We (me, C2, my mum and J) carefully researched and prepared for this trip by re-watching "Finding Nemo", and on a chilly Wednesday morning, we flew from Melbourne to Brisbane, then on to Cairns before driving another hour and a half north to the tropical town of Port Douglas. We were greeted by soft fragrant salty air, lush tropical surroundings, and the most beautiful beach I have ever seen.
We quickly booked a pair of trips with the Quicksilver company who pioneered much of the snorkling adventures on the reef. The first trip was on a huge catamaran which raced 70 km to the outer Great Barrier Reef where we moored on to a permanent platform. From here, we donned "stinger" suits for protection against marine stingers, a particularly nasty type of jellyfish (again remember the jellyfish in "Nemo"?) and snorkled the reef for hours. Mum took advantage of a helicopter tour of the surrounding reefs and was speechless upon her return.
I booked a long and farther snorkle with a marine biologist which was unforgettable. From the crystal clear waters, we witnessed an amazing array of fish life, coral, and colours. Amy, the marine biologist played with the giant clams (the size of an armchair), tickled anemones to encourage the anemone clown fish to come out, and instructed us on the differences between branch, brain, hard and soft corals. We learned about the fragility of this eco-system, and as tourists, the importance of being respectful stewards of this magical place.
Long-nosed Butterfly Fish
At the end of the day, and after a hot lunch, we returned to the catamaran for the 90-minute journey back to Port Douglas, I was drunk on beauty, my brain as stimulated as it has ever been. My body felt as if it oscillated in harmony with the sea. Then my cup ran over when our pilot slowed the boat so that we could all witness the passage of a pair of playful Humpback whales who dove and surfaced, exhaled through their blowholes and waved their massive tails at us.
A couple of days later, we boarded Quicksilver's smaller "Wavedancer" catamaran and sailed to the inner reef islands called "Low Isles". On Low Isles, one could be forgiven for feeling like the Tom Hanks character in "Castaway" but for the other snorklers around. It was a pristine tropical island of palms, powder soft sand littered with coral, and surrounded on all sides by shallow coral.
From here, we waded into the clear shallow water and snorkled over coral that was mere inches below us and followed graceful sea turtles as they explored their underwater playground. Reluctantantly, we returned to the boat late in the day for the sail home. This time, we saw a large Hammerhead shark, and several flying fish on the journey.
In between these two extraordinary days, we indulged in some much-needed downtime. We walked Four-Mile beach for hours, swam in its' warm waters, and let the sun and salt water rest and restore us. We played cards with a glass of wine on our apartment balcony overlooking the salt-water pool, and watched for the 6:00pm flight of Rainbow Lorikeets. Some dinners were out, some were in but every evening ended with a walk to the Gelateria for the best gelato this side of Levanto. Mum took advantage of the great shops on Macrossan street, and J made a daily pilgrammage at the funky "Jungle Island" shop whose staff had great fun helping him spend his earnestly-saved pocket money.