The Great Barrier Reef is at the top of many a bucket list. One of the 7 wonders of the natural world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the world’s largest coral reef, and the only living thing on earth visible from outer space, it’s no wonder it’s a top tourist destination. Over 2 million tourists flock to the Great Barrier Reef each year and we were keen to join the throng before climate change destroys it. If you’re interested in the science about threats to the reef due to climate change, you can read the National Ocean Service report here.
Our cruise on the Norwegian Jewel in February 2019 offered two excursions to the reef. We definitely wanted to book a cruise line excursion because we wanted to safeguard our plan as much as possible. We didn’t want to take a chance on missing the opportunity to see this natural wonder. The first excursion, on day 6 of the cruise, departed from the port of Airlie Beach and the second left from Cairns on Day 8. My friend, Lori, and I studied them and decided to book the first excursion on Cruise Whitsundays from Arlie Beach. We thought if the first excursion ended up canceled for any reason, we’d still have a shot at the second one.
On the morning of February 18, we boarded our catamaran directly from the cruise ship for the 2 hour trip to the Outer Reef. With clear sunny skies and calm seas, we enjoyed the views from our boat as we sailed toward Heart Pontoon at Hardy Reef. Before our arrival, the staff on our Cruise Whitsundays ship instructed us about snorkeling.
When we arrived at the pontoon, we got in line for the semi-submersible ride right away. We figured the lines would be long and they were. Although we noticed shorter lines later in the day, we were glad to have the experience of underwater views before we snorkeled.
Honestly, the views from the semi-submersible (think glass-bottom boat) were somewhat disappointing. The glass windows seemed dull and scratched and the views were murky. We saw very little color causing me to wonder if we were seeing bleached coral.
Following our ride, we ate a tasty lunch prior to snorkeling.
After lunch, we donned our stinger suits. Stinger suits are lightweight lycra suits provided by all tour operators to protect snorkelers from the venomous sting of the box jellyfish. While they’re not especially attractive, I daresay I look better in a stinger suit than a bikini.
I researched underwater cameras before our trip, planning to take lots of underwater photos at the reef while we snorkeled. I bought one with good reviews at a reasonable cost. (You can see my camera on a strap around my neck in the first photo of the stinger suits.) I should have saved my money. The challenge of managing my snorkel equipment and take photos at the same time was beyond my abilities and I soon gave up.
Opinions about the snorkeling experience itself were mixed. I felt safer staying near the ropes and I didn’t see a lot of colorful coral. Jim, on the other hand, stayed out there until he had blisters on his toes from the flippers. He offered rave reviews. He saw lots of colorful fish and some color in the coral. His favorite, however, was watching the giant clams (Tridacna gigas) languorously open and close.
I think our experiences differed mainly due to skill level. For those who lack snorkeling ability, the underwater observatory offered views of lots of colorful fish with little or no effort.
Upon reflection, I realize I had unrealistic expectations of the Great Barrier Reef. I expected to see what I see on nature shows and photos on the internet. Fortunately, I purchased a package of photos and I’ve shared several below. Enjoy!
Overall, I would rate our experience at the Great Barrier Reef a 9. Although we didn’t see as much color as I expected, the reef was, nevertheless, amazing and it’s an experience like no other.
Based on events from February 2019.