australia - great barrier reef - backpacking around the world in 333 days
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around the world in 333 days

REPORT 19 - March 2001

The Great Barrier Reef

Stretching for over 2000kms, the Great Barrier Reef is as famous as it is spectacular. Running down nearly half of Australia's East coast, this fantastic underwater wonderland promises the supreme aquatic experience. Graceful turtles, daunting sharks, slippery rays and some of the most vivid coral and beautiful fish in the world lie only feet beneath the surface. Setting off from Cairns, we chose to spend 3 days on a 'floating hotel', stationed on the reef, to fully explore this natural phenomenon.

With Jon already being a certified diver, he was anxious to see some serious diving action and with me being a bit of a wimp, I was anxious to stay safely above the water with a mask and snorkel, but luckily, we found a tour that catered for both of our needs. Over the 3 days, Jon was to do 8 dives and 1 night dive (he had to pay a little more than me) and I had unlimited snorkelling. To get to the reef from Cairns takes around 2 hours. We were jetted out on a small speedboat and then crossed over to the main boat that is anchored on the reef permanently, only moving between sights.

On the boat, Jon and the other divers had to sort out medical forms, so my snorkelling buddy and I grabbed our masks and flippers and took the plunge; anxious to see the famous reef. In fact, I was in such a hurry, I forgot to put sun cream on my back and backs of my legs. A mistake I was to regret. Only having been snorkelling once before, I was a bit apprehensive and on putting on my flippers, I immediately felt like I should have had a custard pie close to hand, but as soon as I got in the water and made my first sighting of a majestic parrot fish, all else was forgotten.

I felt like I had stepped through a trapdoor and landed in a mystical and fanciful underwater world. It's hard to imagine when looking at the surface that what lies beneath such an ordinary looking sea is one of the most fantastic sights I have ever seen. The colours of the coral were such magnificent vivid shades of pinks, purples and yellows. I had only been in the water for around 10 minutes when I was lucky enough for a manta ray to decide to glide past me. It looked like a huge bat and was at least a metre long- a magnificent sight. Of course, I'd forgotten to bring the camera in all the excitement. Doh!

By the time I was out of the water, Jon had returned from his first dive and even his startled expression didn't make me realise that I looked like a very embarrassed lobster. It didn't hurt I told him. 2 hours later and particularly the morning after it was a different story. I soon forgot about the pain however when on my early morning snorkel we were treated to a breathtaking sight: a turtle swimming only feet away. I felt extremely privileged to be able to witness such a fantastic animal in its natural habitat. Swimming along I sometimes found myself surrounded by hundreds of fish, a giant aquarium just waiting to be explored.

The turtles were the most outstanding, but the most hair raising were the sharks! Jon joined me for a snorkel in search of turtles, which tend to stick near the top of the water but he seemed to scare them away and attract all the sharks. I kept my distance because even though they were harmless white tipped reef sharks, not exactly Jaws, they still looked scary enough to me, but Jon chased after them in pursuit of their picture and they seemed happy to oblige.

The only thing I think I missed out on by not diving was the night dive, where divers go equipped with torches to illuminate what is around them, something Jon had never done before. Jon came back on board saying it was an eerie experience only being able to see what your torch shined on. Sometimes when he shined his torch on a small fish, a bigger fish would then come and gobble it up! The other thing you could see at night was the phosphorescence, tiny particles that start glowing when you wave your hand around in the water to create a spectacular neon light show. Definitely something every diver should try, recommends Jon.

After the three days, when the speedboat came to pick us up to jet us back to Cairns, we were definitely ready to go home. I for one was absolutely shattered; snorkelling really takes it out of you. Watching the sunrise on the boat after our early morning wake up call had been a wonderful sight, but I was dying for a lie in! Jon had totally exhausted his diving passion, and probably got to see more than me at 18 metres, but never saw an elusive turtle (or manta ray!). Although it probably was a little over our budget, the 3 day tour gave us a chance to see everything and has left us with some wonderful memories. The Great Barrier Reef had certainly lived up to its name and beyond all our expectations.

Jon & liz
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The Beginning 14 - THAILAND Bangkok
01 - INDIA Delhi 15 - THAILAND Bridge Over the River Kwai
02 - INDIA Agra Taj Mahal 16 - THAILAND Chang Mai - The Long Necks
03 - INDIA Jaipur 17 - AUSTRALIA Kakadu National Park
04 - INDIA Camel Safari 18 - AUSTRALIA Ayers Rock
05 - INDIA Mount Abu 19 - AUSTRALIA Great barrier Reef
06 - INDIA Goa 20 - AUSTRALIA Fraser Island
07 - INDIA Mumbai (Bombay) 21 - AUSTRALIA Sydney
08 - HONG KONG 22 - NEW ZEALAND South Island
09 - PHILIPPINES Boracay & Panglao Island 23 - NEW ZEALAND North Island
10 - PHILIPPINES Bohol Chocolate Hills 24 - USA Hawaii Oahu Island
11 - PHILIPPINES Banaue Rice Terraces 25 - USA San Francisco
12 - MALAYSIA Kuala Lumpur 26 - USA Washington DC
13 - MALAYSIA Penang, Georgetown 27 - USA New York
  28 - UK - THE END
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