WHIT­SUN­DAY IS­LANDS

Go Travel The Pacific - - Contents - By Gemma Wil­liams

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.

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