Friday, 22 September 2017

Weekend Escape To The Great Barrier Reef, Queensland.

A couple of months ago I was sat at my desk, wrapped in a blanket, desperate for some sunshine and warmth. I spent my entire lunch break searching for cheap flights somewhere hot with great snorkelling, and after ruling out the Southern Great Barrier Reef and Northern Western Australia, I settled on Cairns and Tropical North Queensland. I'm really happy I made the decision, as I had the most incredible weekend snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef with all the fishies!



I set off on my journey Saturday morning, arriving in Cairns late in the afternoon just in time to check into my hotel. Unfortunately Cairns doesn't really do luxury as it's a backpackers town, with the only 'luxury' hotels being the Shangri-La (which was fully booked), the Hilton, and the Doubletree by Hilton. I went with the Doubletree purely because it was right on the waterfront, had an amazing-looking atrium filled with trees, and they provide guests with a free cookie when you check in. Yep, I booked a hotel for a free cookie.

Overall I was really disappointed with the hotel, it was incredibly tired and my room smelt of damp, and the wifi didn't work the entire time I was there. Also I'm a Diamond Hilton Honors member and I didn't get a room upgrade or late checkout. The whole hotel felt like it just needed a good clean! Unfortunately it was fully booked for my dates, but if I went again I'd stay at Shangri-La instead.

Anywho, I checked in and had a pretty lazy evening lounging around the hotel. I had a super early morning the next day so wanted to be fully rested! I woke up at 5am to the sunrise, and it was one of the most beautiful sunrises I've ever seen. It made me really happy that I'd booked an oceanfront room!



After getting showered and dressed I walked down to the marina where all the boats go from. I'd spent hours scouring the internet for reviews on all the boat companies, and in the end I feel I made the best decision possible! I was travelling alone so didn't want a huge boat filled with hundreds of people, nor did I want a boat that just went to Green Island or to a 'pontoon' that would be full of families and children. I also wanted a boat with space to lay in the sunshine and read a book!

I eventually chose Passions of Paradise, who have a gorgeous new catamaran that feels really luxurious. They visit two different reef sites in a day trip, and I was so impressed I've been recommending them to everyone since! I paid about $170 for the day trip, and it was worth every single cent. There were only about 30-40 people on board, and they provide morning breakfast of muffins and juice, an absolutely fantastic lunch spread, and then afternoon tea of meats, cheeses, crackers, and fruit.

After picking up my boarding pass from the reef terminal and finding the boat, we set out and were given a safety briefing. You also have to fill in a health and safety form, and when the staff saw I had asthma they put a coloured strip of tape around the top of my snorkel so when I was snorkelling the staff would be able to keep an eye on me.



After the briefing I found a spot on the deck to lay out, and slathered on my sunscreen before delving into the latest book I haven't been able to put down (this one), only lifting my eyes from the pages once in a while to survey the wide open ocean before us and take it all in.

A couple of hours later we arrived at the first reef site, and got ready to jump straight in! We were given a special solution to pour into our goggle to stop them fogging up, and it helped loads. I snorkelled for hours without having to worry about any fogging at all. Passions were really good with the less confident swimmers too, once I actually get in the water I'm really confident and happy swimming in the open ocean (I actually much prefer swimming in open ocean than the water on a beach), but there were a few people on my boat who the staff took out with safety floats to make sure they were comfortable etc.



I swam out away from the boat towards the reef, and dipped my head below the water to be faced with an entire world not dissimilar to Atlantica in The Little Mermaid...but minus the mermaids. The array of colours were astounding, there were fish happily swimming around everyone, and I felt as though I were swimming through an aquarium. Sadly my underwater camera does the colours no justice at all - it sort of makes everything look a bit blue and bland :/


I spotted a bright green giant clam and dove down to get a closer look. As I took a deep breath and swam down towards it, the clam could feel my movement and closed up to protect itself. I was in my element under the water; I adore twirling around, using the fins to push my body further, and the feeling of freedom being underwater brings you.


The colours of the reef shocked me, with bright fluro yellows, blues, greens, and pinks! However we also saw a fair amount of bleached and dead coral, which made me really sad. I don't want to just focus on the beauty underwater, because the much bigger issue is that the coral is dying. We need to do everything we can to help stop climate change, otherwise this incredible living breathing coral reef is going to die in our lifetime, and by the time our children are old enough to swim around it, it will be a graveyard of our selfish mistakes...

A pile of bleached and dead coral on the oceanfloor :(


After swimming back to the boat and saying goodbye to the first reef, we got back on the boat, had some lunch, and moved on to the next reef.

This second reef world was completely different to the first. It was a maze of living breathing coral, with huge structures of arches and passageways and bomies to swim through and around. It took my breath away, and I struggled to contain the emotion bubbling up inside me. I came up for air and thought how incredible it was that above the surface you could never guess what lay beneath.



I carefully snaked my body through some of the narrower sections of coral to go deeper in to investigate the different colours, shapes, and fish. Unfortunately I wasn't lucky enough to see a turtle, manta ray, or shark, but the huge variety of technicolor fish more than made up for it. It's amazing how quickly the time flies by when you're in another world trying to look closely at every little thing!

I had a bit of an incident at the second reef, it was super shallow and the tide was really strong, and when cruising near the surface the tide pushed me backwards into a large chunk of coral! I wasn't bleeding so ignored the pain and kept swimming, assuming the seawater would help it. Then I dove down to check out a big fish and my ear popped sending a searing pain through my entire head - I'd gone too deep too quickly, and a few days later after days of not being able to hear out of my left ear, the doctor announced I had Barotrauma and gave me a $60 prescription. Oops. 

After the ear incident I decided it was my cue to leave the ocean in peace and make my way back to where I belong. I swam back to the boat and when the Passions staff saw my back they sloshed it down with fresh water and then poured antiseptic on it. Turns out my back was far more scratched up than I'd thought (bit hard to see...), and I should have gone to them immediately because algae could have gotten into my bloodstream and caused an infection. Oops #2. Luckily all was ok and it healed up within a week!

The journey back to Cairns was a peaceful one, I got a fair way through my book and the weather took a slight turn. The winds were up and I was a teeny bit burnt from all that water-time, so wrapped my towel around me to protect my poor skin. We got back in Cairns just in time as huge black clouds suddenly appeared.



I got off the boat, thanked the staff for such a wonderful day, and wandered over to the restaurants on the waterfront. I was aiming to dine at Ochre, which serves typical Aussie dishes such as Kangaroo and Crocodile, but nothing really took my fancy, so I went next door to Dundee's.

I definitely made the best choice, I was super impressed with the food at Dundee's, and their fresh juices were amaze. I had a seafood platter type of dish with barramundi fillet, prawns, bugs (basically tastes like lobster), and scallops. It was delicious!



I was going to be good and not have dessert, but then they brought round a dessert platter and I had three. Yeh. Three. To be fair it was a dessert platter so they were mini desserts...but still. Three.



After dinner I made my way back to the hotel, stopping off at IGA for aloe vera and antiseptic cream for my coral scratches. I had the most blissful sleep, and woke up the next morning ready for Day Two of my adventure! Stay tuned for my day trip to the insanely beautiful Fitzroy Island ;) 


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Pin For Later: Fly from Sydney to Cairns and spend a weekend snorkelling on the famous Great Barrier Reef! Cairns is just a two hour flight from Sydney, and you can book a day trip out to the reef for snorkelling. The world underwater is incredible and very varied depending on which reef you visit!


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8 comments

  1. Such a precious and beautiful place. I hope it stays like this forever.

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  2. We have stayed at the Hilton in Cairns and it was very disappointing. We have also stayed at both the Shangri-la and the Pullman. The Shangri-la has lovely rooms but the common areas are just like a huge warehouse. The Pullman is very flash but it is also a casino so you don't get much in the way of a personalised experience. Overall I think I would opt for the Shangri-la again next time we go to Cairns. I will almost guarantee that the 'special solution' put on your goggles was Johnsons Baby Shampoo - it works brilliantly as an anti-fog. i always carry a small bottle when I go snorkeling.

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  3. We have stayed at the Hilton in Cairns and it was very disappointing. We have also stayed at both the Shangri-la and the Pullman. The Shangri-la has lovely rooms but the common areas are just like a huge warehouse. The Pullman is very flash but it is also a casino so you don't get much in the way of a personalised experience. Overall I think I would opt for the Shangri-la again next time we go to Cairns. I will almost guarantee that the 'special solution' put on your goggles was Johnsons Baby Shampoo - it works brilliantly as an anti-fog. i always carry a small bottle when I go snorkeling.

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  4. Oh wow - this is definitely one of my dream trips (although after a mini coral scratch on my knee in the south Pacific, I am ouching in sympathy for your back)

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  5. Katie Dundas25/09/2017, 01:18

    I stayed at the Double Tree also (for a work event), and agree that it could do with some work. The free cookie may have been the highlight! Love your underwater photos ;)

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  6. Ooooof that coral incident sounds like all my worst fears come true (when I was younger I was tricked into believing that if you have a coral scratch, the infection would host parasites and a piece of coral would grow INSIDE YOU - AND OF COURSE I BELIEVED IT)! Precarious sea life aside I'm really impressed that the Great Barrier Reef is doable as a weekend trip (I always think of it as being so faraway and exotic) - now I'm seriously wondering if I should pop over when I'm in Melbourne this December! x

    20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 2: Ljubljana & Maribor, Slovenia - Posh, Broke, & Bored

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  7. guesswho200001/10/2017, 00:22

    Agree with your comments re the DT, I got an upgrade but the room had ants in it! The staff were good though. I’ve also stayed at the Hilton there, and it’s much better and the location is perfect for boat trips in the day/casino in the evening!

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