trips.
But it is because of this that distance becomes a necessary factor when we think about travel so we just do it.
From an international perspective however, Australia often seems too far away and therefore often it ends up on the bottom of the bucket list for many people. But for those who do not mind the journey, those long haul flights and hours spent in airports waiting for connections we present to you a country that is well worth it!
While I was 19 before I got on my first plane, I had been lucky enough to have parents who valued family holidays and every year we would all jump in the car and find somewhere new to spend a week or two.
In 2007 I got my first taste of the Great Barrier Reef. I was in my final year of high school preparing for my final exams and my family once again jumped in the car and drove from country NSW, through inland QLD, north until we reached Proserpine only to get on a boat out to South Molle Island. This is still a memory I hold onto, the beauty of the Whitsundays is hard to describe, it is better to just experience it. I spent hours in the crystal clear water snorkeling amongst the colorful fish and exploring the underwater world of the reef.
So when my friend proposed a spontaneous trip to Cairns to snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef, well I couldn’t book flights fast enough! This was my first time in Cairns and the furthest north in Australia that I have travelled to.
The Great Barrier Reef is such a controversial issue and one that has been in the news quite a bit recently. It is something that I feel strongly about and I believe that we absolutely need to put our resources into the conservation and preservation of the reef. As I said at the start, Australia is often not the first choice for international travellers due to distance so we have to show them what makes Australia special. Our reef is one of those things. I believe that the practice of sustainable tourism has a strong role to play in maintaining the reef and works hand in hand with conservation efforts.
We choose a tour on board Quicksilver Cruises which would take us to the outer reef. You can tell every person who works on the boat is passionate about the reef and is grateful for the opportunity to share it with the world everyday.
We boarded the boat in Port Douglas after a scenic coach drive along the coast from our accommodation in Cairns. The trip out to Agincourt Ribbon Reef took around 2 hours. Sitting in the fresh air on the top deck, watching the land disappear and the vast deep blue water out ahead reflect the sun like diamonds created the atmosphere of one of the most relaxing journeys I have ever had. The colours of the ocean held nothing back and even though clouds threatened all they really did was add to the beauty of the scene.
When we arrived at the reef, looking out at the water it was almost as if someone had put food dye in the entire ocean. The bright blues mixed with turquoise green – these colours just didn’t look like they could be real! I couldn’t wait to dive in and see what was hiding below the surface.
On board the boat we had been warned that due to the season we would be sharing the water with Irukandji Jellyfish, the smallest and most venomous jellyfish in the world. Welcome to Australia everyone! I overheard one of the guys on the boat tell a story from a few days back when one of the marine biologists got stung. She had described it as ‘the worst cramp you have ever got, and then you get set on fire’. Needless to say we decided to wear the ridiculously attractive lycra suits.
All suited up, walking like a penguin in fluro flippers, it was time to start swimming. The area for snorkeling is restricted for safety and conservation reasons but it still gives you a great perspective of the reef and the underwater world. There were definitely times when the water was pretty crowded with people and I got a fair few kicks to the face, but the experience was worth it.
When you have had enough time in the water, there is the option of a semi-submersible vessel, which is like a submarine except the top stays above water. It is long and narrow, only fitting two people across, but gives you another perspective of the reef through big glass windows and gave me a chance to see a few sharks and even a turtle!
The trip back was a little rough as the wind picked up, so I would absolutely recommend taking your travel sickness tablets, they saved me a world of uncomfortable pain.
The Great Barrier Reef is something to be proud of. It is something to share with the world and it is something we need to educate ourselves around. I would love to learn more about conservation efforts and what can be done to help sustainable tourism benefit not only the environment but also the community in North Queensland.
Have you visited the Great Barrier Reef? What do you think about sustainable tourism?