Bucket List: Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef. Check!

Clear skies. Mid 80’s. Smooth seas. The makings of a perfect day to sail and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. And what a day it was! The sea was a kaleidoscope of the most vibrant and beautiful blues I have ever seen. Donning wetsuits and flippers, we spent hours in utter amazement as we navigated our small slice of the incredible outer reef. I was a little surprised that the coral itself wasn’t as colorful as I imagined. Shades of yellow, brown and green were interspersed with only occasional smatterings of blue. The magnitude of various corals, sponges and rainbow of colorful fish, however, quickly dissolved any disappointment. I always dreamed of going to the Great Barrier Reef and here I was!

Did you know the GBR spans 1,250 miles and is the only living thing that can be seen from the moon? I knew it was big but wow! One of the best places from which to see it is Cairns because here, the outer reef is closest to the coast and the water isn’t too deep. After whittling down the large number of available boat tours, we decided to go with the Passions of Paradise catamaran. It held about 35-40 guests. The crew was friendly and fun. Although pictures can’t really do justice to what we saw, the pictures below can provide you with a little taste.

Vacation from the vacation – Melbourne to Cairns

This week, Frank and I took our first major side trip from Melbourne to visit Cairns (pronounced “cans”) and the Great Barrier Reef. We arrived early evening to find our apartment’s backstreet reception area dark, quiet and deserted. We were able to check in by phone. After surveying our strange accommodations (large cylindrical glass shower visible to the kitchen?!), I decided to run out to get an underwater camera for the next day’s cruise. We took the elevator back downstairs. Still, not a soul in sight.

We opened a random side exit door and were blinded by the bright lights of an “alternate universe.” Unbeknownst to us, our hotel was located immediately above the Cairn’s Night Market. Countless souvenir shops, cheap massage kiosks and an international food court opened out to the busy beachfront Esplanade. There were people everywhere!

Nonetheless, we slept fine, discovered that a curtain could obscure the shower peep show and found that the apartment was perfectly located for the tours we had scheduled. What’s more, we had a balcony with a wonderful view. While our side of the Esplanade was populated with busy shops and restaurants, there was parkland — walking paths, picnic tables and a huge public pool — between the street and ocean. In the morning, you’d see people of all ages doing tai chi and yoga and every night, backpackers, retirees and families would swim, hangout and relax.

Cairns is tourist town and much larger than we anticipated — about 160,000 people, including some beautiful, upscale beachside suburbs. It is the major gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, so is very popular for tourists (about 10,000 on any given day). Cairns is also located near the world’s oldest rainforest. We spent four days exploring this spectacular area of North Queensland, Australia.