A Travellerspoint blog

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef

Underwater at one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World


View World Trip 2012 on noahv's travel map.

One of the earliest entries on our lifelong bucket lists has been to explore the Great Barrier Reef in northern Australia.  Crystal clear waters, beautiful coral formations, exotically colored fishes, maybe even a sea turtle or a shark - these have been images that we've carried in our heads from an early age.  So, when we finally got to North Queensland, we knew that we were going to make this dream happen.

Except, it wasn't that easy.

Our plan was to visit the reef during the week while we were in Port Douglas, which is about an hour north of Cairns.  We picked Port Douglas since it was closer to some of the more spectacular places on the reef (which is actually not one single reef, but a conglomeration of many smaller reef areas).  We had heard that taking a trip out of Port Douglas (or simply "Port", as the locals refer to it) would allow us less time on the boat and more time in the water.  And, since none of us are PADI-certified divers, we were looking for a snorkel-only company, of which there seemed to be more in Port Douglas than in Cairns.

We finally got referred to a company called Wavelength, which specializes in small-group (around 30 people) snorkel-only trips running out of Port Douglas.  After talking with them via email and the phone, and learning that they carry a marine biologist on board (and in the water with you) to give explanations on the marine life, and (since they are snorkel-only) you get into the water quicker than going on a larger boat that caters to both divers and snorkelers (since divers typically get suited up first, snorkelers have to wait). We made reservations to go on Friday, and started to get excited.

Then came the cyclone.

Cyclone Oswald hit the north QLD area on Monday, dumping over 39 inches of rain in the area, with winds up to 90 kilometers per hour. Although it's possible to go out to the reef in rainy conditions (after all, you're getting wet in the water anyway), any wind will cause the ocean swell to get too high, compromising visibility on the reef, not to mention safety. As the week progressed, and we sat in our hotel watching the rain torrent down, we kept an eye on the weather reports for later in the week. We were excited to see that the weather predictions were for the cyclone to pass over us and die out by Thursday, with good conditions forecasted for Friday.

Then came the email from Wavelength letting us know that since they had to cancel the Thursday trip due to weather, they were going to rebook those passengers for Friday, and there wasn't enough room for us. Very disappointing, but we weren't scheduled to leave Port Douglas until Sunday, so Saturday looked like the day to go. Until the winds came up again… Now we were stuck looking at either changing our departure date so we could work in a Sunday trip, or scrapping our plans entirely and finding a company out of Cairns. After much deliberation, we decided to stay an extra night and go to the reef with the Wavelength crew on Sunday.

And boy were we glad that we did.

Sunday dawned overcast with light rain, but by the time we left the dock, it was clearing up, and we were all putting on the sunscreen. It was about 1.5 hours from Port Douglas out to our first stop, and we spent our time watching the waves as we passed the Low Isles and looking out for dolphins (we didn't see any).
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As we got closer to the reef, we got a very thorough safety review, and got suited up in our lycra suits (good for both protection from any small jellyfish / "stingers" in the water, as well as the sun - also an ecological bonus since you don't have to put on sunscreen that might get into the water).

Alex and Leah rocking their suits - new additions to the Blue Man Group?
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Getting geared up and going in for our first dive.
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The plan for the day was 3 separate stops out of the 20 that Wavelength has the rights to visit (that's a lot of sites to choose from - other providers have far fewer). We started out on Bashful Bommie on Opal Reef, where we got adjusted to our suits and masks and snorkels.
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We even got to see a large sea turtle!
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We then headed over to Long Bommie (also on Opal Reef) for more snorkeling and fun in the water.
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After a great lunch on-board, we had a great dive at Turtle Bay on Tongue Reef (where we were the only ones in the water, since Wavelength has an exclusive at this site). We saw all types of sea life, including hundreds of different types of fishes, sea turtles, a moray eel, a spotted stingray, and even a black tipped reef shark!
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Throughout the course of the day, the two marine biologists that we had on-board with us were extremely helpful and informative, explaining everything from the types of marine life that we were seeing to the reef and rainforest ecologies. We learned that because the coral from the reef generates oxygen, this can cause weather above the reef to change (e.g. creating clouds to shield the reef from direct sun), which then transport moisture inland to the rainforest, which then will cause runoff from the mountains through the mangrove swamps, which will filter and release more nutrients into the water, completing the cycle by nourishing the reef. The time and method that Paul (our biologist / guide) spent describing this to us was very much appreciated.

