From Airlie Beach
05.03.2014 - 06.03.2014 30 °C
Airlie Beach is a small resort town on the eastern coast of Australia. It is the closest port on our cruise from which to access the Whitsunday Islands and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The Whitsundays are 74 islands right in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. Knowing that there would be heavy demand for any tours going to the GBR (Great Barrier Reef) we had booked an excursion with the cruise line on their web site several months before our departure. Similar to several other ports on this cruise the harbour at Airley Beach does not have sufficient depth to accommodate our ship so once again the ship offered a tender service for those going ashore. By 8:00 am we were up, had breakfast and were lined up ready to disembark for our tour to the GBR. For the first time in our cruising experience a large (300 passenger) tour boat pulled up beside our ship at anchor and we boarded the tour boat directly from the ship rather than going ashore and boarding the tour boat. This was a great idea as the Airley Beach town dock was just over 30 minutes in from the ship.
284 of us boarded a large catamaran for the 2.5 hour trip out to the reef which is about 80 km off shore at this point. We have been experiencing 30-40 km winds for the past two days so the ride out to the reef was expected to be a bit bumpy. In fact once out of the shelter of the inshore islands we found ourselves in 8-10 foot seas with a nasty chop on top of the large swells. The tour boat was one of the “Fast Cat” boats that was clearly designed for such seas and she had no trouble with her water jet propulsion system holding a steady 40-50 km/h speed. Given the sea conditions over the past two days many in our group had either put on a Transderm patch or taken a Gravol. There were a number of passengers who were very green and quite ill on the trip out to the reef. Fortunately, none of our group suffered that fate. The staff in the boat handed out “barf bags” and seasick medication liberally.
The 300 passenger “Fast Cat” tour boat that took us to the Great Barrier Reef
Tour boat from the back
Passengers on Deck 3 of the tour boat. Good place to be if one was prone to motion sickness
Our Tour boat tied up to the permanently moored pontoon
Once we arrived at the reef the seas calmed down somewhat due to the shallow water on the lee side of the reef where we were. Our tour boat tied up to a permanently moored huge platform called a pontoon that served as a base of operations for the tour. The pontoon had change areas, sun decks, equipment storage areas plus a variety of other areas. It was close to 100 feet long and 40 feet wide. Once our tour boat had rafted up to the pontoon we all got off the tour boat and made our way to the equipment area of the pontoon to select a mask, snorkel, fins and a very thin wet suit. The rest of our group sat on the sun deck or just milled around the pontoon looking at the folks getting ready to go snorkeling. Despite the 28 degree water the tour guides strongly recommended that we all wear the wet suits due to the possible presence of the deadly Stinger jelly fish. None have been seen in this area recently but it is an area that they are known to be in. Both of us squeezed ourselves into wet suits and slipped into the water from the large swim platforms that ran for about 30 feet along the side of the pontoon. A large area was cordoned off with markers and ropes and we were instructed to restrict ourselves to this area as the viewing was ideal in that area. The water depth in the area varied from about 6 feet to about 35 feet. Unfortunately, the seas were still quite choppy from the winds and the visibility was only so so due to the heavy winds of the past few days. With the heavy sea chop the waves frequently washed over the top of our snorkels filling them with water. Also the chop made it difficult to stay in one position. Despite the distractions we had a great time, took a few pictures and finally crawled out of the water after about 45 minutes. We had lunch on the tour boat and by 2:00 pm were headed back for the 2.5 hour ride to the ship. Once again the water was quite rough which was unfortunate as it was extremely difficult to even get out of your seat to walk anywhere so we had to stay put. By the time we got back to the ship we were ready for a hot shower prior to heading off to another wonderful dinner followed as usual by our evening entertainment in the main theatre.
One of the tour guide divers playing with a resident large fish.
Local resident fish close up
Coral in about 10 feet of water on the Great Barrier Reef.
More coral on the reef
More coral on the reef
Hazel having fun on the Great Barrier Reef
Wake of our big jet boat on the way home.