Breaking barriers at the Great Barrier Reef

/ Great Barrier Reef
Breaking barriers at the Great Barrier Reef

Green Island is a popular site in the Great Barrier Reef (Photos by: Great Adventures Reef and Green Island Cruises)

Though it is one of the top attractions in Australia, going diving or snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef required me to break many of my internal barriers.
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“Your ticket also includes snorkelling gear. You may have never snorkelled before but today could be your first opportunity as we have experienced guides who will lead you.”

Rather than getting enveloped in excitement, my mind became muddled and fearful as my ears caught this announcement on a scenic ferry trip to the Green Island, one of the many islands in the Great Barrier Reef and one of world’s most celebrated natural wonders. It was the fear of water which stood before me and with it many thoughts. ‘‘When the ticket includes experiencing the reef through a glass boat and a semi- submarine, why should I go down in the water, which could also be unsafe. What if I drown?,’’ I kept telling myself.

But thankfully, my mental block began to slowly shatter as I learnt that there were many first timers in the queue and who had requested for a guide, though at an additional cost of AUD 59 (INR 3240). To gain some more confidence, I asked around. “If you have come so far –all the way from India, don’t leave without this experience as you may regret later,” advised one of them, a college student from Santiago.

A group of snorkellers around the Green Island

Minutes later, still making my mind up, as I headed up to the top deck, looking around at the scenery dotted with small hills and the large ocean and Cairns town located on the tropical North-Eastern coast of Australia. On the otherside, from where we had departed, I came across a family from France, which had planned to go scuba diving. Within a minute, I found myself talking to them. “If others can, why can’t you?,” a straight–forward question was thrust at me. I did not need any more convincing and rapidly joined the queue for snorkelling gear. I signed up for a guide, collected my gear and the swim suit, even though I was still nervous, though felt better and more certain of myself when I saw myself dressed in the swim suit.

Soon, the guide, a young marine biologist originally from Holland, introduced herself. “I take first timers everyday to the water, so leave all the fear away,” she said, not forgetting her beautiful smile. After a run of nearly an hour, we reached our island, where our ferry Big Cat halted and en route we spotted many more ferries of other companies which were making their way to different islands.

The experience commenced from the beach, where we, five in total including the guide, sat to wear our fins and other gear needed in the water. The guide who held a round tube with a rope in her hand told us to hold it and we followed her for nearly 45 minutes. I thought that we had gone quite far from the beach, say half the length of a football ground. Yet, we weren’t in deep water at all and just a few metres from the beach, the show began.

Clear and clean water was the first impression, tallgrass and other kinds of captivating plants greeted us next and finally the many shoals of fish in unimaginable colours and shapes clearing the way for us. Some could also change their colours but the best was when we also spotted the scene of meetings, where one fish seemed to be guiding others. We felt like having dived in an aquarium and in a way we were actually in an aquarium, albeit a natural one, where every moment seemed a blessing and with every marching minute, fear kept ebbing away.

Magic in the water had taken over and with our ears out, they remained busy listening to our Dutch guide, who was rapidly reeling out several facts about this famous reef. “This reef spans around 23,00 km, which can not only be seen from the plane flying at over 12,000 m but also from the space,” she told us, while directing our attention to various unique species, ensuring we don’t miss them, such as a mammoth sized tortoise which kept sitting on the floor. “Every few minutes, they come on the top of the water for breathing and then return to the floor,” she said. Some of them were also quite close to us, making their way up. Overall, it made me feel and may be others too, as if we were part of some show on the National Geographic.

As we returned to the beach, I felt more than good, a proud feeling and realised that fear is so futile. Fear takes us away from beautiful moments, which one can cherish forever. Thanking the guide and sharing my fear’s tale with her and others, who were from various pockets of Europe, I went to explore the island, which was so green that I ended up with a perfect ‘forest bath’. Skirted by beaches on all sides, I also spotted helicopters at one beach, which picked visitors for showing them the Great Barrier Reef from the air. There was a hotel too, allowing one to stay over night at the island.

After an hour, I was on the ferry as it was almost time for other adventures, which cost me AUD 118, including the ferry rides, a view of the reef through the glass boat and semi- submarine, which was also very interesting along with live commentary in elegant Australian accent. “Not everyone likes to get wet or say may not be comfortable in water, especially the elderly. Therefore, glass boats and semi submarines are best alternatives,” one of the guides on the glass boat shared. For me it was another re-connect with life under the water, which was a real meeting with the reef that has been a World Heritage Site since 1981.

Before the sea adventures, there was a lunch service, though not included in my ticket, on the ferry. It was a buffet, with many sea food and salad options to choose from. By the time we were back on this ferry to return to Cairns, it was almost 17:00 in the evening. It was a proof that time truly flies as we had started around 09:00 from the reef terminal, located minutes away from the Esplanade, which is lined with cafes and restaurants.

The same night, I was at the lively food market in the middle of the town, and the next day, the only other day I had planned here, I explored its streets, where every step made me feel so different from other famous Australian cities. May be because pace of life is slow here, I ensured that everyday I had a walk in its rainforest, which sits in one end of the town. There were many more experiences in which I could have indulged in but left them for the next time, especially the cable car above the rainforest.

I was nostalgic when my plane took off from Cairns the following early morning, on its way back to Brisbane, where I was being hosted by a cousin. But two days later, I turned even more nostalgic and excited as I was flying over Cairns on a Qantas plane, bidding adieu to Australia as I could clearly see the Great Barrier Reef from almost 12,000 m from the plane. Our pilot also announced the view and I couldn’t resist telling my co-passenger that just three days earlier, I had been down there, exploring it. Thanks to Qantas which took that route from Brisbane to Hong Kong, from where I took my final flight to India after a 3-month long stay. When I took my coffee break with the Cathay Pacific crew in their food galley that July evening, the visit to the Great Barrier Reef remained the one thing I wanted to talk about. It had to be!

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