I wanted to experience the best of the Great Barrier Reef tours available, but was initially reluctant to take the plunge. This hopping aboard the Ocean Spirit cruise boat seemed a little daunting to me. I don’t know, perhaps it was because the itinerary appeared to be full of words like snorkelling, diving and semi-submersibles and the destination described as an isolated island. However, these were the very things which had attracted the attention of my travel buddy Vanessa in the first place, so, swallowing a great dollop of nervousness, I did what all good travel buddies do and agreed to go along for the ride.
Why nervous? Let me tell you that my entire boating hours to date can be calculated from watching Pirates of the Caribbean and that one time I went in a rowing boat with my dad on a lake in England. A sum total which probably doesn’t qualify me as an experienced sailor.
So – I know what a catamaran is, I know what a cay is – I’m as ready as I’m ever going to be. To say I boarded the Ocean Spirit in Cairns at 8 o’ clock in the morning with a slight sense of foreboding would be understating things a little. However, with welcomes from the crew and a morning tea with muffins served along with smiles and jokes it became increasingly tricky to maintain my sombre mood. To say the boat was roomy would be stating things on the cautious side and although I didn’t feel as confident as Vanessa to do my front-of-the-boat and hair-in-the-wind Titanic impression I did start to relax in the sun. And I loved loved loved the on-board marine biologist’s reef presentation which loaded me up with all sorts of Great Barrier Reef facts. My understanding was that sandy Michaelmas Cay (part of Australia’s National Park and World Heritage Area) was a sanctuary for sea-birds surrounded by a fringing reef and I guess I started to get a few vague pictures forming in my mind.
When we arrived, however, I thought something had gone wrong with my vision because the only colours I was registering were blue – admittedly in more shades than I even knew existed – and white. Sky, ocean, Cay…….nothing else. I’d seen pictures of these types of places in holiday brochures but assumed they had been enhanced and even if they weren’t I’d never thought I’d find myself in one of them. I don’t really have the words for a description for you because heart-rendingly beautiful and mind-blowingly magical don’t really begin to cover it. I felt like I had just arrived at an individual-sized paradise in the middle of nowhere.
Previously, as you know, the word snorkelling had set off a small personal alarm bell but on the way to the cay the boat staff had put on a fun snorkelling demonstration and I was starting to think hmmmm……maybe. Part of the Ocean Spirit package means introductory snorkelling lessons are up for grabs as are optional guided snorkel tours with the marine biologist but Vanessa in a I’ve-forgotten-my-friend-is-water-challenged moment had scooped up the provided snorkels and masks for the two of us and gave me a ‘come on let’s go’ look. I suspect the memory lapse was somewhat feigned as she had had the foresight to grab me a buoyancy vest too. Things could have gone horribly wrong here but for a couple of facts. The first is this – the snorkelling takes place directly from the beach in shallow water and the corals, where the action is, are very close. Most of the reef’s diversity, around 90% of it, is known to be in the top 4 metres of the water……impressed with my knowledge? I’d learned that from my marine biologist buddy an hour or so earlier. The second fact is this – I watched a husband and wife set off to snorkel from the beach with their two very young children and felt somewhat shamed into at least a show of bravado. This can’t end well, I thought, but I was to be proved very wrong. Perhaps more wrong than I’ve ever previously been in my entire life.
I can’t really remember at what point I gathered the courage to go face down for the first time but there
All wonderful days must come to an end, as did this one, but what a difference a day makes. The me who would be stepping ashore at Cairns this evening would not be quite the same me who had stepped onto the boat first thing this morning. I sat on the deck of the Ocean Spirit as we headed back to Cairns, chilled glass of complimentary sparkling wine in hand, watching the light quality of this magical day fade slightly from brilliant to dusky. I felt like celebrating….the day had been one of those kinds of days.