Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef

By Shane Boocock

I was sitting in a café with a New Zealand friend of mine who’d just arrived in Cairns that day to begin a new life with his newly married wife. “I simply love the tropics,” he declared. “I just love the heat, and if you want to cool down just look at what’s out there.” He was, of course, referring to the Great Barrier Reef.

Exploring islands and coastlines is, to me, the best of both worlds. Beautiful sunny days combined with cool sea breezes can be a blessing when the temperature knob is at full throttle. I couldn’t help but feel relaxed as I knocked back a cold one on Cairn’s waterfront. The weather was mild and the pace of life laid-back – no wonder, when there are picture postcard views of the marina and the rainforest highlands from the front terrace.

Just once in a while I get to do the stuff dreams are made of. I was due to spend a couple of nights in paradise at Green Island – the front doorstep to the Outer Barrier Reef.

For those who don’t know, the Great Barrier Reef stretches 2300km along Australia’s northeastern coast and features more than 3000 reefs, coral cays and coral islands. The largest natural feature on the planet also has over 5000 species of sea creatures.

The first people I met on Green Island, besides the check-in clerk, were two female backpackers serving 5pm champagne cocktails beachside. Ricky-Lee was from Nelson, New Zealand and Kendal was from Scotland. They’d been in Cairns just three-days and had already landed a cushy job at the resort.

“Are we the luckiest people alive or what?” whispered Ricky-Lee as she served a honeymoon couple two fruity looking cocktails. Yes, was the answer!

Earlier that morning, I’d been whisked away to the outer reef with Great Barrier Reef Adventure Cruises in their beautifully appointed 34m giant catamaran – a bona fide, smooth-as-silk two hour trip including a drop-off at Green Island.

At their specially designed Outer Reef Platform, families and couples either made their way straight to the buffet lunch counter or went to get their jellyfish protection suits – both a sight to behold, and a perfect digital camera snapshot. Having dived on the reef years ago, I didn’t wait to squeeze into a suit – I simply chose some flippers and goggles and made for the rear platform where they make it easy to enter the luminous sapphire coloured waters.

Within an hour, the surface was a colourful vestige of swimmers in rubber suits, all flapping about searching for an array of unimpressed colourful fish amongst the famous coral.

Back on board the platform, I ate a light lunch as more holidaymakers lined up to board a semi-submersible – yes, here was the chance to take a submarine ride. For many, this is the safest and most secure way to get a look-see at this unique underwater botanical garden and its marine life, without getting a tiny bit wet.

As you’d expect, there are many options on the pontoon – snorkelling, scuba diving, or you can cruise the reef on your own underwater scooter called a Scuba-Doo. No experience is necessary and non-swimmers are welcome. It’s all good fun, and your professional guide will take you on an underwater journey to remember.

For those wanting to see what it’s like from a seagull’s perspective, try the ten-minute helicopter flight over the reef that opens up the size and circumference of what you’ve been peering at under the water.

Play and stay on the Great Barrier Reef! 

My particular favourite was a few days spent overnight at Green Island Resort. With just 46 air-conditioned suites, this renowned eco-sensitive resort is graciously nestled amid native trees and palm-fringed white sandy beaches – an intimate and luxurious retreat, and secluded from the day visitor facilities. It’s a place to enjoy the romance of 5-star luxury with its unique reef and semi-rainforest environment.

Before dinner I sauntered barefoot around the island which took all of ten minutes. Cool breezes floated like chiffon off the ocean as the sounds of birds fossicking for food broke the stillness.

The next morning was spent relaxing, swimming, and snorkelling before I popped my head into the undersea observatory for another peek at what lurked beneath. Many day trippers were joining the glass bottom boat tours for their once in a lifetime experience. It didn’t take too much persuading for me to go out and try my hand at hanging off the end of a giant tent – a spot of parasailing before sunset really does whet the appetite for a few cocktails by the beach!

Dinner was at Emerald’s Restaurant. It felt strange being seated by myself, as every other table seemed to be occupied with couples and families. However, this was my opportunity on my last night to order courses that reflected my location – so I ordered all the dishes featuring seafood, as the waitress cheekily smiled and said, “I thought you Kiwis only ate lamb?”

By mid-afternoon the next day, I was sipping a chardonnay back on the waterfront in Cairns, courtesy of a sensational Cairn’s Seaplane flight back from Green Island. To appreciate the location and backdrop to a great city like Cairns, jump in the co-pilots seat and soak it all up enroute!

This region, of course, is internationally recognised for protecting two of the world’s major eco systems – the Wet Tropical Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Both have been listed by the United Nations as World Heritage sites. So remember… when in the tropics, go tropical and you’ll wake up in Seventh Heaven.

FACTS:

Shane Boocock visited Tropical North Queensland courtesy of Tourism Queensland and flew Air New Zealand to Cairns.

Green Island Resort, tel +61 7 4031 3300, www.greenislandresort.com.au

Cairns Seaplanes, tel +61 7 4031 4307, www.cairnsseaplanes.com

Great Barrier Reef Adventure Cruises, tel +61 7 4044 9944, www.greatadventures.com.au

GETTING THERE:

Fly direct to Cairns, Tropical North Queensland with:
• Air New Zealand from Auckland non-stop. You can also connect from 25 NZ provincial ports to the Auckland / Cairns direct service. www.airnewzealand.co.nz
or fly to cairns via Brisbane or sydney with:
• Pacific Blue from Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, www.flypacificblue.co.nz
• Qantas from Auckland or Wellington, www.qantas.co.nz
• Jetstar from Christchurch or from Auckland via the Gold Coast, www.jetstar.com.au

Talk to your preferred travel agent for flights with these main carriers and other options or book online. ?For more information on Cairns Airport go to www.cairnsairport.com

Getting there can be part of the journey:
• Rail: Journey along Queensland’s coast from Brisbane by rail. If you like to travel by train check out the Sunlander or the Queenslander at www.traveltrainholidays.com.au or www.railplus.co.nz
• Car: Queensland offers great self drive holiday opportunities. Cairns is located 1,700km north of Brisbane. www.driveqld.com.au

When You’re there
• Airport transfers: Sun Palm transport offer limousine and coach transfers from Cairns Airport and city, south to Mission Beach, and north to Palm Cove, Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation. www.sunpalmtransport.com
• Public transport: Public bus transport operates to all cairns city areas, suburbs and beaches.
• Taxi: Reasonably priced and available from cab ranks at airports, railway stations, coach terminals and other locations throughout the city.
• Rental cars: Major rental companies are represented at the airport. Reservations prior to arrival are recommended.
• Tour operators: there are over 700 tour options available for you to explore tropical North Queensland.