One of life’s most fantastic affirmations must be spending a day on the Great Barrier Reef and, if prepared, putting on a Scuba tank and diving into the beautiful blue water. For me, the experience came in the most tragic of family circumstances, the untimely passing of my eldest brother from crippling bowel cancer. An interesting paradox is that one of the best days of my life was conjoined with one of the saddest. The fact that I could share my wonderful Great Barrier Reef experience with my brother seemed to lift his spirits as the closing bell rang.
A bit of planning
Although there are probably several towns you can access the Great Barrier Reef from, it seemed to be mainly Townsville and Cairns with the most operators. We were based in Townsville, so that was our first call, and we had all our plans lined up, only to be told the day before that severe weather had disrupted the arrival of vital parts for the boat’s maintenance, and the trip was cancelled. My family was devastated, as was I, but not yet giving up. This wasn’t my first trip to the Reef. Eighteen months earlier, when my brother has first diagnosed, my youngest son and I made the trip to the Reef. I can’t remember exactly why, maybe fully booked, but we had to travel to Cairns. Scrambling on the phone late in the afternoon, we secured a day trip to the Reef, leaving Cairns at 7:30 am. We took 20 minutes to get all our family gear together and jumped in the car to drive the 4 ½ hours from Townsville to Cairns.
A Day on the Reef
The meeting time is 7:30 am, and although there is a bit of tolerance built-in, I’d still suggest getting to the harbour 10-15 minutes early as parking is not always straightforward. You might have to mess about with tickets. The process of churning through the lines and onto the boats is well-rehearsed and provides you have all the keys and required information, and you will be boarding quite quickly. The sooner you are on the ship, the more excellent choice of seating arrangements.
Glass Bottom Boat – Great Barrier Reef
The boat providers are excellent. They have everything you need but make sure you have spent some time packing your specific items (medicines etc., In a waterproof bag). On the journey out to the Reef, you will be offered ‘sick tablets’. I’d suggest you take one, they aren’t too expensive, but if you suffer from seasickness, it might be better to visit the Chemist beforehand. If you have a GoPro, don’t forget it!!
On my first trip, I was looking forward to snorkelling and swimming about the Great Barrier Reef, and the providers offer the chance to Scuba diving even if you are a novice. A few things to keep in mind, if you have certain medical conditions, you won’t be able to dive unless you have had the proper checks and documentation (my daughter is Type 1 and wasn’t allowed to dive; likewise, there is a lower age limit, 15 I think). You can check these things when booking.
What about sharks?
As we travelled out to the Reef, we got briefed by the boat crew on how things will work and what to expect and how to behave. Our heavily accented Japanese boat crew member briefed us on most things and paraphrased what we should expect about sharks. “You won’t see any sharks today at all, none. You don’t need to worry.” Relieved patronage, only for our host to follow up, “That is because sharks on the reef have always learnt to attack humans from behind!!”. Now dead silence and aghast, except for our Japanese crew member and the rest of her team laughing in delight at everyone’s response Seriously, there are reasons like water temperature. Still, you don’t need to worry about sharks out on the Reef.
The time comes. You are on the Reef and ready to get into the water. You can begin snorkelling, and many types of floating devices are supplied, plus goggles, flippers, and anything else you need. You don’t need to rush, there is plenty of time, and you might tire quicker than you think. Take your time and focus on enjoying every minute you have at the Reef. Even if you have taken the opportunity to do Scuba diving, you will have plenty of time to snorkel, do glass-bottom boats, and do other activities.
Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, guards always keep an eye on you.
Lunch is served between Reefs; it is a great spread; you will be fine and filled. Make sure you drink plenty of water as the heat and saltwater can be draining. The afternoon will follow a similar vein to the morning. If you are like me, you will be tired, but the joy of being in one of the world’s greatest natural wonders will keep you moving. As the day progresses, the crew will note your confidence and Scuba ability, and if you are doing well, you will be given more freedom to move about underwater.
As the day draws to a closure, you might visit one more location, which is usually a bit different. If lucky, there is a little ‘beach island’ out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where you can take a break and enjoy a sanctuary of bliss. As the boat begins the trip back to the harbour, you will enjoy the feeling of exhaustion coupled with a beautiful view of great wonder and the environment. Enjoy the last minutes as you do the whole day.
Once back at the harbour, the boat crew will wish you well and ensure you have collected everything. In both my experiences, the boat crew were fantastic, supportive and professional. They all even joined in for a photo with my son and me at the end.
In closing, anyone I meet, I tell them that snorkelling or Scuba diving, the Great Barrier Reef is an actual Bucket List item. It would help if you went out of your way to do it, and you will have a memory for life.
Therefore, we should do everything we can to help save and maintain the Reef!!
This is the website I booked my trips to the Reef on: