Saying that you’ve snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef is a little like saying that you’ve been to Japan. TheReef and Japan are about the same size–with the Reef being under water and Japan being above. The Reef stretches nearly 1200 miles along the eastern coast of Australia.
The first port on our cruise along the eastern coast of Australia was at Cairns, which is one of the jumping off points to visit the Reef. We booked our excursion throuh the cruise line, but we learned that there is are any number of other outfitters who will take you to the Reef. The chief advantage of booking through the cruise line is that if you are delayed for any reason, the ship will wait for you.
From the ship, we boarded a big catamaran with about 150 of our best cruise friends, and rode about 90 minutes out to the Reef where we docked next to a large covered platform that just sits out on the ocean. The platform looked like a very long quanset hut with a canvas roof and open air sides. The canvas was covered in bird poop, and smelled like poultry barn.
The platform had snorkeling, an underwater viewing area as well as a glass-bottomed boat that were included in the $249 tour price. If you wanted a helicopter ride, that was an additional $138 for a 10-minute ride, and if you wanted to snorkel with a marine biologist outside the “regular” snorkeling area, that was an additional $35. We declined the add-ons.
The snorkeling area ran along one side of the platform. Australia is full of things that are poisonous to humans, including jellyfish. We were debating whether we needed to wear the spandex “stinger suits” when we got in the water, but after the glass-bottom boat driver told us his tale of “crying like a little girl” and spending a week in the hospital after being stung by a jelly in New Guinea, we opted to wear the suits, which decrease your risk of being stung by 75%.
The water was warm and the coral and fish were wonderful. THe corals were white, and pink, and green, and lavender, and yellow and bright blue. There were lots of brightly colored fish about, in a variety of sizes.
After about an hour in the water, I had to get out to warm up. Then it was time to watch the fish-feeding frenzy, and time for the 90-minute boat ride back to the ship.