Cairns Stories and Tips

My Great Barrier Reef Experience

Spectacular Day at the GBR

My sense of anticipation had been building, ever since I first sat down to plan our trip to Australia. Who doesn’t dream of seeing the Great Barrier Reef? It is really a must when one comes to this diverse continent and had long been a travel objective of mine. My concern was choosing the right ship and tour company for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I wanted a smaller, more intimate tour, since I had never snorkeled. I have to admit, I was a little nervous. So, when I contacted our hotel in Cairns, Australia, I specifically emailed their concierge desk to obtain information about the various tours they endorsed. Their recommendation was to go on the Ocean Freedom Cruise. It is a smaller sized boat, yet fully equipped with both snorkel and scuba gear. They handle beginner through experienced levels and also offer scuba instruction. I felt I had chosen just the type of tour I wanted.

The ship boards at 7:30 a.m. from the Marina right outside the hotel, which made it extremely convenient. Once boarded, you are welcomed with hot coffee, tea, fresh fruit and breakfast rolls. I would estimate that there were approximately 30 people on our cruise. After checking everyone in, we departed for the snorkel/dive site. On the way, the crew gives a run-down of the day and instruction for the sites. They are quite helpful with anyone that needs special attention or assistance in the water. As people began getting into their gear, I felt oddly jittery. The ride out to the reef location was smooth, the weather was picture perfect and the water condition was "flat". As I peered over the side of the boat, I could see the reef formations below the surface. We anchored at our swim/dive site and activity commenced. It was remarkable how clear the water was and I was surprised at how easy it was to view the reef. As I slipped the fins on my feet and adjusted my snorkel goggles, all of a sudden, I hesitated. I was sitting on the edge of the boat and could have slipped into the water very easily but I looked back up at one of the staff standing nearby and said, "I’m nervous." Wouldn’t you know - he quipped back "I’m ______ (stated his name), nice to meet you." Though he tried humor to break the tension, it didn’t help. I couldn’t believe I had come all this way, just to freeze up at the last minute. I was disappointed in myself and began to talk myself through it. I was determined not to miss out on such an amazing opportunity…after all, I was a solid swimmer and had nothing to fear. The only unknown was being in this water, but once I was in, my fears should subside.

I quickly reasoned that the best way to get into the water was to ease in by using the stairs over the side, instead of jumping in. As I stepped on the lowest platform I could see nothing but clear, unobstructed water beneath me, so, I let go of the ladder and slipped into the water. It was a comfortable temperature and required no adjustment. I checked my mask one more time and decided that this was it – go for it. I put my face in the water and began swimming. I had never swum with fins before and was getting the hang of it as they propelled me through the water. I was stunned at the enormity of life underneath me. I viewed an amazing variety of coral and fish. The instructor was pointing out various formations and even dipped down to "trigger" a sea clam, that responded slightly as she nudged it. It was incredible.

As a first-time snorkeler, I was noticeably concerned with the fact that I kept experiencing a gag reflex from my mouthpiece. I lifted my head out of the water periodically to give myself a chance to adjust it and make sure I wasn’t swallowing any salt water. I continued with the group. As determined as I was though, I couldn’t deny a feeling of queasiness in my stomach and was uncertain if I could continue. Part of me said, "don’t fight this…if you don’t feel well, go back." And the other part of me said, "this can’t be happening just as I’m enjoying being in the water." It was as this conversation with myself ensued that I made my decision to return to the boat and let me nerves settle down. But as I climbed back up the stairs, a wave of nausea hit me and I informed the staff that I thought I was going to be sick. They said, "just lean over the side". I guess the sea life takes no offense at this. As anyone knows, when you feel that lousy, you just want it to pass. I felt so foolish but had little to say in the matter as my stomach took control. Long story short, the staff informed me that this happens to someone on nearly every voyage. They were comforting and attentive and kept checking on me for the next hour or so. I stretched out on one of the benches and buried my head in my husband’s (Peter) lap.

A little more than an hour later, (after everyone, except Peter & I, had had lunch) the staff encouraged me to take the glass bottom boat ride to Upolu Cay, where I could get out and at least stand on solid ground. They felt that would help my condition. I was beginning to feel the nausea pass and desperately wanted to salvage what I had left of this fantastic tour. So I entered the glass bottom boat and just willed myself through the short ride to Upulo Cay. The Cay is an astoundingly small strip of sand in the middle of the ocean but it was solid ground and as soon as I got out, it felt glorious. I told Peter I could kiss the ground….and, I did!

Kissing solid ground

The fresh air felt great and the view was amazing. We could actually walk from one small island to another. This photo shows the two islands.

Peter was wonderfully supportive

How many times and places can you do that, we wondered….pretty cool! Our guide spotted a beautiful shell and picked it up to show us. We were awed until I saw a leg crawl out and then another. He explained that one has to be very careful about picking up shells as many have inhabitants in them. Say no more – I considered myself warned! We noticed the tide beginning to rise and swallow up our small island, so our ferry came to transport us back to the "mother ship" as I came to lovingly refer to her. After aboard, I took a final swim. It actually felt good to get back in the water and cool off.

Back in the water

As our tour boat headed back to the marina, we were served crackers and cheese along with delicious little cakes. My husband and I struck up a lovely conversation with some Americans who were living in Malaysia for the past ten years. They shared some of their experiences and fondness for Kuala Lumpur. This is always one of the nicest aspects to traveling – meeting fellow travelers and sharing stories and exchanging information. And although my day wasn’t perfect, I wanted to share it for that reason. Traveling involves the unexpected many times and one has to salvage what one can in spite of events. Looking back, I wished I had taken a Dramamine for seasickness even though I didn’t think I needed it. In the end, it was a lesson learned, but will not mar in any way the fabulous day we still had at The Great Barrier Reef. The crew was skilled and fun and I would highly recommend this tour.

Great Barrier Reef Tour

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