Friday, May 26, 2006

Time to visit one of the worlds natural wonders - the Great Barrier Reef!

May 26th....As you know, I am headed off for Cairns, on the northwest corner of Queensland today to begin my adventure on the Great Barrier Reef. Got talking to an Indian boy called Bon on the plane; an aspiring rapper who was moving to Minneapolis to be with some of his family next year who are living there; primarily to kick start his rap career! Interesting stuff!

Arrived in Cairns - and it's wayyyyyyy hotter than Melbourne, I have to say! Not too sure about this town; very resorty and lots of very young British girls here wearing not much more than their teeny weeny, yellow polka dot bikinis! (clearly I am insanely jealous that they are a) young and b) skinny.... i answer yes to those charges.... but anyway, moving on!!!) Cairns has a population of 99,000 and it seems that almost everyone here is a tourist; I've hardly heard an Australian accent yet! Makes sense tho' as we are all here for the same reason - to see one of the natural wonders of the world - the Great Barrier Reef that I've heard so much about...

OK OK - I know you are dying to hear all the vital stats on this natural phenomenon so here goes! The reef is larger than the Great Wall of China, and the ONLY living thing visible from space. It is officially one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Technically what you see is a conglomoration of colourful coral that stretches along the Queensland seaboard; it is the planets biggest reef system, where 2,600 separate reefs form an outer ribbon parrallel to the coast...

So at a glance, here are the vitals:
Length: 2000km
Width: 80km
Total size: over 345,000sq km
Age: estimated at between 600,000 and 18 million yrs (yes, that's quite a range, don't ya think!)

So i pottered downtown and as i knew i had 9 days in which i needed to accomplish seeing the Reef itself, Whitsunday islands and of course Fraser Island, i decided to book all three trips at once to see if i could squeeze everything in! After my organizing i thought it was time to try one of Australia's traditional snack foods.. or breakfast foods, depending on who you speak to - a meat pie! Steak and chilli pie no less from Meldrums (great pie company here in Oz!).. phew, it nearly blew my head off but was very tasty! Headed back to the hostel and chatted to my dorm mates for a while.. amazing how many Korean travelers carry these slimline laptops with them and watch movies all the time in their dorms.. a good idea i suppose, but i'd hate to carry a laptop along with everything else i have!

May 27th. Today's the day folks! Up early as usual - bus pick is 7am to get us down to the port and onto "The Osprey"; my boat for the day! Quite big with over 150 close friends on board, but the crew were great! Really funny group! Met Fabio Mancini from Torontino, Italy. What a character - we had a great chat! Also a lovely older couple from Perth, who were here on holiday.. were very worried to hear i was traveling alone, and kept telling me to "have a great time but to be sure to be very careful, you can't trust anyone these days" - nice of them to worry, even tho' im closer to their age than most travelers here, teehee! The boat stopped near Saxon island, where we had our first snorkel on the reef. Absolutely stunning - the water was soooo clear and shallow - i was a nervous wreck in case i stood on the coral - a big no-no of course!
The fish were just incredible; the most amazing psychedelic patterend fish i have ever seen, tons of vivid colours, oh yes and quite exciting, i saw a reef shark just hanging back watching all the action, as we all puttered around!

Then it was back on board and we had lunch then stopped at Hastings (all the islands around here are named after English battles from way back for some reason..).
Finally i gave in to Jared, one of the crew who was organizing the helicopter trips off of the boat.. so you could really see the reef in all its glory! Ended up with a fantastic 15 minute ride around the reef with Steve, our copter pilot (funny guy who wanted some of my reef shots cos he thought they were pretty good - not bad eh!). I asked him if he could do a 360 for us (haha) he said sure, but it would be the last one we do! But he did take some pretty steep corners for us - loved the helicopter ride. You really can't see the magnitude of the reef unless you are above it!

Snorkeled again later that afternoon then on the way home had a great chat to an Australian-Italian family who lived just outside of Cairns... good fun but sometimes you realise either a) you are really PC these days and/or b) some Australians really do say exactly what they think about things/people etc. It can definitely be an eye opener but we had a great laugh about it....The crew had to keep counting us everytime we came back from snorkeling or diving; reason being? Does anyone remember a film called "Open Waters" based on a true story of a few years ago (that happened in Cairns i think) where two people who had been diving came up and their boat had left them one raised the alarm till the next day for some bizarre reason, and their bodies were never found, just their dive gear..... Yikes - can't even imagine that happening!!!

So back to shore and went for a wee beer with Mr Fabio; we had a lovely talk about his life, his loves, his new career...phew, then i was knackered and had to head back to pack for my next Queensland adventure - the Whitsunday Islands! Thoroughly enjoyed the Great Barrier Reef - it really is an incredible natural beauty. Did quiz the captain of the boat on how long he thought it would last with all of us tourists coming to see and swim in it... hmmn, he didnt seem too worried about it so it would be interesting to come back in 10 or 20 years and see if it is all still there!


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