Great Barrier Reef Stories and Tips

Cruise the Great Barrier Reef

Day 1 -- The airport shuttle to the Reef International hotel was only $5 AUS each. The hotel was good, just across the road from the Coral Sea, but quite a good walk to the wharf from which we were to board our boat the next day. There is a restaurant in the hotel so we had breakfast there. It was OK. The hotel provided transportation to the wharf where we boarded the Coral Princess for our 4 day cruise.

The boat was a motorized catamaran with two levels above the main deck. It is about 150 ft long and carries 54 passengers. There were only 48 on our trip. We didn’t have to carry our bags on board because they were tagged at the dock. This really was nice not to have to worry about that part of the trip. With our four bags it was a good thing we had one of the larger rooms.

The boat left the dock at about 1:30 and we were served lunch. It was a nice buffet style service with no assigned tables. All the meals were buffet style with ample salads and fresh fruit always available. Service was kind of casual if that was your style but you could also help yourself which I prefer. It seemed like all the passengers were seasoned travelers from all around the world including Bangkok, England, and Canada.

After lunch, we stopped at Havana Island and the "glassy", as the crew called the glass bottom boat, took us to the beach and dropped us off. We were told to wear our swimmers (swim suits) and sunnies (sun glasses). There was a reef close to the water’s edge so it was easy to access, but it was also sandy and not very pretty but I think this was a snorkeling training session. There was afternoon tea on the small island for those who cared and later on dinner was served after we anchored. We were bushed by 9:30pm and hit the sack.

Day 2 -- The plan for the day was a beach barbecue breakfast but the rainy weather canceled this out, we had breakfast on board. After breakfast we motored to Poleris Island and anchored for snorkeling. The reef at this island is offshore so the snorkeling was off the glassy. Before snorkeling the crew took us for a glassy tour of the reef. I used this to identify things to look for when we got wet. There were giant clams, that contrary to popular belief did not jump and grab your leg, and many kinds of coral and multicolored fish. This reef was much superior to yesterdays. Water was not very deep but deep enough to be able to skim over the coral without concern of touching any.

We were taken on a walk around the island to be shown various plants and animals. There was a 4 foot mound about 6 feet in diameter that housed the eggs of a sea turkey. It was tended by the male to maintain temperature. We saw a turkey and it looked much like the US model. There were also a few small lizards and some noisy birds. There was a resident family on the island complete with young children who seemed to be happy enough here. The boat brought provisions for the family who acted as caretakers of the island, which belonged to a boat company.

After lunch on the island, the cruise took us past Hinchinbrook Island toward Dunk Island. Hiinchinbrook contains a tropical rain forest and a resort that accommodates 50 people. The main attraction is 35 miles of enclosed waterways which can be viewed in a 4 day guided tour. It should be guided since the water ways contain sea crocodiles. Sea crocks are territorial so even if you don’t see them they may be prowling protecting their turf. Passing the island we saw sea eagles which were all white. The shores were lined with mangroves. This island is part of the estuary that filters the water to keep the reef clean.

When we left the shelter of Hinchinbrook, the water turned rough. We continued our bumpy ride to Dunk Island and dropped anchor. The glassy took us ashore to do another island tour. There was a nice beach but this time of year there are box jelly fish in the area and no one went in the water. On shore there is a very nice resort with marked walking paths and annotated plants and trees. The resort is self contained with a large gift shop, very large attractive dinning area and a shore side bar. After our walk through the rain forest we met at the bar for an evening adjustment before dinner on the boat. We found out the rainy season usually ends the first of March but this season was setting records. Later in the vacation when we asked someone about the tornados that were showing on radar, he said they are always like that in this season.

The ride back to the boat in the glassy was an experience. As we approached the boat, we could hear the outboard struggling and there was not enough power to fight the tide and wind to dock behind the boat. So we motored around twisting and turning and drifting further away from the anchored boat. Fortunately there was communications with the boat and captain and the zodiac was sent out to tow us. They had never done this before so it was kind of comic to see them try to tie the front of the glassy to the back of the zodiac. We finally made it none the worse for wear with another story to tell of experiences on an Australian cruise. There was a spare outboard for the glassy so "No worries, mate".

Because the tide and the wind were in opposition our anchorage was a rock and roll experience not to be denied. You would think by now we would have sea legs, but not in this situation. Getting from table to buffet and returning with a full plate was a task. Not too hard a task though since we all made it, but not without using tables and chairs for support. After dinner, the captain brought out his guitar and played and sang for us. He is quite good and had written some of the songs he sang. Undressing in a tossing room was fun as was getting to the bathroom and through the door without slamming the door or ourselves into the bulkhead. Needless to say sleep was fitful but we did manage to stay in the bed all night though it was difficult.

Day 3 -- By morning the rough weather still had not slacked so we changed destination from Nathan Reef to Sudbury. The anchorage we used was roly poly, but the sky was clear so we looked forward to nice coral viewing. Off a ways was a sand bar that was quite long. Because of all the rain, the water level was high and we could not use this as they had expected. Again, the crew took us on a viewing ride in the glassy to preview the reef. This was really for those who would not be snorkeling. Again the reef was primarily large coral heads with clean light brown sand between. When we went back to snorkel, the first guy in the water told us when we were going back to the boat that he had come nose to nose with a reef shark just after he jumped in the water.

Apparently they were both surprised and the shark swam away, which is what they are supposed to do. They are not aggressive. We had our hour or so snorkel and returned to the boat. After dinner the boat left for our night’s anchorage. It was another roly poly night.

Day 4 -- Weather at the reef was nice and bright so we anchored at marker buoys. Apparently there are also platforms anchored near the reef at various locations for tour boats and cruise lines to tie up and use as base of operation for snorkeling. Due to the weather at these locations we could not use them. We were close enough to coral heads so we could swim off the back of the boat. The glassy took us out on a tour first to get our bearings. We swam for quite a while then returned to rest.

Bad weather was forecast so we headed for Cairns. The approach to Cairns via a long river like protected harbor. There are mountains on one side and the city on the other. Arrival at Cairns was well organized with transfer to the Pacific International Hotel right at the dock.

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