As we were planning our visit to Australia, we had to try to fit so many beautiful places into one limited time frame. We knew it would be impossible to do it all, but some things were just not negotiable. Certain thing were written on our itinerary in permanent marker, so to speak, and we knew we wouldn’t be leaving the country without seeing them. One of those things, that we made sure we would get to see no matter what, was the Great Barrier Reef.
There are a lot of different ways to see the Great Barrier Reef. You can scuba dive, all the way down into the depths of the water. You can stay closer to the surface and snorkel, keeping yourself afloat with your face in the water. You can even stay completely dry if you would prefer and take it all in from a glass bottomed boat. The company we chose to go out with allowed us the opportunity for all three. They also provided us with all the gear we could possibly need, catered a substantial lunch, entertained with a sea life seminar talk, and surrounded us with positive vibes and upbeat attitudes for the entire day. I would not hesitate to recommend the Seastar team if you are looking for a way to get to the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns!
Luckily our hotel was just a short walk from the dock, so the early morning wasn’t too early for us. After they checked us in and let us on the boat, we had complimentary tea and breakfast breads before a quick safety talk and a fairly rough takeoff. The water was so rough that five or six guests were isolated in the “sick seats” with paper bags and a very understanding staff member. The boat seemed a little crowded for my preference but overall it was very nice. There were four “rooms”- the open bow where people just sat on the ground, the front cabin which was completely closed in and had tables, benches, booths, and a bar, the open rear cabin which housed the stairs, the gear, the sick seats, and the ladders to the water, and finally the upstairs cabin, which was covered but open air with small tables and benches. We sat upstairs and loved feeling the breeze as the boat moved. It was also nice to have a little table and bench to keep our things together.
At the first of our two stops, Michaelmas Cay, most of the guests geared up to snorkel while seven people prepared for an intro scuba dive. My husband was one of them, and though I considered joining him I ultimately decided that scuba probably wasn’t for me. Instead I set off with one of the awesome staff members for a snorkel tour. After pulling on my stinger suit, flippers, mask, and snorkel, I grabbed a foam noodle and jumped in. The water was warmer than I expected as I followed the guide around our little area. She pointed out some awesome giant clams and beautiful fish. We had over an hour in the water, but time was positively flying and I couldn’t believe time was up when the staff called everyone in.
Once back on board, we got underway to our next destination at a more leisurely pace as the staff served lunch. I wasn’t expecting much from this lunch but it was actually quite good. The cucumber slaw, veggie bake, and pasta salad were all delicious vegetarian choices, complemented by a tasty roll. The only downside was that the only beverage included was tepid water, so I had to pay for my Coke.
Before arriving at Hastings Reef, we had a little oceanography talk from one of the staff members in the inside cabin. It was okay, but a little boring after having been out in the reef. Most of us just couldn’t wait to jump back in the water, though I suppose it did help fill the time until we reached our stopping point. This time, the scuba dive was for experienced divers, so my husband was able to join me for some snorkeling.
Michaelmas was pretty, but Hastings was truly grand, exactly what I had always imagined the Great Barrier Reef to be. We found Nemo in addition to some other truly awesome fish. The rock and coral formation are just astounding. Our GoPro camera did a pretty good job but even it couldn’t fully capture the majesty. There were places where I couldn’t even put my feel straight down because I would hit the reef, and other places that were so deep and vast I was afraid to swim through them. We had a little bit more time here than at the last stop, but again it flew by. Using all of the time we were given, we made sure to cover every inch of the area we were allowed to swim through. I was a little bit sad to get out of the water here, especially because once back on board we spotted a sea turtle! I truly wish we had still been in the water when he came by.
Next up was an optional glass bottom boat tour, which we decided to go on because, why not? The small boat (only about 14 seats) pulled up next to our large one and the guests hopped over before it set off on a little roundabout route over the reef we had just swam in. Though the guide on the boat was giving good information, seeing the coral through fuzzy windows on the floor felt really lackluster after how close we were able to get to it while we were swimming. To top it off, one of the guests on the glass bottom boat actually began to get seasick, which made the crowed little boat ride very uncomfortable. I supposed if you really don’t want to swim this might be a neat thing to do (minus the seasick neighbor!).
We returned to our little bench and table upstairs, soaking in the sea breezes and sunshine as the boat made its way back to Cairns. I chatted with a woman sitting next to us and was shocked to hear that not only does she live an hour from where I grew up, but she attended the same college as my sister! Small world. Unfortunately not everyone was enjoying the ride back as much as I was- the sick seats were just as full as they had been on the way out. The ride was definitely rocky, but I guess I am lucky as I cannot even remember the last time I felt motion sickness.
The boat was docked before 5pm, and we made our way off with tired legs, sun burned faces, and happy spirits. There were dozens upon dozens of boat tours to the Great Barrier Reef that left from Cairns, all claiming to be the best. Some stopped at more than one location while others set up camp at a floating pontoon for the day. Some touted a la carte lunch options while others were BYOL. We chose Seastar based on three main factors- relatively small size, two reef locations with ample time in the water, and an included buffet lunch. As I said I thought the boat felt a tiny bit crowded, but certainly not overly so, and we definitely made great use of the time in the water and even enjoyed the lunch. The staff members were all very informative and friendly, and the experience overall was awesome.
We got to see the Great Barrier Reef, up close and personal. And it was truly a bucket list experience! If you are ever in the area and want to cross it off of your list, here are a few quick tips:
1 Bring motion sickness bands / patches / pills if you are prone.
2 Get a floating handle for your waterproof camera.
3 Skip the glass bottom boat tour if you have already been swimming.
4 Follow the guide on the snorkel tour before setting off on your own.
5 Use the Seastar team. They were beyond awesome! Check them out: http://www.seastarcruises.com.au/