A carnival of colour awaits you at the Great Barrier Reef as Gemma Williams discovers.
As I float there, bobbing around in the ocean, adjusting my eyes to take in the bright purple variegated stripes of the clam below me, the electric blue of the fish that just darted past me, the flashing silver of the school of fish in front of me, I sigh the mightiest sigh of contentment and happiness that I am finally here. A trip on my bucket list for so many years I don’t even know where the initial inspiration even started anymore. Then I remember that I have a snorkel in my mouth and I can’t keep sighing like this and I’m snapped back to reality.
I’ve arrived at Hardy Reef after a two hour cruise from Airlie Beach through the Whitsunday Islands and across the shipping channel to the outer Great Barrier Reef. The region’s largest tour operator Cruise Whitsundays has a fleet of vessels that they operate in the area but today we’ve travelled on the pride of their fleet ‘ Seaflight’.
“People love travelling with us out to the reef on this boat because it’s large and spacious and has stabilisers making the trip very smooth,” Skipper John Dyson tells me.
I certainly enjoyed lounging on the white leather couches in the Captain’s Lounge looking out of the large windows at the islands that John pointed out as we passed them by, while others sat outside in the sun, wind in their hair no doubt holding themselves back from trying to walk out to the bow of the boat to recreate that scene from Titanic, , and others sat on the lower deck in the air conditioning and watched videos of the coral reefs they were about to see, interrupted only by the comedic safety and snorkelling demonstrations of the crew.
When we arrived at the permanently moored pontoon ‘ Reefworld’ I was glad I’d taken the crew’s advice and planned out my activities for the four hours we had here. First thing was first and I went straight down into the underwater viewing chamber to scope out my surroundings. Curious fish swim up to the glass unbothered by the daily re- appearance of curious tourists looking back at them. A large Maori Wrasse swims past but he is upstaged when a small child screams ‘ turtle’ and everyone goes running to his window to confirm he had indeed spotted a turtle just cruising past.
Next was a trip in the semi- submersible which takes small groups of about twenty up and down n the reef wall throughout the day. The marine biologist onboard talked us through everything we were seeing and even explained why the corals didn’t seem as bright as we might see in documentaries.
“The first colour to be lost underwater is red, and that makes some of the corals here appear r less bright than they really y are,” , she told us. s.
“Often professional photographers will add a red filter to their cameras to bring those colours out.”
Ah huh. Sneaky. Science lesson over and I get back to the pontoon to be fitted in a highly fashionable full body wet suit. Aside from protecting me from any marine stingers, the crew on the pontoon tell me it’ll also stop me from getting sunburnt. Fair call so I agree to put it on ( when in Rome…), grab my snorkelling gear and slide in to the water straight off the back of the snorkelling deck on the pontoon. And that’s where I really felt that awesome moment of satisfaction, joy and wonderment of the hundreds of different types and brightly coloured fish. Clam after clam, with none of their bright stripy markings quite the same as the other. Soft corals gently swaying in the current. All different types of hard corals – brain- like, tree- like, plate- like and some out- of- this- worldlike. The beauty of the Great Barrier Reef has really lived up to it’s name and after the tips and insights from the marine biologist I feel like I’m spotting things I might otherwise have just floated past without noticing.
Before I know it I’m being called back to the pontoon or I’ll miss the huge buffet lunch that’s been served onboard Seaflight while I’ve been distracted by Nemo and his friends.
A quick selfie from the sundeck for bragging rights sees me grinning from ear to ear with every shade of blue to green of the reef behind me. Four hours has flown past and as we pull away from the pontoon to depart I notice a small group of seemingly self- righteous guests waving back at us from the pontoon. Surely they can’t be happy at the fact they’ve missed boarding their boat back home.
“Oh they’re the Reefsleepers,” John tells me.
“They’re staying overnight in swags on the top deck. They’ve got the whole afternoon with the reef to themselves, as well as tomorrow morning before we get back here with the boat.”
Suddenly I’m the green of the Maori Wrasse I was just looking at. Lucky things.
Meantime I settle myself back on the lounge and plan out the rest of my week here. Sailing to world famous Whitehaven Beach to sink my toes in the perfect, soft, white silica sand – check. Island hopping to a glamorous island resort for lunch – check. I’m still incredibly jealous of the lucky few staying at the reef overnight but I think I can handle exploring some of the world’s best beaches and resorts instead. I’ll just have to come back.