Turtle

Turtle

After Cairns, we went on a 3 day, 2 night live aboard cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef with a company called Reef Encounter. Considering the price of hotels, for about $600 each including all our meals and the boat trips it was a pretty good deal.

First up we hopped on the day boat at 7.30am for an 8am departure, and relaxed while they cooked us bacon and egg rolls on the BBQ on the top deck!

Blue Sea Star

Blue Sea Star

The day boat took us out to the bigger boat, plus a load of people just doing a day trip. While we made the trip we watched Cairns disappear into the distance, and went to a presentation by the on-board Marine Biologist about all the different fish in the reef. She explained that none of the reef sharks would eat us, or even try and nibble us! Apparently they’re less dangerous to people than the average dog.

Maori Wrasse

Maori Wrasse

About 10am we got transferred across to the main boat, had a safety talk, got shown to our rooms and went right out for our first snorkel at Saxon Reef. The other reefs we went to were Norman Reef, Norman Playground (near Norman Reef) and Hastings Reef.

Matt-fish

Matt-fish

When we first got in the water it was in a pretty deep area, obviously becasue they had to anchor the boat. But after just a short swim we were surrounded by masses of coral beds. They were really quite close to the surface, some of them in the shallow bits only about a 1-1.5 meters below so you had to be careful not to hit them.

Parrot Fish

Parrot Fish

The types of fish we saw included Parrot Fish, which were my favourite becasue they were really bright and great blue and purple colours.They eat the coral, so when you are near them you can hear them crunching off bits of rock.

Other fish we saw included: unicorn fish; seal faced puffer fish; angel fish; cardinal fish; clown (nemo) fish; groupers; surgeon fish (Dory); trigger fish; Mauri wrasse and sun fish. We also saw some long-thin fish which i’m not sure what they were!

Anemone Fish (Nemo!)

Anemone Fish (Nemo!)

I’ve seen the reef on TV and in books, but I really was amazed by how many different fish there were in any one place, and the diversity of the different types of fish too. On TV I always cynically assume they show the best bits, but the amount of fish around was really amazing, and they were so many different colours. They were lots of different kinds of coral to and anemones, again with lots of different colours.

In some places there were lots of dead bits, which was sad. It was all grey and just looked like lots of stick shaped bits of stone. We asked on the boat about it and they explained most of this was cyclone damage from storms. Because the reef is so close to the surface it can get damaged easily when the big storms come through.

Seal-faced Puffer Fish

Seal-faced Puffer Fish

I was swimming in my long rash vest. Although getting it felt a bit cool, the water was pretty warm and unusually I wasn’t cold. Annoyingly, about half way in to our first swim our underwater camera died! Despite a lot of attempts to revive it it just got worse so we had to give up on it! They had some on the boat you could hire, so we did that and kept on snapping away.

Bluespotted Ribbontail Ray

Bluespotted Ribbontail Ray

On our second swim we saw a turtle and followed it for a long time which was brilliant. They’re so beautiful to look at and graceful with their swimming. I saw turtles two more times, and each time followed them around for ages. You have to be careful not to swim on top of them, becasue they need to come up for air every so often, and if you’re above them they get scared and won’t do it. I saw them do this twice and dive back down again which was really cool. Before we went, my aim was to see a turtle, and swimming with them was definitely my favourite bit of the reef trip. It was even better than I imagined.

White-tipped Reef Shark

White-tipped Reef Shark

On the morning sessions and the last ones of the day we also saw grey-tipped and white-tipped reef sharks. They were a close second to the turtles, and really cool to watch slinking around looking for food. Swimming with them messed with my brain as it has totally been programmed to think sharks are bad and will eat you. We swam with two at a time at one point. I enjoyed swimming with them a lot, but my brain kept telling me I shouldn’t be doing it as they’d spot me and have me for dinner! Luckily the Marine Biologist was right and none of us got even the slightest bit nibbled!

Surgeon Fish and Mystery Fish

Surgeon Fish and Mystery Fish

At night we saw a LOT of sharks circling around the boat. Apparently the pipes leak a bit, so they are attracted to the boat becasue they smell the food. Watching them circling and seeing their fins above the water was pretty cool. I certainly didn’t fancy swimming with 7-8 of them at once!

Sharks!

Sharks!

Matt and James did a night dive with them! The boat we were on was one of only a few where you can do a night dive if you’re not a certified diver becasue they have a special licence. You have to do a day trial dive first, which Matt did. At night there are lots more predators about, including the sharks and trevalli, plus turtles sleeping in caves and hidey holes. The night divers had torches to see, which you could watch from the surface – it looked fairly surreal.

Orange Sea Star

Orange Sea Star

The days were jam packed full which was really good, with a nice balance of time to relax, play games, sun bathe, drink tea or recover. The schedule was roughly:

6.30 – Morning snorkel / dive

7.30 – Breakfast then boat moves

8.30 – Snorkel / dive

10.30 – Snorkel / dive including new people

12.00 – Lunch

13.30 – Snorkel / dive then move boat

15.30 – Snorkel / dive

18:00 – Dinner

19:00  – Night dive

20:00 – Dessert (yum!)

 

Giant clam

Giant clam

I got up for the early session on our first morning and we saw a turtle and shark so it was well worth it! There were less other people about which was nice, and it was a good way to start the day and wake up my stomach ready for a nice big breakfast. On the second day we were at a reef I had already swam at twice and where we were staying until after the 8.30am session so I had a lie in instead!

On the first night we had a really good view of the stars and even saw a shooting star so close and bright it looked like a fire-work.

Cuttlefish

Cuttlefish

The rooms were reasonably spacious considering we were on a boat, and the dining room / lounge was nice and big for games. The meals were really good, including a breakfast fry up, fresh pastries and full cooked lunch which was very welcome after lots of swimming! The desserts were good, especially the ice cream bar one, and there was lots of tea, coffee and Milo to help yourself too whenever the boat wasn’t moving. We took along snacks in-case we were under-fed, but definitely didn’t need any of them! (Well, apart from some chocolate Freddo frogs!)

Turtle!

Turtle!

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