There’s so many amazing once-in-a-lifetime trips and experiences just waiting for you on the East Coast of Australia, but none quite so well known and impressive as the Great Barrier Reef. This iconic natural wonder is the world’s largest coral reef and is one of the biggest draws for tourists visiting the country and backpackers travelling up the East Coast. When you arrive in Cairns, this is the main trip you just cannot miss out on, everywhere you walk there are ticket touts and travel agencies trying to get you booked on the trip of a lifetime, promising a chance to swim with sea turtles, dolphins and even sharks. We had already booked our trip as part of our overall East Coast package and had chosen the Osprey V Premium Reef Cruise from Down Under Cruise and Dive which offered the chance to snorkel, scuba dive, to cruise on the boat and even to see the reef from the air with a helicopter ride back to shore. We were so excited for the trip, it was our chance to see some amazing wildlife and to have a go at diving for the first time. Sadly it wasn’t to be, Mark had the chance to try his first dive but I had just had a cold and wasn’t able to try it out, I stuck to snorkelling instead. We met at the jetty early in the morning – we had been good and not gone out the night before so weren’t hungover thank goodness, we needed all our energy for the day ahead.
Before we knew it we were powering out to sea on a fabulous catamaran with the crew who introduced themselves and gave all the guests a chance to get to know each other. There was a real range of people on the trip, from some much older people to others who were barely 18, some were backpackers and others were on family holidays, others didn’t even speak English as a first language. It was great to have such a diverse group and just showed that the reef is an incredible draw for people from all over the world, from all cultures and countries. Some of the guests were serious divers, others were beginners, and others didn’t even plan to get off the boat – they were just there for the boat and helicopter rides. Even though I was so excited to snorkel at this point, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disheartened by the dark, stormy-looking skies that were darkening the ride out to sea. The crew said not to worry about the weather, that we wouldn’t let it get to us but it could be a bit choppy going out to sea – all I can say is, I’m glad I grabbed handfuls of the ginger seasickness tablets they were handing out. I was dreading feeling seasick because it does just ruin your day, I had packed my own Travelcalm tablets but I hate taking medicine for it because it often makes you feel worse. The ginger tablets were incredible and I would swear by them from now on – they rid me of pretty much all my nausea and didn’t make me feel tired or groggy. When we arrived at the first snorkel site, I was eager to get in the water and suited up in my snorkel, flippers and wetsuit.Okay so I want to stress at this point, that all of my complaints about the trip have nothing to do with the crew who were absolutely amazing. It was frustratingly all down to the weather and the elements, which cannot be helped, but it did ruin the trip for me. The first dive and snorkel site was extremely open and with no real shelter from the swell and the wind, it was difficult to actually swim there. Not only was the current so strong that it kept dragging us away from the fish and pushing us into the boat, but it also meant we were exhausted very quickly despite being strong swimmers. I barely saw anything worth noting at the site because I was far too busy trying not to end up being slammed against the side of the boat by the waves. Mark was having a much better time on his first dive which took him lower in the water so he was less affected by the waves, the instructors were great and he pretty much had one-on-one coaching through every step. Back on the boat, the waves were getting rougher as we headed out further to sea and lunch was served – the food was amazing but sadly it was difficult to enjoy after spending hours being thrown around the boat and in the waves. I might not have felt sick but I definitely felt unsettled and exhausted. Unfortunately a lot of other people on the boat were feeling sick and suddenly it was turning into sick city – everywhere you turned people were going green, grabbing sick bags and running for the back of the boat. We must have been almost the only pair on there who didn’t get sick – it was horrific!
At the second dive site, one guy was unable to go in the water because he was so sick from the waves and several others were huddled on the floor in corners. The staff had their work cut out with everyonebeing so I’ll, but you can’t fault them, their enthusiasm never faltered and they looked after everyone while continuing to rally the remaining troops into the water. We were pretty cold by now but still eager to get in the water at what we were told would be a much more sheltered site, we were glad to find it was much better and with lots more to see. I spotted a shark swimming along, loads of Nemos and all kinds of rainbow fish but it was still an anticlimax after swimming with sea turtles the previous week. We climbed back on the boat happy that we had actually seen a shark and prepared for the ride home. This was when it all went a bit crazy – a poor woman who had been suffering badly with seasickness all day was knocked off her feet as she came out of the toilet by a passing wave. She went flying and smacked her head on the wall, it started bleeding and she started being sick – it was horrible, we couldn’t even get to her straight away because of the crazy waves. Luckily the crew managed to get her up and sitting at a table but she was so ill and frightened by the whole thing that she had to be helicoptered back to the shore. It was all a bit dramatic and after all the vomit and stress of the day, it really killed what little good mood was left. Eventually we headed back to Cairns and you have to give it to the crew, there was one guy in particular who decided to get up and start singing all the old classics – he had everyone singing along and laughing. It was a much better end to the day, but we were gutted to have missed out on the Great Barrier Reef experience. I’m never one to give up – I will be going back to do it again when the weather is better and hope to have a completely different trip.
How was your Great Barrier Reef trip? Did you have a better experience? Can you recommend any good companies?