Wednesday was the day I’ve wanted to happen for a long time … the snorkel trip to the Great Barrier Reef! This day, we met at the Ecstasea sailboat at 8:10 in the morning, and headed out. 18 guests with a crew of about 6. Since I’ve always heard that there are a lot of sharks around Australia, I had the feel of Roy Schneider in 'Jaws' when he headed out to look for the Great White. In the paper just that morning we had read about two different shark attacks on surfers. One guy was hurt and in the hospital, and one guy was never found at all … just half of his surfboard. Of course, the crew onboard the boat assured me that that was on the south coast, and they rarely saw sharks in the GBR area at all. OK .. I’m game. (so to speak)
As we cruised out to the snorkel site (Upolu Reef), we visited with the crew. As with most Australians that we came into contact with over the week, they were quite friendly. By the end of the day, we felt like we had new best buddies. So, for a couple of hours we visited and just enjoyed the upcoming day. Once we got to the reef, they announced that they had wetsuits for rent, for anyone that wanted one. Neither Steve nor I have ever snorkeled in a wetsuit, but decided to rent them not only for the protection from the cold water, but also to protect my sunburn. Ended up being the best money we spent all week. I think if I had been in the water without one, I would have been pretty chilly! Actually, everyone except a couple of the Europeans ended up renting the suits. And they ended up helping out in more than those two ways .. they also help you float!
The guides had asked earlier if there was anyone who wasn’t a strong swimmer, and once in the water I understood why. The current was terribly hard to fight! At first we were all just floating into each other … am sure we all looked like the 3 Stooges trying to snorkel … but soon we got the hang of spreading out. Luckily, the boat came equipped with swimming noodles, which also helped when fighting the current. In no time at all, we were a good distance from the boat. Our group of snorkelers all swam with a couple of the guides, and they showed us things like blue starfish (yes, bright cobalt blue!) and sea cucumbers (nasty to the touch!). Then they lead us over to see the giant clams. That was SO cool! These things were about 4 feet across, and looked like they were smiling at us. One of the guides swam down and petted the clam, which made him close. I wish the sun had been shining more (it was a little cloudy) so the visibility would have been better.
In all honesty, we didn’t see anything scary, but I would have liked to have been able to see a little better. Steve saw a sea turtle, but by the time any of the rest of us got over to where he was, we couldn’t see it. I’m sure that guy was long gone. After a little while, I had seen all that I really wanted to see, plus the fact that my mask wouldn’t quit fogging up, and actually I was feeling a little fatigued from fighting the current. Since we were a good distance from the boat by now, I had one of the guides swim back to the boat with me. Yeah, I’m a scardy cat. Once I got to the boat, my legs were so shaky from swimming that I had a little trouble getting up the ladder. I pulled out of the wetsuit (just like an all over the body girdle!), dried off a little, and decided that I was done for the day. A few minutes later, the rest of the snorkelers came in and we all had a tasty lunch.
After a little while, they took the hard-core snorkelers back out for another fight with the current, but this time I opted for a ride in the glass bottom boat. Actually, it was a very small boat, and it was just the driver of the boat and me, so I got a customized personal tour. I really liked looking at the coral formations and things through the bottom of the boat. It wasn’t all fogged up like my mask! The guy taking me around took me over some neat looking coral, and even found some blue coral. I had never seen that before (well, not in the wild … only in a jewelry showcase). A couple of guys on the boat wanted to scuba dive, but even they only took one dive because of the strong current and lack of visibility. We hear that it’s usually better than the day we were out, but no one let it ruin their day. After everyone was back on the boat, they lifted the sails and we sailed a while.
During the course of the trip, they served us fresh fruit, wine, and cheese. By the time we got back to the dock, I think everyone agreed that it was a trip well worth your money! Not the cattle-cars that the bigger tour groups put on. As we passed one of the larger boats, the crew on our boat said 'ok … let’s give them the Ecstasea welcome' and they all 'moo-ed.' Don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in all my life.
Wednesday night, we were bushed, so we found a corner pizza stand and ordered a pizza.
Thursday was our last day to play around town, and we had reserved that day to drive up the mountain into the rainforest and visit Kuranda, an aboriginal village. The drive up was scenic (as was everywhere in the region), but once we got to Kuranda there were people galore. Built to house several markets selling crafty items, we walked through a few of the shops and looked. Nothing there that we really wanted, so we ate lunch (and it wasn’t very good) and headed back down. Along the way, we had seen a wildlife preserve, and decided to stop. At least there I was sure I could see a kangaroo. And boy did I ever! Not only do you get to see them, but I also got to feed and pet several! It was great! Of course, I hear they aren’t like this out in the wild … We also saw several crocodiles, and one was HUGE! The biggest one was about 15 feet long, and was segregated from the other smaller ones. The sign over his cage said that he had killed 12 girlfriend crocodiles. Antisocial fellow, wouldn’t you say? But he was cool to look at. They also had koala bears and also some wombats. Now, before I went to Australia, I wasn’t sure I knew what a wombat was, and I still can’t say for sure, but they sure are cute. I think Steve said they were a relative of the koalas, but don’t climb trees. Instead, they dig tunnels in the ground. Now, if I could just see a duckbill-platypus … but they didn’t have any.
Thursday night, we ate at a place called Rattle & Hum, and once again had great seafood. After dinner, we moseyed back over to The Reef Casino, just for a little entertainment, and once again Steve won at the Black Jack tables! Talk about luck! Wish he could have won us an extra week in Cairns!
Friday morning, we had an early flight back to Singapore, and we both really hated to leave. Cairns was such a good experience for both of us, but as Steve always says, 'it’s best to leave while you still love it and have a longing to come back.' And I agree. I sure hope I do get to come back sometime … Australia is definitely awesome. So … until I see Australia again, I guess I’ll have to say 'Hoo-Roo' which means farewell.