Our guides also pointed out the impacts from the recent cyclone on the reef to us - much of the coral tips had been knocked off, and almost all of the larger coral formations (the ones that look like giant mushrooms) were all knocked over and flipped upside-down on the sea floor. However, our guides made sure that we knew that although this was significant change to the reef, it was not "damage", since the reef will continue to grow and evolve.
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We spent the trip back to Port Douglas relaxing on the bow of the boat, watching the waves go by and thinking about our adventures.
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By the end of the day, we all agreed that this was one of the best adventures that we had ever been on, and we can't wait to get back into the water!

Posted by noahv 19:40 Archived in Australia Tagged queensland snorkeling great_barrier_reef Comments (3)

Australian Animals

Port Douglas Wildlife Habitat


View World Trip 2012 on noahv's travel map.

While in Port Douglas, we decided to take some local advice (which, in general, has given us some great adventures that we might not have found on our own) and visited the Port Douglas Wildlife Habitat. If you drive up to Port Douglas from Cairns, you'll pass by this place just as you turn off of the Captain Cook Highway onto the road to Port Douglas.

It doesn't look like much from the road, but once inside we found a well laid out and extensive wildlife habitat (not really a zoo, since there were no cages). There were large areas set aside for all types of birds, koalas, crocs, and kangaroos.

We got there just before the 9:30am Rainforest bird feeding tour, and had a great guide take us around to show us all of the different birds they had there. Australia has an amazing variety of birds! Our family favorite has been the rainbow lorikeet - very pretty!
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Here is the food that we were delivering - Alex and Leah helped the guide to feed the birds. As you can see, these birds eat a wide variety of foods...note the live mealy worms at the top right. Yum!
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We saw a ton of flying foxes (actually, one of the largest bats around; a MEGABAT!):
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Apparently, no emus are allowed in this area:
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Here is the Bush Stone Curlew - a very good looking bird, which is a fairly common bird around Port Douglas and is often active at night and makes a very eerie wailing call. This one in particular was interested in the food that Leah had, and managed to give her a good peck on the hand (greedy bird!).
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Noah was very impressed with the size of the pelican that walked across the path in front of us - that is one LARGE bird!
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We also spent a couple of minutes getting the koala lecture (but honestly, koalas are not the most exciting of animals, and we had already heard the same information at some of the other places we've gone). We then passed through the turtle and owl area:
Turtle Parade!
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Turtle Head
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"Hedwig" the Owl
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They are also one of the few places that have managed to breed Black Necked Storks - here's the "baby" (already almost as big as an adult at only 3 months):
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During our time there, we all learned a lot of new facts about Australian animals. Here's a quick list of some of our favorites:

  • Leah:

1 - Lorikeets like to swing around on branches (and bounce up and down), and are VERY curious!
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2 - Although koalas "sleep" for 18-20 hours a day, they're really digesting their food, since the eucalyptus leaves that they eat (only a specific 120 out of over 700 types) provide very little energy.
3 - The Cassowary bird is endangered, with less than 2000 left in the wild.
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  • Alex:

1 - Tree Kangaroos are the evolutionary link between possums and kangaroos.
2 - The largest salt water crocodiles ("salties") are over 6 meters long - that's 20 feet! They can weigh over 2000 pounds too!
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3 - Wombats, like koalas, are marsupials, which means that they have a pouch to raise their young. Other marsupials include kangaroos, possums, opossums, and the Tasmanian devil.

  • Anne:

1 - Koalas never need to drink water - they get all the moisture they need from the eucalyptus leaves they eat. In fact, some say that the word "koala" originates from the word "gula", which means "no drink" in Aboriginal.

