While planning my Australia trip, the two things that I was positive I wanted to see was the Great Ocean Road and the Great Barrier Reef. Our whole trip was planned around these two givens. The first part of our trip was based in Melbourne, Victoria as most Great Ocean Road bus tours originate from Melbourne. For the second part of our trip, we flew from Melbourne to Cairns in Queensland, as we were told that this was the most suitable place to access the Great Barrier Reef.
Cairns is situated on the east coast of Far North Queensland. Unlike Melbourne, Cairns has a ‘small town’ vibe. None of my friends had ever heard of Cairns. In fact, whenever I mentioned it, most people would stop me and ask, “Do you mean Cannes?”
We reached Cairns late in the evening and stayed at the Cairns Sheridan. We went to bed early after a quite dinner, as our Great Barrier Reef cruise, organized by the Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises, was planned for the next day. As part of the cruise, we would get to experience the reef from both a glass-bottom boat and a semi-submarine.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system, stretching for over 2,300 kilometers. Located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space. It is the world’s biggest single structure composed of billions of tiny living organisms, known as coral polyps. The reef supports a wide diversity of life and is not only listed as a World Heritage Site but also considered as one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Our first sighting of the Great Barrier reef was in the glass-bottom boat. As obvious from the name, this boat had a glass bottom. We were seated on benches running along the sides of the boat, facing inward so that we could look through the bottom and observe all the activity happening under the boat. We could also twist sideways to view over the side railings of the boat.
Just a few minutes into the boat trip, we started seeing schools of fish, some swimming along serenely while others darted about madly. We saw a variety of fish, but the ones we sighted most frequently were the Yellowtail Fusillier. These were attractive blue colored fish with bright yellow tails.
In a short while, we started sighting a variety of colorful corals. The boat operator played a prerecorded audio giving us information about the various spots we were passing and the types of coral and other organisms found there. For instance, we learned that 400 coral species, both hard and soft, inhabit the reef.
We could also see some brightly colored clams embedded in some of the boulder corals. These were burrowing clams that used their shells to grind out a space to live, where they would be protected from predatory animals.
Whenever an interesting fish, turtle, or other sea animal passed us, the boat operator would pause the prerecorded narrative and and tell us a little about them.
Towards the end of the 30-minute trip, the boat driver announced that he would release some food bits on both sides of the boat to attract the fish to the surface of the water. As soon as he did so, we saw the fish rushing from the bottom of the boat to the sides. We could now see them clearly over the side rails of the boat as they bobbed up and down fighting over the tidbits. Some seabirds joined them as well. By now, we were all squealing with excitement. My husband, who till then had been airing doubts that the glass bottom was actually a giant tv screen and all the sea life we were seeing was part of a video being played on that screen, finally had to admit that what we were seeing was actually real.
Our glass bottom boat ride came to an end soon after, but we still had the semi-submarine ride to look forward to. The semi-submarine was a more immersive (no pun intended) experience, as we were seated below sea level.
We saw a diverse view of the coral reef and marine life. Like the glass-bottom boat ride, the semi-sub ride also included an informative commentary by the crew and a live fish feeding session. But overall, we enjoyed the glass-bottom boat much more than the semi-sub, possibly because the glass pane in the boats were much clearer than the ones on the semi-sub. In fact, I have to admit that the best part for the semi-sub ride for me was not the coral reef or the fish, but simply the bubbles rising along the bottom of the sub, as we rode along.
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