Airlie Beach, Queensland, Australia • July 2010 • Length of Read: 3 Minutes
The Great Barrier Reef – one of the true wonders of the natural world. Situated in the Coral Sea off Australia’s East Coast it is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms and can be seen from outer space. Airlie Beach is the best location from which to go out and explore the Whitsunday Islands and the marine life that surrounds them. Many of the other backpackers that we had befriended had booked 3 day, 2 night party boat cruises by which to experience this, but due to our lavish adrenaline junkie lifestyle of the prior week, Fry and myself were now definitely shoe-stringing our way up the remainder of the coast. We therefore opted for one of the cheaper day trips provided by Ocean Rafting.
The combination of staying in a party town and the 2010 Word Cup being televised into the early hours of the morning meant that we inevitably arrived at the dock hungover and under slept. Here we did our best to appear sociable to our fellow seamen and the Ocean Rafting staff, a laid-back bunch of guys and girls who would be revealing the mysteries of the reef. Split into three different rafts, we were fortunate enough to be with the captain who was assisted by one of the best looking woman I had ever seen. Never have I been so stuck for words in my life and to this day Fry and myself still reminisce about this beauty who has become known is fables as 'Girl On Boat' (In the five years since, only the German abs instructor I had when living in Maastricht has come close to knocking her from this pedestal).
Now just to make it through the day without being sea sick.
Whereas the larger vesels take a day or so to reach the reef, Ocean Rafting’s speedboat could make the trip in just a couple of hours. Clinging on for dear life as we bounced over the choppy waves we were rewarded with a myriad of colours bursting through the crystal clear water. Once at a suitable spot the driver cut the engine, dropped the anchor, and issued us with flippers, masks and snorkels. We were then given a briefing to respect the coral, not to damage it, and not to swim too far away from the boat. Sounds simple enough.
Dipping my head underwater I was met by one of the most beautiful scenes in the world. As I floated serenely along the marine life came alive, with fish meandering among the dancing ployps. After about 20 minutes I was only just starting to take in the sheer wonder of this view when my goggles began filling up with water. Rising to the surface I accidentally knocked some of the coral with my flippers – oops! Strike 1.
It soon got its own back however when, at the second dive spot, I accidentally grazed some of it with my knee and found that it could actually rip through one's skin like sharpened blade. I doggy paddled my way straight back to the boat where the captain looked at me with a “you idiot” smile that he had probably mastered over the years at the job. Having cleaned and dressed the would, I sat there whilst the remaining tourists came back on board, squinting their noses at my now sanguine beach towel.
We docked at Whitehaven Beach for lunch on sands consisting of 98% pure silica which made it a truly white coloured haven. After that it was a small hike of the island to take in the fauna and wildlife before heading back to the boat for our journey back to shore. On the way back we met up with the other two rafts that had split from us in the morning and to top of the day the staff showed us their driving skills by performing doughnuts around each other. The team managed to squeeze so much enjoyment out of just one day at sea and I would thoroughly recommend checking them out if you are ever wanting to tick ‘Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef’ off your own bucket list whilst not breaking the bank.