  • Noah:

1 - The Australian freshwater eel spawns on the Continental shelf (over 20 kilometers from the Australian shore). The females will swim out, lay eggs (thousands of them) and then die. When the eggs hatch, the babies will begin their migration back to freshwater locations that their mothers came from - much like the migration patterns of the salmon!

We then walked over to the kangaroo area, and spent some time feeding all of the kangaroos and wallabies that they had there.
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On the way out, I noticed the following on sale in the gift shop. I thought that was a pretty good bargain for a killer python, but decided not to spend the $1...
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We very much enjoyed our morning at the Port Douglas Wildlife Habitat. It was a great way to spend Australia Day, and we recommend it to other families in the area.
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P.S. We happened to be there at the exact same time as another traveling family. Unfortunately, we didn't make the connection in person, but had a good laugh afterwards when we both posted pictures of our experiences, and realized that we were both in the same place at the same time! Small world indeed...

Posted by noahv 20:18 Archived in Australia Comments (3)

Long time, no talk

A quick update from the field


View World Trip 2012 on noahv's travel map.

One of the "dangers" of travelling is that it's easy to get lost. That's not necessarily a bad thing, depending on the type. For example, getting lost physically can lead to new adventures and the opportunity to meet new people. Recently, we've gotten lost in time. Many days we wake up not knowing what day it is ("Isn't it Monday? No, I think it's Wednesday..."). This too is not a bad problem to have, as long as we remember which day it is that we need to catch our next airplane flight, etc.

This, coupled with our challenges of finding cheap and fast internet access (we will no longer take the unlimited high-speed internet access we have in the States for granted), has resulted in a significant "slacking off" in the blogging area. For those who have Liked our Facebook page, we've been posting pictures and updates over there, but our blog here has been sadly ignored. We are aiming to change that up, now that we are back within wi-fi range. We have a bunch of posts to come, going all the way back to Perú for a recap of Noah's epic trek to Choquequirao, our fantastic time exploring Easter Island and Tahiti, having our family come visit for the holidays in New Zealand and Australia, and our adventures in our campervan heading up the Gold Coast from Sydney to Brisbane.

That said, here's a picture from our most recent adventure this morning, when we headed out of Port Douglas north up to the Daintree Rainforest. Through our guide Mick from Daintree Discovery Tours, we learned that this is the oldest old-growth rainforest on the face of the earth, dating back over 100 million years!

We started the day with a boat ride up the Daintree River, looking for crocs and snakes. Unfortunately, after the torrential rains we've had here in the area over the past couple of days (thanks Cyclone Oswald), the crocs were all hanging out elsewhere. Regardless, we had a great time on the river, and did manage to see some snakes in the trees.
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After the river, we headed off in a Land Rover to Cassowary Falls, which (after all the rain) was huge!
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We swam in the pool under the falls, climbed behind the waterfall, and (after we got out) learned about the huge eels and turtles that live in the pool. Not sure how willing we would have been to jump in if we had know this guy (about 1.5 meters long) was in there too!
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It was an amazing morning, and we all learned a lot about the area. We wish that we had more time to explore the rainforest, but we'll have to make a return trip (probably during the Australian winter, when the weather in this area is supposed to be amazing).
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Next up, a day snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef!

Posted by noahv 20:23 Archived in Australia Comments (4)

Kid Interviews II

Patagonia Trek Through the Eyes of Alex and Leah

The Kids Shed Some Light on Their Experience in Patagonia . . .

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Patagonia Torres del Paine Trek (Chile) November 2012

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Posted by annevl 17:07 Archived in Chile Tagged adventure kids patagonia interview Comments (1)

Kid Interviews I

Video of Alex and Leah Sharing their Perspective of Colca Canyon

The First in a Series of Video Interviews Featuring the Kids

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Colca Canyon Condors (Peru)
October 2012

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Up Next -- Patagonia Trek According to Alex and Leah . . .

Posted by annevl 17:14 Archived in Peru Comments (2)

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