The GREAT Great Barrier Reef (Port
The main city in northeastern Australia is Cairns (pop. 100,000), which is about an hour south of Port Douglas.
Australians pronounce it "Cans," but when Americans pronounce it that way,
they sound like idiots, so I just say
"Cairns." Cairns is the only city on the northeastern coast that
has an airport capable of handling 747's, so most tourists who fly from Sydney
to the Great Barrier Reef just stay at Cairns, which is a big mistake. Other
than having an airport, Cairns isn't that great. In fact, it's kind of a dingy town. Furthermore, the Reef is just as close to Port Douglas as it is to
Cairns. Since Port Douglas is a lot more pleasant and has a lot
more to offer than Cairns, including the nearby Daintree Rainforest and Cape
Tribulation, here's a
Reef Tip #1
you're going to the Great Barrier Reef, stay in Port Douglas and not in
Cairns (or Cans).
spending about a week in Port Douglas getting caught up with my e-mail and
updating my website, I finally emerged from my room at the Lazy Lizard Motel,
the nicest motel I've stayed at so far and, with off-season rates of only US$37 a
night, a real bargain. I drove up to the tropical Mossman Gorge that
afternoon and hiked around the steamy, old-growth Daintree Rainforest there for
an hour. This is a really interesting jungle and it's a place I'd
definitely recommend visiting if you ever get up to Port Douglas. Be ready to sweat, though, because after about 10
minutes into my hike, my shirt was drenched.
The Australian group,
the Bee Gees, have Jive Talked me all over Australia.
RealPlayer. If problems, see
that afternoon, I hopped on a small, quiet electric-powered boat for a "croc
spotting" cruise on the peaceful Daintree River. The trip lasted only an hour, but
we did see a couple of crocodiles (albeit disappointingly small) along with lots of tree snakes and exotic
birds. Best of all, the guide looked just like Jennifer Aniston.
Not bad for 8 bucks.
Above left: Croc spotting on the
lazy Daintree River near Port Douglas.
Above center: That little blob is one of the "salties" we spotted. Definitely not a good idea to swim here.
Above right: The quiet Daintree River and rainforest at sunset. A
few minutes later, a flock of HUGE bats descended (they were as large as
seagulls). It was like the monkey scene in "The Wizard of
Oz" and I thought I was going
to get carried off. "I'll get you, my pretty..."
morning, I stuffed my daypack full of suntan lotion, thongs (as in sandals, not
as in bathing suits), and a towel and
headed out to the Great Barrier Reef, something I'd been
looking forward to doing since I arrived in Australia. The Great
Barrier Reef, which
is actually a patchwork of several hundred small reefs, lies about 50 miles
offshore so you have to take a boat out to see it.
gazillion boat companies in Port Douglas that offer Reef trips every day and I
picked the biggest boat, called the QuickSilver. That was a mistake
because, as I discovered, the larger the boat, the older and more sedentary the
clientele. As I realized after I paid for my ticket and hopped on board,
this was definitely a Lawrence Welk boat. Not that I dislike Lawrence
Welk -- I just don't want to go swimming with him. Especially since he's been dead for
it was a beautiful morning and I perched myself on the top deck as the
QuickSilver cruised out into the Pacific Ocean at 25 knots. After a couple
hours, we reached Agincourt Reef where we tied up to an offshore pontoon, and I immediately dove in the water and stayed there for the most of the
next three hours. As ridiculous as it sounds, I was one of the few people in our
300-person group who actually WENT IN THE WATER (what a strange concept). In fact,
I swam so far from the QuickSilver that one of the lifeguards had to hop in a
Zodiac and round me up (oops!), giving me a friendly lecture about not swimming alone in
box jellyfish territory. The other
folks mostly ate lunch, walked through the underwater viewing platform, took
a trip on a glass-bottomed boat, and listened to Lawrence Welk.
As for the reef: it's absolutely
incredible. I saw coral of all colors, shapes, and sizes and countless
varieties of fish. Sorry, but I didn't have an underwater camera with me,
so I can't post any cool photos of the reef -- you'll just have to imagine
it. My only regret about my reef trip was going on the QuickSilver, so here's another tip for those who want to swim in the
Reef Tip #2
you want to stay dry and eat barbeque chicken, go on a big boat like the
you want to actually swim or dive (heaven forbid), go on a smaller boat.
mentioned in previous updates, there are a lot of hazards in Australia that keep you on your toes
here, such as
mooching kangaroos. Quite seriously, one
of the hazards of going on a reef trip is being left behind on the reef after
the boat leaves at the
end of the day. That's not a big problem if there's a pontoon nearby and
if a boat comes out every day, like at Agincourt Reef. But a lot of
smaller boats don't come out every day and don't anchor anywhere near a
pontoon. Since the reefs are about 50 miles offshore, this could be...
well... a problem, as you might imagine.
years ago, in fact, a young American couple took a dive boat out from Port
Douglas to this very same Agincourt Reef -- though miles from the pontoon -- and
were inadvertently left behind. They swam alone in the middle of this
shark-infested ocean until they finally succumbed. Bummer...
that passengers aren't left behind at the reefs, boat crews typically do
"head counts" on board before departing in the morning and then again
just before leaving the reef. Sure enough, we sat in the sun for five
minutes while (or "whilst" as they say here in Australia) the crew
scrambled around, counting heads. Unfortunately, the count didn't match
the initial count, so we sat there for another five minutes while the crew did
another count. This time, the numbers matched up, so we left Agincourt
Reef. As we said goodbye to the reef, I humorously (or "humourously,"
as they say here in Australia) kept thinking, "What if their FIRST count
was correct?" Hmmm....
my last Reef Tip:
Reef Tip #3
Don't get left behind.
Above left: The next morning, it was
onto the Quicksilver for a dash out to the Great Barrier Reef.
Above center: The best diving is on the Outer Reef, about 50 miles
offshore. It takes a couple of hours to get there.
Above right: Tying up to the floating pontoon at Agincourt Reef.
Above left: Feeding the portly
masses on the pontoon. I skipped lunch to get more reef time. Heck,
you can eat anytime -- but how often can you swim on the Great Barrier Reef?
Above center: Heading back to Port Douglas. I
was one of the few people on the boat who actually went in the water.
Above right: Arriving back in Port Douglas that afternoon, salty
and sunburned. The Great Barrier Reef, though, was amazing.
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The GREAT Great Barrier Reef