The solar got here up over the horizon, rising surprisingly shortly in the sky. It was 6.43am, proper on cue. The first rays of sunshine had damaged by means of the darkness nearly half an hour earlier as my travelling companions and I stirred from our swags – a cross between a one-individual tent and a sleeping bag – to see one thing we might by no means get to see once more: dawn at the Great Barrier Reef. We had seen the solar set greater than 12 hours earlier – an equally spectacular sight that may dwell lengthy in the reminiscence.
We had camped on a pontoon on the Moore Reef, about 30 miles from Cairns in northern Queensland. Even although the metropolis is often referred to as the ‘Gateway to the Reef’, with the ability to keep on the market in a single day is a comparatively current improvement, and is actually the expertise of a lifetime.
Several corporations supply a wide range of day journeys to the reef, however solely Sunlover by Starlight affords the alternative to camp in a single day.
Once the day-passengers head again to shore in mid-afternoon, the in a single day a part of the journey kicks in, and you might be alone till the following day guests arrive. Effectively, the Moore Reef pontoon grew to become our house for 2 days.
Before evening fell, we took a remaining swim and snorkel, and with no-one else round it appeared as if this a part of the reef had swelled with fish of all sizes and shapes, clearly having fun with the peace and quiet as a lot as we have been. Our information in the water was even comfortable to convey us past the coral into the deep ocean.
This is a very intimate expertise. A few crew members stick with you and as the solar goes down they serve up cheese and fruit platters, adopted later by a full barbecue and refreshments. There is sort of actually nothing or no person round, and the distant lights of the nearest land are barely seen. We have been fortunate sufficient to have the ability to get pleasure from the wonders of the evening sky and watch as the nocturnal reef got here alive earlier than bunking down for the evening. It’s fairly one thing to float off to sleep to the tranquil sound of water lapping towards the pontoon.
The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world, stretching for two,300km alongside Queensland’s shoreline. For that evening, and morning, that little nook of the reef was our slice of heaven.
Snorkelling is by far the hottest of the actions you’ll be able to participate in. As somebody who has solely just lately discovered to swim, this was solely my second expertise of snorkelling and my first in open water, however any preliminary misgivings I had shortly disappeared as I caught my first glimpses of the underwater world of the reef.
It’s straightforward to see why David Attenborough nonetheless insists that his first reef expertise was the most magical second of his illustrious profession. This is an underwater metropolis of spectacular magnificence and color, teeming with an abundance of marine life, and mentioned to be house to over 1,500 species of fish. But it is the vibrant colors which dazzle; and the silent grace of the fish as you swim above or alongside them which beguile.
You shortly turn out to be misplaced in this wonderland and time drifts by. I used to be stunned to study that on one among our snorkel classes we had been 45 minutes in the water, and as soon as had meandered a number of hundred metres from the pontoon whereas following a turtle at shut quarters. When snorkelling, you’ll be able to head off by yourself, or together with your group, or be a part of one among the brief guided excursions with a marine biologist – you even have sufficient time on a day journey to do each. For these in scuba diving, all ranges are catered for.
A enjoyable diversion when snorkelling or diving is attempting to tick off the so-referred to as Great Eight – the residing icons of the reef, the creatures they are saying ought to high your wishlist: whales, manta ray, clownfish, turtles, potato cod, large clams, Maori wrasse and sharks.
You also can take glass-backside boat excursions and even a helicopter journey, the place you’ll be able to marvel at the sheer great thing about the reef from the air. Indeed, it is solely while you take to the sky that you simply actually get a way of the reef and it is scale.
The reef is one among our most vital pure belongings. When we consider it, one among the first photos that may pop into our heads – if it is not Nemo of Disney fame – is the large clams or the array of vibrant coral, so I used to be stunned to study that coral makes up solely round 7pc of its complete space.
There are additionally coral cays (small islands on the reef’s floor), continental islands, estuaries, seagrass beds, deep oceanic waters and extra. In complete, there are round 2,900 separate coral reefs, 600 continental islands and 300 coral cays.
It would not take lengthy both to start out getting a way of simply how weak this pure surprise is. Access to the Great Barrier Reef for vacationers is strictly managed due to its fragile ecosystem – however newer threats, in the type of local weather change and air pollution, are a fair higher concern now.
