Sunday, 17 September 2017

Snorkeling Great Barrier Reef, Australia

In the back of an exercise book I have written a wish list of things I want to do before I am too old. My problem is that as soon as I tick something off I soon find something else to add. I think I'm going to have to live a very long life. Being in Port Douglas gave me the opportunity to tick snorkeling Great Barrier Reef, Australia off the list. It is something I had wanted to do all my life.

I did quite a bit of research before choosing to take a full day snorkeling tour with Wavelength Cruises. I chose this company because it was snorkel only, took small groups and was staffed by marine biologists who are conservationists and have a great knowledge of the ecology of the reef.  

At the reef (photo by Wavelength)
One of the 7 wonders of the natural world, and a world heritage site since 1981, the reef is 2300 Kilometres long, covers 300,000 square Kms and is made up of thousands of smaller reefs and around 600 islands.  We were going to spend the day snorkeling at three different spots on the 10k long Opal reef  where Wavelength has exclusive use of some sites.

After a very slick and efficient check in at Port Douglas Marina I joined the other 44 passengers aboard Wavelength 4 for the  90 minute trip out to the reef. Now I have been on boats all my life, I have traveled from New Zealand to England and back by sea, my family has always owned boats and I have never, ever been sea sick, or even queasy, but there is a first time for everything!  The trip out was incredibly rough with the boat being tossed around like a cork and I am embarrassed to say, I was sick, twice, but that was it, I felt perfectly fine for the rest of the day which is just as well because what a fantastic day it was.

As we approached the shelter of the reef the sea became calm and the water a combination of navy blue and the most beautiful clear turquoise.  Kitted out with wet suits and given information on what we would see, where we should go and the important etiquette required to protect  the reef we were off for an hour's snorkeling.  The underwater world is a magical place, it is beautiful, peaceful and other worldly, I love it. I couldn't have been happier sharing the water with masses of colourful tropical fish, coral, brightly coloured and otherwise (more on that later) and sensuously waving sea weed and grasses.

Morning tea was served aboard the boat and then we moved to another location for another hour of snorkeling, every bit as good as the first.  

A marine biologist crew member giving a lunch time lecture
After a generous lunch we were invted to a lecture on deck about marine life, the ecology of the sea, threats to the sea from pollution and global warming, and what to look for in coral.  It was all fascinating, I learnt so much I did not know. For example, urinating in the sea is damaging to the coral, as are certain sun screens ( Wavelength provide free sunscreen which is not harmful). Healthy coral is generally not brightly coloured but is usually olive green, brown, tan or pale yellow.  Brightly coloured coral is coral showing signs of stress, either because it is getting too much sunlight or the water temperature is rising.  The bright colours are from tiny organisms living on the coral.  Coral bleaching, or dead coral is a concern because healthy coral is vital for the health of the sea. Although periods of coral stress wax and wane, over the last few years the bad years have been getting closer together. Wavelength staff also monitor the reef for signs of coral bleaching, and hunt out the damaging crown of thorns starfish which feed on and kill the coral.  Another interesting fact is that people, trying to be helpful, attack crown of thorns by hacking at them, thinking they are killing them when in actual fact they are just causing them to multiply.  Each starfish has to be removed in its entirety to have any effect on diminishing the population.

We found Nemo - (photo: shutterstock)
After lunch we went to our third spot.  I enjoyed this spot the most because we were split into groups and taken on snorkeling tours with  marine biologist guides.  This was fantastic as our guide was able to dive down and show us things we may have missed.  My guide was able to point out barracuda basking on the sea bed below us, a giant clam which closed up when she waved her hand above it, several little clown fish aka Nemo, nestled amongst the sea weed, reef sharks  and countless other marine delights. I couldn't have been happier.
This large friendly fish came to see what was going on.
We had afternoon tea back on board the boat and then a pleasantly smooth trip back to the marina.  One of the crew sat and chatted with me a while.  I told her I was embarrassed about being sea sick on the way out and she told me she goes out most days and had felt sick not just me then!  Anyway, it was worth it. The day was everything I hoped it would be. I have done a lot of snorkeling over the years and this was my very best day ever, I am so glad I had this on my bucket list. End of the day - contentment.

