The GREAT Barrier Reef
Words cannot quite do this experience justice but I will try my best.
We had plans for Gareth to take us out in his boat to the reef and were getting very excited about it, however it did not begin well. Sarah had to have a tooth removed the day before and up until the evening, she was still waiting for the blood to clot. Eww. I was thinking we might have to postpone the trip whilst I hurriedly made packed lunches and bought the poor munchkin some liquid food. She pulled through though, must to my excitement and out we sat at 4.30am in the morning, ready and awaiting Gareth’s arrival. We headed to the jetty and off we set, apprehensive and excitable about the hours ahead.
The sunrise was spectacular as you can imagine. It was a good 3 hours from the coast to where Gareth wanted to stop for tuna fishing and I think I spent the entire time standing, holding onto the front of the boat, gazing up at the sky as it changed from colour to colour.
We saw a couple of sea snakes on our way – bizarre creatures bobbing along at the surface of the deep blue. I would have expected them to be near the coral but not these. They must have wanted their own space. As we neared our destination Gareth pointed out the furthest reef. On the horizon I saw a break of waves and a change of colour in the ocean. It looked vast and full of sharks after Gareth had said there tended to be a lot there. Yikes.
Once we arrived at this precise location (Gareth seemed to know where he was going – said his friends had had good pickings here a few days before. I don’t know, it all looked like ocean to me), the ocean began to get rather rocky. I could see the waves were big on our way here but as soon as the boat slowed I began to feel dreadfully ill.
Gareth set all his fishing rods up, of which there were four and attached the bait of multi-coloured shrimp like metal creatures. These tuna are attracted to the bright colours rather than the smell of fresh bait. The aim was to steer the boat in a straight line whilst these rods were in place. If we could make it look like the bait was swimming, we were more likely to get lucky. This however meant crawling along at a snails pace whilst the small boat rocked everywhere. I was horrendously sea sick.
Sarah and Gareth giggled and joked about me not liking their company haha whilst I sat there chundering into the sea but it wasn’t long before Sarah was quite literally in the same boat! Poor Gareth needed help with pulling the lines in whenever we got a catch but the pair of us were no help at all. After only an hour or so, Gareth caught a yellow fin tuna. A monstrously sized fish and my gosh it was beautiful. Silvers and golds and greens and yellows and the most stunning contours and ridges on its back. Gareth bashed it round the head and in the ice it went. Sushi for tomorrow, he said. I like to think that my efforts in puking up my breakfast contributed to the success of the catch!
It was decided that it was time to go to the reef as Gareth was happy with the one tuna and we were happy to be going full speed again. Beforehand though, we got the chance to dunk ourselves in the deep blue. It was scary to be in such a vast environment. The sat nav in the boat told us it was 60 something metres deep. But that blue and that vastness was in equal measures breathtaking and shit scary. That blue was the deepest, richest, purest, bluest blue I have ever seen. And there was so much of it. It sounds completely stupid because it’s an ocean of course, but I was blown away. We were swimming miles and miles away from any land mass and it felt completely overwhelming. My head was telling me there was a shark beneath me at all times though so we stayed close to the boat.
It was another hour to the reef which Gareth had pointed out to us earlier. We anchored the boat and got our first glimpse of what was in store. The boat pulls up and suddenly you see an underwater world from the surface. Clear water and shallow depths and what looks like rocks. Until you get in of course, and then you see that those aren’t rocks, they are living, breathing coral and they are magnificent.
Everywhere you turn there is another scene to take in. Sea cucumbers, enormous coral and the most beautiful fish I have ever seen. The water was a lot calmer by the reef and we took our time taking it all in. Gareth is much more accustomed to the water than us and was able to dive a lot deeper. I would like to be able to get to that stage.
Next stop was a tiny beach island called ‘Taylor Key’. Nothing grows on this island as it is often covered by the sea, depending on the tides. Hundreds of birds however have made a home here but disappeared as soon as we neared the land. The boat pulls up and beneath is the clearest Aqua marine blue water you can imagine. I couldn’t wait to get in. We spent a lot of time here taking pictures, snorkelling through the coral which was just metres away from the island, snacking on our picnic I had made (and hoping it wasn’t going to come back up again) and breathing this paradise in. Oh, and getting severely sunburnt, although we weren’t to know at the time!
By this time it was approaching 4pm and unfortunately I needed to work at Millers in the evening. We had to head back. Before we did though, Gareth asked us if we wanted to go for one last snorkel at another reef, to which the answer was of course yes! So glad we did as this part of the coral was the most spectacular.
The coral was a mere 2 metres from the surface and boasted a huge variety of creatures. I saw puffer fish, rainbow fish, angel fish, small grouper fish and most thrilling of all, three white tip sharks. It felt bizarre to be bobbing along at the water’s surface where you could not see a thing for miles around. It seems like you were in the middle of the ocean, but I felt so safe with the coral right below me. We spent a good while staring at all the fish and I know I keep going on about them but they really were stunning; these fish weren’t just one colour, they were about twenty different colours, and all different shapes and sizes. They didn’t immediately swim away as soon as you approached so you had the chance to really take them all in.
It became apparent that the smaller fish tended to live on the top of the coral and the larger fish lived where the coral dropped off to the floor of the ocean. Snorkelling here was a little more scary as instead of 2 metres deep, the water was around 15-20 metres deep and without the safety net of the coral. It occurred to me that snorkelling slightly away from the coral was where you could see some of the best sites, and indeed, this was where we saw our white tip sharks, swimming along, minding their own business, around 10 metres below us.
On our way back I remember sitting down with the low sun on my front, drying off from our dip with my hair wiping in the breeze, smiling to myself and thinking about the brilliant day we had just had. Despite the sea-sickness and the dreadful sunburn we would encounter when we got back, the day was utterly magical. And those elements actually made the day what it was – a treasure to look back on. I can’t wait to go again.