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.
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.
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.
Near 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.
When 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.
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.