It isn’t easy be­ing green

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL

QUEENS­LAND: beau­ti­ful one day, tor­rid the next. The sky is dark and the waves are bat­ter­ing our cata­ma­ran as we set off from Cairns to the outer Great Bar­rier Reef.

We’ve been strongly ad­vised to take sea­sick­ness tablets; my hus­band and younger daugh­ter de­cline, my son and I hedge our bets by tak­ing one each, for the placebo ef­fect, we say. It’s our first hol­i­day with­out our old­est child, now a univer­sity stu­dent, and al­though I’m feel­ing sad about her ab­sence I’m per­versely buoyed by the weather, for she’s not miss­ing out.

‘‘I’ll have heaps of op­por­tu­ni­ties to snorkel the reef,’’ she’d said breezily when we parted, evok­ing in her tone a sun­lit seabed and a psy­che­delic marine world perched on its edge.

But the post­card has van­ished and in its place is an inky-black ocean and sea-wash pound­ing the win­dows of the boat’s lower deck. The placebo ef­fect is work­ing a dream for my son, but my­daugh­ter is green and I’m star­ing ahead into the salty abyss in a vain bid to keep my nau­sea at bay.

‘‘Just pull on your wet­suits and get out there into the spray and en­joy it,’’ hollers one of the crew.

‘‘We’re go­ing to give you the best ad­ven­ture imag­in­able in th­ese crazy con­di­tions.’’

But as we bounce across the ocean’s steely sur­face, I’m as­sailed by an in­tense dose of deja vu — 14 years ear­lier as we had re­turned to Cairns from Ku­randa, the bus driver had said non­cha­lantly: ‘‘Any­one plan­ning on go­ing out to the reef to­mor­row had bet­ter resched­ule.’’ Con­di­tions were too tu­mul­tuous; we were fly­ing home to South Africa the day af­ter that, and so our dream of vis­it­ing the Great Bar­rier Reef was stymied.

Our boat now halts at the outer edge of Upolu Reef and bucks in the choppy, cerulean sea. The best an­ti­dote to sea­sick­ness is to alight, so I ad­just my mask and snorkel and plunge into the opaque wa­ters. My hus­band and daugh­ter drift off, their gog­gle-squashed faces ob­scured by the ocean’s rough un­du­la­tions.

I bat­tle with claus­tro­pho­bia, fear­ing ev­ery time I sink my head be­neath the sur­face that I will in­hale quan­ti­ties of this vast sea; my son — a tall, con­fi­dent, in­sou­ciant young man — stays close by my side, ter­ri­fied of sharks.

Back on the boat, we re­flect on our en­counter. Vis­i­bil­ity was poor but we have seen gi­ant clams and fish and felt the power of the great ocean wrap­ping it­self around our in­signif­i­cant bod­ies. Af­ter lunch we sail on and an­chor be­yond Upolu Cay, a wedge of beach float­ing in the mid­dle of the ocean. The sun has come out and the wind has died; we slip into the wa­ter and find be­neath us a world we al­ways knew ex­isted — sunil­lu­mi­nated seabed, coral and sea plants in greens and pur­ples and or­anges wav­ing at us in slow-mo­tion, schools of clown fish (Nemo) and dory (Dory), the sweet lit­tle pro­tag­o­nists of the chil­dren’s movie Find­ing Nemo.

My hus­band and son feast on the mag­i­cal world be­neath them; my daugh­ter and I alight on the cay Ur­sula An­dress-style and sit there in ex­hil­a­rated dis­be­lief. Queens­land: beau­ti­ful one day, sub­lime the next.

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