It’s a stunning five days we’ve been dealt when we arrive for a mini-break for my birthday to Palm Cove in April. A major drawcard for the tropical destination we’ve chosen for our holiday is its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, and our friends at Calypso Pure Snorkelling offer to take us our on their Full Day Outer Great Barrier Reef Snorkelling Tour to experience what the world’s largest coral reef is all about.
We board the bus for the hour drive up to Port Douglas from our beautiful accommodation at Peppers Palm Cove Resort, a drive which meanders along the coast road and affords stunning views of the Coral Sea.
We arrive at Meridien Marina and are greeted by the Calypso crew. As we board, crew member James ticks my name off the manifest and says, “Happy Birthday Leah!” and straight away I like him (thanks to the office staff who slipped him that tidbit, but his delivery suggests it’s all part of the service). It’s milliseconds before I spot another kind face belonging to one of the crew and start rattling off the questions.
Now, I’m a strong swimmer and I love the ocean, but I’m scared of my own shadow. Sharks are one thing, but this time it’s the transparent and venomous box jellyfish that I’ve read about that is stressing me out today. “It’s fine,” I’m assured, “You’ll be wearing one of these,” he says, and points at the stinger suits, an all-in-one Lycra suit. Although April is at the tail end of the stinger season, the crew advocate wearing one of these sexy stretchy suits for a number of reasons apart from the stingers – protection from the sun, for one, and also warmth. I’ve often sunburned my back to a crisp while snorkelling, so they’re onto something there. As far as warmth is concerned, a lot of the time you’re just in awe of the beautiful sea life, so you’re not moving around too much, and the extra layer does wonders, even when the water is a balmy 26 degrees. The stingers, to add, are usually found in the shallow warmer waters along the shores, and in the estuaries, so the chances of seeing one on the reef today are very, very slim. In fact, in 17 years, only two guests have been stung by a box jellyfish – and one guest because she refused to wear a suit because it would interrupt her tan. Not concerned about catching any extra rays, my nerves are settled and I don the suit.
The tour takes us out to two reefs, Tongue Reef and Opal Reef. The reefs are teeming with all sorts of colourful aquatic life, and our snorkelling guides dispel rumours of the coral bleaching in these parts; people mistake coral bleaching for what is the loss of light as you dive further down into the reef. Our photographer confirms this with a collection of photos of the stunningly beautiful corals and reef life we’ve seen that day.
Across the three reefs, we see parrot fish, starfish, bulbous corals, soft corals, sea cucumbers, clown fish (Nemo!), anemones, and a reef shark! The reef sharks are no bigger than me, although I’m glad when it swims in the opposite direction. My travel partner, who sees the shark first, follows it for a while, but his fins aren’t as fast and it swims away into the blue. Back on board, the crew tell is that the killing of 100 million sharks a year is of great concern; the sharks keep the smaller fish populations under control, who eat the algae that live in the coral, which gives the corals their beautiful colours. Without the sharks, the corals are under real threat further down the food chain. Keeping in mind the corals only grow from a couple of centimetres (the bulbous corals) to 30 centimetres a year (the soft corals). The other great fact that our guides point out that with the depletion of the forests, we now get a large percentage of our oxygen from the world’s reefs. You wouldn’t think it, but the living reef provides more than just a stunning place to dive, swim and discover a different ecosystem; we also depend on it for clean air.
With our fill of informative commentary, buffet lunch (the buffet offered up a delicious range of salads and cold meats, as well as a mouth-watering vegetarian selection – well done team!) and snorkel experiences, we said goodbye to the last reef of the day and turned back to Port Douglas, with our heads, hearts and tummies full on a great day out to the stunning Great Barrier Reef. Thanks to the team at Calypso Pure Snorkelling for a birthday to remember!
By GoDo team member, Leah