Great Barrier Reef and Port Douglas

Port Douglas and the Great Barrier Reef

June 7-8

I snuck quietly out of the dorm room for free breakfast bright and early at 6:50am (early for backpacker standards). We finished up just as the giant Quicksilver tour bus arrived to whisk us down to the marina. Today, we were snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef!

I wasn’t sure if we were going to get the chance to go, but we worked out a deal with one of the hostels we were building a website for in exchange for the tour and accommodation. This wasn’t just any tour either. It was the deluxe tour on a fancy catamaran with gourmet meals, expert staff, and top notch equipment.

We stepped foot on the plush boat after having saying “Reef” for the professional photographers photo that we’d never buy. We sped off past the mountain lined coast until we were out of the harbor. Fancy tea pastries were offered while our guides oriented us for the upcoming activities. I was relieved to see the stinger suits had the mittens and hood so I knew I wouldn’t have to touch anything, even if I looked ridiculous. You could visibly see the layout of the reef once we arrived at “Phil’s Spot”, along the Agincourt reef of the outer reef section, and proclaimed to be one of the best pristine spots. We slid off the back of the boat and plunged into the luke warm water.

The landscape underneath was incredibly diverse in color and shape. Each section of the coral shelf was distinct, some with feathery fingers, some like porous boulders, and others like deer antlers. The mask was really high quality so it was clear to see all the exotic fish and the squiggly mouths of giant clams. We were the last ones of the boat to get out of the water and back on the boat to our next destination.

At turtle bay, our guides gave us a bit of a marine lesson describing the types of fish and coral we’d just seen. Fun fact, clown fish can switch between male and female.

We feasted on an incredible lunch of shrimp, pasta, ceviche, curry and more until I was positive my stomach was full enough to sink me to the ocean floor. This snorkel spot allowed us to get even closer by hovering right over the shallow coral, spotting aneneme and Nemo fish inches away from my mask. I practiced diving down to the bottom to play hide and seek with the Flatfish, that burrows into sand and changes color to camouflage.

Back on the boat, the guides were all talking excitedly and rushed back to the platform. One of them informed us that they spotted a tiger shark, as the other guide dove in after the shark. Of course, Byron wiggles back into his suit and dove off the boat following the guide before anyone could stop him. Amazingly, they caught up enough to see the tail as it zigzagged along the reef searching for food. I was perfectly content watching from the deck.

Our third and final stop at Castle Reef included a guided tour on the water with Mitch, our Aussie surfer instructor with shaggy beach blonde hair.

He lead us around picking up sea cucumbers to touch and pointing out clams, trying to shout above the waves as we bobbed along. By this point we were cold and tired, so we headed back in for tea and pastries until the journey back to land. I ended the day astonished that I even considered skipping over the Great Barrier Reef.