When I dutifully booked an excursion to the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns, I did so more out of a sense of duty of having to visit this one of Australia’s most iconic destinations. I owed it to myself, I said, since I am in FNQ – Far Northern Queensland – as the locals call the area. But once I was on the boat, had reached the moored pontoon out on the Reef and had my snorkeling gear on, I really got excited.
There were about 15 of us who went on a small boat to visit an accessible reef area about a kilometer away from the pontoon. As soon as I jumped into the water, I turned on my rented underwater digital camera and, head underwater, snorkel on top, started shooting anything that came within my range of vision. What a wonderland! Different types of branch coral, mushroom top coral, all sorts of colorful fish, sea anemones. No turtles this time, unfortunately. The water was a pleasant 22 degrees or so and quite clear, although agitated because of light winds. Our guides took us around a special open outer reef area and kept a running commentary of what kinds of coral and fish we were seeing. Quite honestly, I did not hear much of what he was saying because my head was almost constantly under water, taking in the unfolding landscape as I swam with my flippers hither and yonder.
There are many day tours out of Cairns to chose from; I was recommended the locally owned and operated Reef Magic Tours and was totally happy with their service. The boat was a confidence inspiring size but not too large and it was not too crowded, either. I felt the young marine expert staff really enjoyed what they were doing and knew their business, too. On the pontoon, I was even able to get a massage (without the wet suit) to round out the relaxation experience. All in all, a very enjoyable and informative day! And my awareness of and respect for the fragile eco-system of the Reef was considerably heightened.