Andy Ridley, co-founding father of the Earth Hour motion, is now the CEO of a brand new group referred to as Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, set as much as defend the reef’s future.
The group is especially centered on its imaginative and prescient for a plastic-free reef by means of quite a lot of initiatives, however principally by constructing a worldwide community to unfold the phrase and assist their initiatives.
“The Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger,” in keeping with Attenborough. “The twin perils brought by climate change, an increase in the temperature of the ocean and its acidity, if they continue to rise at the present rate the reefs will be gone within decades and that would be a global catastrophe.”
The reef, which is roughly the similar dimension as Germany, nonetheless attracts greater than two million guests a yr and its annual financial worth to Australia is estimated to be over $6.4bn, and a portion of this cash is used to fund initiatives aimed toward safeguarding the reef.
The creation of flights from Singapore direct to Cairns, with Singapore Airlines and their sister airline SilkAir, means this hitherto distant a part of Queensland is extra accessible than ever earlier than.
The harbour in this small pleasant metropolis is lined with a number of high quality inns. We stayed in the very comfy Pullman Cairns International, proper on the seafront.
Cairns is on no account the solely entry level to the reef, even in this nook of Queensland.
The picturesque coastal city of Port Douglas, simply 70km north, is one other worthwhile cease on any journey to this a part of the world.
The city is greatest identified for its spectacular seaside, referred to as Four Mile Beach, which genuinely appears to stretch so far as the eye can see.
Our lodge, the Sheraton Grand Mirage, overlooks the seaside and though it is on the outskirts of city, the central strip with the bars, eating places and really spectacular Sunday market is definitely reached by way of a brief stroll.
The Sheraton Grand Mirage is located on an unlimited property, and has a mixture of luxurious lodge rooms and villas, in addition to an 18-hole golf course, and nearly 5 acres of man-made salt water lagoons.
From Port Douglas, Sailaway affords a number of reef journeys. We opted for a day cruise on board a luxurious catamaran to the Low Islands, which features a sundown sail on return with refreshments. The journey combines snorkelling with a guided stroll on Low Island, a coral cay of heritage significance. The island actually catches your consideration as you method, with its white sandy seashores and coconut palms, and it additionally encompasses a lighthouse constructed in 1878 which was staffed proper as much as 1993.
It’s wonderful to assume that for over 100 years, households lived on this tiny island in the coronary heart of the reef in one among three small cottages at the base of the lighthouse.
The stroll helps give a way of how they lived and what they endured – similar to when the island was hit by a cyclone in 1911.
On our journey again to Cairns that night, the solar set on our Great Barrier Reef journey one final time. I considered all I had skilled and knew for positive I used to be the higher for it. The surprise of all of it, the pleasure, after which these moments of sheer tranquillity…
I used to be a cheerful man.
Take two: high points of interest
Sleeping below the stars on the Great Barrier Reef — does it get any higher? What higher solution to really expertise and perceive this pure surprise? The Aussie swag is surprisingly comfy.
Top meals and wine
The eating was sensational. Pushed to choose, I’ll go for the 4-course tasting menu at Harrisons in the Sheraton Grand Mirage in Port Douglas. sheratongrandmirageportdouglas.com
* John flew to Cairns, by way of Singapore, from London Heathrow with Singapore Airlines. Singapore Airlines flies to Cairns 5 instances weekly, operated by regional sister service SilkAir. There are 4 day by day flights between Heathrow and Singapore for onward connections to Australia and 5 weekly flights from Manchester to Singapore.
Singapore Airlines affords a bunch of worth-added choices for purchasers flying by means of Singapore’s Changi Airport, together with a SG$20 (€12) voucher which can be utilized at the airport terminal in retailers, eating places and in addition the Ambassador Transit Lounge.
* The in a single day on the reef with Sunlover by Starlight prices AU$499 (€318) per individual. (www.sunlover.com.au/nice-barrier-reef-cruises/sunlover-by-starlight)
* Sailaway Afternoon Sunset Tour from Port Douglas to the Low Isles, AU$261.50 (€167) www.sailawayportdouglas.com.
* For extra info and newest costs on the Pullman Cairns International and Sheraton Grand Mirage verify-out their web sites.
For extra info on Queensland go to www.queensland.com
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