Cruising to the Reef

As we skim across the sparkling waters of the Coral Sea aboard Wavedancer I’m filled with anticipation. It’s been more than 30 years since I last visited the Great Barrier Reef and I’m looking forward to spending the day at one of the best known natural wonders in the world.

We’re heading to Low Isles, two tiny islands set in a calm lagoon in the inner reef. Woody Island is a mangrove island and Low Island, our destination today, is a coral cay. Our journey on the Wavedancer, a sleek 30 metre sailing catamaran, takes an hour. We sit up on the top deck and, with the wind blowing sea spray in our faces, it’s an exhilarating ride.

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The boat slows as we near the island. It stays moored in the lagoon for the day and passengers are transferred ashore in little dual-purpose boats. As well as shuttling back and forth, they are used for seeing the coral. With a range of activities to choose from, we decide to stay on board Wavedancer and begin with a viewing of the coral reef in the glass bottomed boat.

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The boats are small and square, with the glass bottom in the centre and seating around the edge. We all lean over and peer eagerly through the glass while our guide skilfully steers the boat, keeping an eye out for special things to show us. We reap the reward for his efforts – giant clams, staghorn and brain coral, colourful tropical fish and even a turtle come our way.

Back on board the catamaran we enjoy a delicious seafood lunch before climbing into the shuttle boat again to go to the island. There’s plenty to do on shore. Many people go snorkelling and swimming, but being a Queenslander and somewhat wimpy as well, I decide the water is too cold and go on a nature walk with the marine biologist instead. We follow a trail through the trees to the lighthouse at the centre of the island. Built in 1878, the lighthouse was the first to guide the way through the inner reef and has been operating ever since.

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P1050222Near the lighthouse is another tall structure; a post with an osprey’s nest on top. We can hear hungry chicks in the nest calling out to their parents, who return from hunting and feed their demanding offspring while we watch.

P1050216When the birds leave the nest and their babies to search for more food, we leave too and head back to the beach. The coarse sand is composed of tiny pieces of coral, plant material and animal skeletons built up over the last 5000 years. We find seeds, cuttlefish skeletons and sea sponges washed up on the shore.

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Too soon, it’s time to board the little boat again and return to the Wavedancer. As we leave, I watch the Low Isles disappear over the horizon. I hope it won’t be another 30 years before I visit the Great Barrier Reef again.

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18 thoughts on “Cruising to the Reef

  1. This is terrific. On a completely lunatic note, I like the ‘present tense’ telling of the adventure.
    About the coral, I recall reading a longish while ago that a lot of coral was dying – bleached white and dead from changes in global water temperatures. Did you see evidence of that?

    • Thank you David. I am pleased to hear that you enjoyed reading this story in present tense. I find one of the dilemmas of writing is deciding what tense to use. I actually started this piece in past tense and ended up changing it to present. I must have made the right decision.

      I remember the coral being very colourful the last time I was there and as you can see from the photos it was all quite pale. I don’t think it is dead but the colour is not there.

  2. A wonderful experience. As someone who has never snorkelled and probably never will now, I too took the glass bottom boat to view the underwater world. My photos didn’t turn out too well – far too green – though I saw a turtle. I just loved the colour of the water around the reef and the trip was such fun. I think I may have got a photo of your lighthouse; sadly not a photo of the osprey 😉

  3. This sounds like an excellent trip – I think I would love every bit of it. I might have had a similar dilemma regarding snorkelling, and would have gone on the walk instead. Seeing ospreys always takes me back to childhood when there was great excitement about a pair of ospreys nesting in Scotland, and we would drive quite some distance to see them.

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