My visit to Australia is a dream journey, that is not only meeting, but exceeding my expectations. Ever since I was very young and viewed a copy of National Geographic Magazine featuring the Great Barrier Reef, I knew in my heart that I would some day visit the Great Barrier Reef. I longed to see the bright colors and spectacular undersea life there. This past week my husband and I have traveled to several cities in Australia where a childhood dream became a reality.
Our ship pulled into Port Douglas and after a sleepless night we were at Port Douglas. It is a lovely town filled with shops and a harbor filled with boats ready to take the willing to The Great Barrier Reef.
In reality, the Great Barrier Reef is a series of several hundred reefs along northern Australia. Climate change, warmer water, pollution, human behavior and some predators have changed the reef. But the Great Barrier Reef is not dead. Although it is obvious that it is not as healthy as it could be. It is one of the seven wonders of the world.
We boarded a gigantic catamaran from Quicksilver with two hundred and fifty of our closest friends. We traveled to a location nearly two hours away to a diving platform on the reef. Quicksilver charges about $200 per person to snorkel or ride the undersea submarine. We reached the platform which included changing rooms, observation decks, a restaurant, a helicopter landing pad and a variety of places to observe the sea life, including an underwater observation chamber and a mini sub. Even with all of the infrastructure and the people, the reef is simply magnificent.
I’m not going to lie, my expectation was more of an intimate experience with nature. But, with that being said it was a fantasy, a dream come true to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. We snorkeled with a marine biologist and about five other people into the choppy current. We put on our stinger suits, which are similar to a full body Spanx and along with our snorkels, goggles and fins we jumped into the water with lots of enthusiasm.
Our marine biologist braved the water with us and showed us up close some of the magic under the sea. We held jelly fish (the nice ones), watched giant clams open and close their shells, followed turtles playing, and watched the colorful coral dance. This was something my dreams were made of. Yes, even with the helicopter flights, the mass of humanity, the trip was fabulous. My husband and I were absolutely exhausted when we finished but as we dozed on the return trip back to town we both had smiles on our faces.
Our next port was Cairns, where we booked an excursion to the Franklin Islands for more snorkeling and beach time. Normanby Island could have been from the TV show Fantasy Island. It was filled with breezy palm trees and coral covered the beaches. Snorkeling from the beach so close to the Great Barrier Reef was a joy. This was a small excursion, there was ample room for snorkeling and the water was calm and clear.
We saw a great deal of fish, stingray and the coral colors were vibrant. Towards the end of the trip, we hiked with the marine biologist and learned about a rare tiny star shaped protists that is found only on Frankli Island and Okinawa, Japan.
At Hamilton Island we took a Reef Rider speed boat to Whitehaven beach. On the way there I was unexpectedly surprised with a ride that was reminiscent of a log flume but it goes on for over thirty minutes. Who doesn’t like a bumpy, wet, scary ride on the shark infested ocean in a foreign country? Me. No, I didn’t like it! In fact I screamed through most of it, until Greg reminded me that even the children onboard were not screaming. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Yeah right. But we all survived and loved the silky sand and cerulean blue ocean. The ride back to civilization was a bit better, beacause we were going with the tide. I did consider asking the pilot of the float plane to take pity on me and bring be back to Hamilton Island.
Hamilton Island is a wonderfully small, idyllic and expensive island where you can expect to pay about 9 bucks for an ice cream cone. Billionaires live here among the palm trees, flora and fauna. They arrive via their small private planes and come and go as they like. Pretending to be local, we rented a golf cart (no cars on the island) with friends and explored. We stopped for a drink and I learned what is in a Pimms, which will become my new summer drink. It’s a gin based and when soda and fruit is added it is both refreshing and delicious.
Hamilton Island is our last port in Australia before Sydney. One of the things I really wanted to do was to see a koala bear. The koala is a marsupial not a bear but in my mind all I wanted was to see that gorgeous, gray fuzzy cherub. As luck would have it, and I do have a lot of luck; Hamilton Island is home to a Wildlife Sancuary with KOALAS!!!
We inquired about seeing the koalas and were told to come back in the afternoon for an “koala encounter” and photo for twenty bucks. This was a far better deal than my ice cream cone so I booked it.
Anyone who knows my husband Greg, knows he is a saint. He is calm, organized, generous and selfless. He knew how much I wanted to see the koala so he waited around for Koala time. There are specific times for koala holding (only in the morning) and only one time in the afternoon for an “encounter”. I would be allowed to pat the koala, but not to hold him. When the time finally came I was so excited. My new friend, Billy the koala came out to the eucalyptus trees. He allowed me to pet him, he was so soft and fluffy. He watched me and we even exchanged a loving look at one another. I’m pretty sure he will be visiting me in Arizona soon.
This is the stuff dreams are made of. Koala amore.