I highly recommend Wavelength, and their young, enthusiastic and well educated crew. 
  NB: This post is not not sponsored by them, it is purely about my own experience. #wavelengthcruises #greatbarrierreef

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Five fun things to do in Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia

Bally Hooley Train

Turning the engine
This narrow gauge, heritage, cane train takes guests for a one hour return trip from Reef Marina Station out to St Crispins Station and back.  Originally constructed more than a hundred years ago to take cane to the Mossman Sugar Mill it now has a new lease of life carrying tourists.  It is a fun way to while away an hour, sitting in the open carriages, listening to an informative commentary and enjoying views over the harbour and beyond to the Daintree Mountains. Children just love it - the brightly painted red and yellow carriages are the stuff of story books. If you wish you can stop off at St Crispins Station for lunch or a snack at Choo Choos cafe and enjoy the view  over looking a pretty lake and the Mirage Golf Course.  Or, like me, you can watch the train driver and assistant, seemingly effortlessly, turn the engine around,  on a turn table, before you reboard for  the return trip.
Ballyhooley train    #ballyhooleyheritagetrain

Hemingway's Micro Brewery

Close to the train station at Reef Marina is Hemingway's Microbrewery.  This is a fantastic place to hang out.  I had lunch here a couple of times and really enjoyed sipping beer while sitting by the water and watching the activity in the marina. Craft brewing is a huge phenomenon right now, gaining in popularity all the time and Hemingway's boast of being the first in North Queensland.  They brew a range of different beers including pilsner, pale ale, IPA, dark lager and ginger beer, all with names based on historic characters and events from the area, some true, some fictitious. There is an extensive food menu and the atmosphere is a relaxed, tropical vibe. You can also view the shiny stainless steel beer tanks through windows in the mall it backs onto. 
Hemingway's brewery on right....what a setting!
(photos courtesy Hemingway's)       #hemingwaysbreweryportdouglas

On the Inlet Seafood Restaurant

The big attraction here is the visiting groper, George, who comes in most evenings, around 5pm, to be fed.  Unfortunately for me he didn't come on either of my two visits but, not to worry, it is a lovely place to have a drink, a light meal or dinner.   Bar seating is arranged around and over the water to give guests a good view of George and by 5pm the place is absolutely heaving with people.  On my first visit I was lucky enough to get a prime position and ordered a bar speciality - a bucket of prawns and a schooner of beer for $18.  There were a lot of plump juicy prawns served over ice, very good value.
I enjoyed the friendly banter around me, the glorious sunset over the bay and the beautiful view of the coral sea, Mossman Ranges and the Daintree National Park, it didn't matter one jot that George didn't arrive.  An added bonus was that I met a fellow wandering widow and we agreed to meet up for dinner on another evening.  She is a fascinating lady who was planning to drive a camper van, alone, all the way to Uluru, so intrepid and so inspirational.
The crowds wait expectantly for George, but he didn't come                #ontheinletportdouglas

The Tin Shed

Just a bit further along the road from Reef Marina, and closer to the main street, is The Tin Shed.  This is a combined club but they welcome visitors.  You must sign in and have proof of your identity, a driver's licence will do.  It too has a stunning water side location.  I had dinner there twice and thoroughly enjoyed it each time.  It is the perfect spot to watch sunsets and the many boats coming back from the Great barrier Reef or taking people for twilight cruises. I dined alone but on both occasions was invited to join other people, those Australians certainly are a friendly bunch. There is no table service, you queue up to order your food, which can be a bit tricky when you are solo because your table can be taken while you are away.  I asked one of the staff for a "reserved" sign and that did the trick.  I had the best calamari I have ever eaten there.
The Tin Shed, the white roofs on the left                  #thetinshedportdouglas

Whileaway Bookshop and Cafe

This very quickly became my favorite hang out in Port Douglas.  I'm a bit like that, if I know I'm going to be somewhere for a while I find a place I really like and make it my own.  Located on the main street in the heart of Port Douglas Whileaway combines an excellent bookshop with a cafe.  What more could you want? I included it as my morning coffee stop every day after a vigorous walk along the beach and up to the look out. There are tables inside amongst the books and on my last day I discovered a very quiet seating area, away from noise and chat at the back of the shop.  I was happy to sit outside most days to enjoy the passing parade after having a good browse among the books.  The coffee is excellent and they serve inviting looking cabinet food.  It was the perfect place for me to write up my diary.  I wish we had a cafe like this where I live.
Writing my diary at my favourite cafe


So there you are, just a few things to do around Port Douglas.  Of course  you have the glorious Four Mile Beach if beaches are your thing and there are a lot of marvelous day trips which take you out to the Great Barrier or up into the rain forest. You can also go crocodile spotting from the Reef Marina or have a twilight sail on a Chinese junk There are plenty of shops if you like shopping, mostly small and independent, and a convenient Coles' supermarket. I'm not a shopper, particularly, but was very pleased to find a Tommy Bahama had just opened in the main street.  Port Douglas is a small town with a permanent population of just 3200. It is a place to go for a restful, peaceful, tropical holiday, away from the madding crowds. I loved it and can't wait to go back.
Four Mile Beach

My next post will be about my day out on the Great Barrier Reef