Saving the Best For Last: Cairns and The Great Barrier Reef

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Saying goodbye to Maggie Island at Radical Bay

Saying goodbye to Maggie Island at Radical Bay

A few days before leaving the island M and I were tying up all loose ends – I was scrambling to finish my work with both Hotel Arcadia and Rockaway PR and he was busy making arrangements for our apartment and our initial arrival in Singapore.

Time flew, and before I knew it we were rushing home to finish packing, and as I sat on top of my suitcase to zipper its bulging contents reality hit and I began reflecting on the past year I have spent in Australia. Just two days before, we woke up at dawn to take the most popular hike on the island to enjoy all of its secluded bays. The island is any beachgoer’s dream come true – picture secluded beaches with not a single person in sight, and many are well-kept secrets, sheltered by mangroves blocking much of the view from the open ocean.  I watched once more as a stunningly white cockatoo flew above, making sounds similar to an eagle – their beauty has never ceased to stop me dead in my tracks.

Oh Maggie, you will truly be missed. Thank you for teaching me to RELAX.

Oh Maggie, you will truly be missed. Thank you for teaching me to RELAX.

We hopped the ferry to town and as we waved a measly goodbye to our island, I realized it would always be a part of my heart and memories. An emotional attachment to its wildlife, easygoing culture and no-stress lifestyle has grown on me. I will take home traces of the island weaved into my personality, and will always remember fondly our time on Magnetic Island.

Our adventure has only begun – we are on our way to Singapore from Cairns, Australia, where we have spent the last two days exploring The Great Barrier Reef. A natural wonder so massive its fluorescent blue waters can be spotted from outer space!

Captain Kel!

Captain Kel!

This time making two day cruises with Ocean Premier Cruises, I had one goal in mind: to conquer my biggest fear. Like many, I have always been terrified of the ocean (as I should be, really).  My number one aspiration in coming to Australia was to go diving in the Reef, and by golly I was going to do it!

Ready to conquer my biggest fear...

Ready to conquer my biggest fear…

Climbing aboard day one on the Ocean Freedom boat, we joined about 65 people as we made our way to the Reef to embark on our first introductory dive. A bubbly and welcoming crewmember Kelly talked me through the experience and her excitement calmed my unsettled nerves. When we docked at the Reef and returned from a lovely glass-bottom boat tour on a separate smaller vessel, they called our group number and it was time to get ready.  We hooked our arms through the oh-so-heavy scuba vests and all too quickly were being launched off the edge of the boat into the glowing waters surrounding. With one hand on my mouthpiece and the other on my mask, the instructor guided us down and we practiced breathing techniques. I cannot describe my terror in ducking under for the first time. Not breathing through my nose was so difficult, and all of the tricks on how to clear your mask of water and clear your mouthpiece from water were too much for my racing mind to comprehend.  Under the water, a chilled out instructor with dreadlocks for some reason made me feel at ease. We practiced breathing and he grabbed me in one hand and Max in the other and we found ourselves descending slowly toward the ocean floor. At first it was murky, and all I was focused on was my panic in not being able to breath through my nose.

LET'S DO THIS AHHHHH!!!!!

LET’S DO THIS AHHHHH!!!!!

What if I coughed or sneezed??! What if my nose itches or my contacts get irritated? Squeezing on to his hand for dear life I was unaware of anything but my fear. As he signaled for me to let him know I was ok, I snapped back to reality and gave him the three finger “I’m ok” signal. All of a sudden the reef was upon us and my insecurities were swept away into the sandy current as I was dumbfounded by the views. Beautiful corals of every imaginable color, rainbow reef fish of all shaped and sizes, bulging sea cucumbers and wiggling starfish came into my line of sight. Neon blue fish congregated around a bright green coral, and an iridescent fish wandered happily just inches from my face. The experience went on, and I finally realized that Max and the instructor were still there – who knew? Before you knew it we emerged from the water and were back on the boat gearing up for a snorkel.

First thing we saw hopping in to snorkel was a reef shark and a stingray, which should have scared me but didn’t at all. I surprised myself when I heard one of the crew ushering us over to see the shark and I was the first one in line!

Great Barrier Reef baby!

Great Barrier Reef baby!

Even though M and I were like epileptic losers falling asleep on every single bench we sat on for more than five minutes (we went straight from our overnight greyhound to the cruise ship), the day was absolutely amazing!

I conquered you, ocean.

I conquered you, ocean.

On our way back to Globetrotters backpackers we made a pit stop in the stunning infinity pool, which sits on the coast and in the center of the CBD. I took a quick dip and then we dragged ourselves home and crashed like two boulders off a cliff.

Day two was arguably one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. We hopped aboard the Ocean Free sailboat and grabbed some brekky as we lathered up in sunblock.  Two hours later we docked at Green Island, in the middle of the Reef. With only 16 passengers, the crew knew we had dived the day before and scheduled us to dive first. The instructor had a chat to us beforehand, letting us know he would give us a little more freedom to let go of him if we would like. M nodded excitedly, and I said, “I think you should just hold my hand the whole time.” Haha – I wasn’t that confident yet!

Lovin the sunshine and fresh air!

Lovin the sunshine and fresh air!

My nerves eased as we set off gently down in the water, and as if the experience could top the day before, it did. The reef towered on our right, and enormous black and blue fish swam in and out of unseen hidden spaces, oblivious to our presence around them. We swam just inches from the coral, and seconds later the instructor gave us the “clownfish” signal, which is one thumb on your nose and wiggling your fingers – lucky I remembered our tutorial or I would have thought he was crazy! Straight out of Finding Nemo, a swaying anemone housed about eight clownfish which danced through its arms. The instructor gave me a light push down toward the fish so I could get a close up of them and I nearly squealed with delight (until I realized what that would do to my mask). We swam through a crevice and spotted a giant clam, which looked like it was covered in purple velvet and snapped gently shut as we swam over it. I signaled to the instructor that I wanted a picture, and Max swam over to me for the quick pic.

He instructed us and pulled us downward telling us in dive sign language to kneel on the floor. Here we were, kneeling on the bottom of the most infamous underwater ecosystem, taking a picture and living the dream. After taking the picture, I let go of his hand and held Max’s hand happily until it was time to get back to the boat.

We snorkeled again and then headed to Green Island where we explored for about an hour. Going back to our boat via dinghy, we snorkeled once more and then changed and relaxed for the ride home. We met the skipper, who told us stories of how he had been a private captain for several billionaires around the world. He stressed how at one point in his life he tried to chase money and have nice things, and how life drew him back to his job on the boats – everyday happiness, he said, was so much more important. Funniest thing was he worked for a billionaire in South Florida, what a small world!

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What an experience we had – one we will never forget as long as we live. From the Reef to the Singapore rail – it is all a dream come true.

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About girlindownunder

A young person in search of an identity - in 2011 I will launch a personal journey and this blog will serve as a platform for my family and friends - a unique documentation of life lessons, epic fails and unforgettable moments.

One response »

  1. As usual….I loved your blog! This is just so awesome. I just can’t wait to see all of your pics! Miss you so much, and can’t wait until your return. xoxox mom

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