Explore the outer reef with a maximum of 48 guests on this Great Barrier Reef tour from Port Douglas. The fully qualified crew spend time in the water with guests, assisting those that need it and highlighting points of interest. Snorkelling gear and lunch are included. Duration: 8.5 hours (approx.)
‘I glide gracefully through an ancient world; prehistoric creatures of the sea swim past to the rhythmic cacophony of bubbles and muffled deep breaths; I am surrounded by the living ecology of the coral reef; in the vastness of her natural beauty, I feel so small.’
I have to admit that there’s a moment when I would rather stay tucked up in bed in my hotel, than tackle the drive from Cairns to Port Douglas, then the unfamiliar underwater world on a Great Barrier Reef snorkelling trip with Wavelength Reef Cruises. I pass through roundabout after roundabout, until the tarmac leads me onto one of the world’s most spectacular coastal drives. As the sun slowly rises over the glistening cobalt blue sea, I know I have made the right decision.
North Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef is made up of more than three thousand individual reefs. It’s a true Australian treasure. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed site is recognised as one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
The up-market resort town of Port Douglas is the gateway to Low Isles, Agincourt and Opal Reef — a ribbon of outer reef that features clear water, stunning coral, and diverse marine life. The Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina in Port Douglas is the boarding point for my tour with Wavelength Reef Cruises. Each cruise has a maximum of 48 guests and visits three snorkelling sites from a choice of 12. Many of the sites can’t be accessed by larger boats.
The appeal for me runs deeper than just being part of a smaller group. Many of the crew are qualified marine biologists and can impart a wealth of knowledge to guests about the Great Barrier Reef.
Our vessel — Wavelength 4 — is a modern catamaran, designed to provide a smooth and stable ride in open sea conditions. Sunny and warm, the 90-minute ride out to the edge of the continental shelf is a highlight of the day in itself. We’ve certainly lucked it with the weather.
Soon the time comes to don our stinger suits. The group of varied nationalities gets a little giggly at the prospect of all-over Lycra, but it’s better to be safe than stung!
The rules are clear: don’t touch the coral, use the safety signals for ‘OK’, ‘not OK’ and ‘I need help’, buddy up with someone and have fun! We put on our flippers and snorkels and prepare to discover the beauty of the world beneath the waves.
A friendly greeting awaits our first dock. A Maori wrasse known to the crew as ‘Angus’ swims around the back of our boat. Taking the plunge, we jump, dive or slide down the stairs into the warm 27-degree water, accompanied by a kaleidoscope of brightly coloured noodles. Yes, some of us need flotation aids. They may make us look like we’re part of a children’s swimming class, but personally I’m thankful for the extra support!
One side of the reef below provides protected shelter for the smaller coral-dwelling fish. The other fronts a deeper ocean channel that caters for larger sea life. Joining Angus beneath us are red bass and Spanish mackerel. The coral ranges from shallow gardens to colourful ‘boulder brains’ that thrive in deeper waters.
After an hour or so in the water, it’s time to return to the boat for morning tea. After all, it’s hungry work being a fish!
With everyone feeling a little more at ease, it’s time to learn more about the reef. We break into three optional groups and the marine biologists on board take us on a 25-minute guided snorkelling tour. Swimming a little deeper, my guide points out a large clam, and under strict supervision we can even touch some of the coral.
We witness a shallow coral releasing a gooey substance that protects it from UV light. The same substance has been tested on humans. I’m surprised and saddened to learn that the chemical Oxybenzone used in our sunscreen lotion is causing great damage to these delicate reefs. I guess you really can love something to death.
As the boat makes its way to our third and final snorkel site — South North Opal — a deli-style lunch is served, and we are free to sun ourselves on the deck or enjoy an interactive educational discussion with one of the marine biologists. I learn what the different coloured corals represent, and more importantly, how warmer sea temperatures are leading to coral bleaching.
South North Opal offers more intricate coral gardens to enjoy. Often it can be too choppy to access this particular site, but today we’re in luck.
Following afternoon tea, we begin the trip home to Port Douglas and watch the sun slowly drop towards the rainforest-clad mountains on the horizon.
Vanessa travelled as a guest of Wavelength Reef Cruises.
Cover image courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland. Image: Achim Wetz. Additional images: Bigstock
Vanessa O’Hanlon is an Australian television news presenter with the Nine Network and an avid traveller. Her travels began with a flight to Egypt, a visit to the pyramids and a camel ride, and she knew there was no turning back. Since then, Vanessa’s backpack has seen a thing or two — from exploring relatively untouched Bhutan to braving the cold on the peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro.