The Tour Specialists Tour Blog
Sun, No Sun, Showers and a Whole Lot of Colours…The Under Water World Put on a Show!
Posted on December 8, 2016 by Jordan Squire
It had been many years since I had taken a tour to the Outer Reef, so I was very excited leading up to the day of my tour with Great Adventures doing the Green Island and Outer Reef option. This time was my husband’s first experience on the outer reef. So I was excited, yet concerned over the weather conditions for the day of our tour. The week had been full of gloomy weather with rain and wind up to 30 knots out on the reef and only 10 metres visibility showing on the weather reports. Definitely not the ideal conditions if I was to see the Great Barrier Reef the same way as I see it in all its glory splashed across the bright glossy brochures! Every day I checked the weather report for any changes. Wind and Rain…Wind and Rain…. And I knew what that meant. Choppy seas making visibility poor and a not so pleasant boat trip to and from the reef.
As a Tour Specialist I am committed to experiencing all tours no matter what the weather is doing as I need to know what it is like first hand in all conditions so I can pass this information on to our tourists and guests so off we went!
Towards the end of the week the wind had slowed down, the rain wasn’t quite as heavy and consistent as it had been. Still the sun hadn’t quite made its way out fully. I was not giving up hope of having a superb day out at the reef. Sure, the thought had crossed my mind to change the date. But that doesn’t guarantee the next time I have the opportunity to go out that the weather is going to be super fantastic then either.
Saturday, the day of our tour arrived and it was still overcast. The best thing was that the wind had slowed down enough for me not to be worried about a possible rocky catamaran ride! It was overcast but I knew that didn’t necessarily mean it would be the same out on the reef. The mountains behind Cairns tend to keep the rain clouds closer to the mainland so I was still hopeful for a bit of sun.
Check in was at the Reef Fleet Terminal where there were lines of people waiting for varying operators for the reef tours. I highly advise arriving at least three quarters of an hour to an hour for checking in before the departure time just to be sure not to miss out. Checking in was a smooth process and the walk to the catamaran was an easy walk not too far away from where we checked in. In fact I believe it was the first berth at the jetty on the right hand side.
Off we went thrilled by knowing where we were headed, the outer reef where the marine life is prime! I had been considering hiring an underwater digital camera before I had left, but decided not to, as I thought that without enough sunlight I probably wouldn’t get good photographs. I later regretted that decision.
High Speed Catamaran to Green Island
The trip out was quite stable on the cat. I think the size of the catamaran contributed to this. We sat on the open air top deck. I loved the fresh air and the feel of being out on top of the ocean with the wind blowing in my hair. We arrived at Green Island 45 minutes after embarking, and although it was overcast the colour of the transparent water was amazing! It was turquoise colour in the shallow areas and a teal green in the deeper patches. The jetty was the same as I remembered it from many years ago.
As we walked down the jetty the rain started to sprinkle a little. I was surprised as it had looked like the clouds were beginning to clear away. We wandered along toward the cafes just past the gift and tour shops. It seemed that while there was a little drizzle of rain it was the perfect time to have a coffee. Once the rain eased we went for a walk along the path that was amongst the forest there towards the beach manned by life savers. We weren’t ready to hop in the water yet we just wanted to soak up the ambience for a while.
Maybe if the sun had been out it would have been more tempting for a local like me. However, I could visualise how it would look like a tropical paradise on a sunny day. There were a few sunbeds with outdoor umbrellas lined along the beach. The water was so clear and the sand was so clean. Entry to the water was a shallow decline which would be perfect for wading in. Great for non-swimmers and young children I imagine.
Journey to the Outer Barrier Reef
After we did our nature walk and circumnavigation of Green Island, we made our way back to the jetty for the cat that was to take us out to the floating pontoon at the outer reef. We walked past the swimming pool which I noticed had a sign that was clear to mention that any day visitors that traveled with Great Adventures were welcome to use the facility without charge. Again, I probably would have taken advantage of the offer if the warmth of the sun was also available. Still, I was more interested in getting out and seeing what was under the ocean’s surface further out from Green Island!
Back on the cat, and another 45 minutes later we arrived at Norman Reef where the Great Adventures pontoon was waiting for us. I was surprised at the size of the pontoon and what it had on board to cater for us all. It had separate areas where the scuba equipment and snorkeling gear was kept. There were change rooms and freshwater showers. There was also a kitchen and a dining area as well. I headed straight to the snorkeling gear. I wasn’t going to waste any time. I was out there for a purpose and that was not to hang out on the pontoon!
Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef
Access in to the water was effortless, so it wasn’t long until I eased in to the ocean. Wow! Now that is a totally different world under there! I was amazed at how clear the visibility it was considering the choppiness in the weather leading up to that day. There has been so much talk of coral bleaching in recent times. Yes, there was some not so colourful coral but the majority of it looked brilliantly alive and doing very well indeed.
The way the coral was shaped and the formations were all so incredible. There were fan worms amongst the coral as well as a giant clam and a few smaller clams. My husband swam side by side next to a sea turtle which I missed. However, it was the variety of fish species I saw that excited me. I couldn’t count how many varieties I saw. This is when my regret for not hiring the underwater camera set it.
There were so many shapes, sizes and colours and multi-colours. Each new fish I came across I wanted to keep a snapshot image in my mind as I knew once I had left I would research what kind of fish it was. I realised this is probably how most birdwatchers feel when they see a bird they are not familiar with or when they want to add another species to their list. I am now keen to photograph and record the fish species I see when I am snorkeling trips.
There are just so many! Oh, and the colours!! Silver, green, blue, pink, purple, Yellow, orange & red! I was impressed by the bright yellow Garfish following another fish that was blue with yellow stripes almost like it was trying to hide and be camouflaged with it.
I have only ever snorkeled before, I now would like to push the boundaries of my fear and try scuba diving. This comes from the desire to swim down further and stay under water longer to follow or swim side by side with these spectacular sea creatures! I feel this is the beginning of a new journey for me. I want to go back for more. And I am definitely going to get photos next time.
Scuba Doo – Underwater Scooters on the Great Barrier Reef
On this particular tour, Great Adventures have an underwater vehicle called a “Scuba Doo” that you can hire. I have to admit that I thought they were a bit of a gimmick when I first saw them in pictures and on YouTube. But I have to say that when I was snorkeling around and watching them glide around under the surface of the water so gracefully I was like “I want to do that!” The people riding them looked very relaxed and they were able to manoeuvre around the coral gardens with ease. They were being guided by an instructor and I imagine it would have felt like they were gliding through the water on a seat. How fantastic would that be without the restrictions of a mask and snorkel! They seemed to go down quite low approximately three to four metres from what I could see.
Even though we spent three hours on the reef, we had to allow time to fit in some lunch that was served from a buffet on board the pontoon. I also wanted to experience the semi-submersible submarine tour. For me, I felt more comfortable being in the water. However, I believe the semi-submersible tour is a great alternative for people who are uncomfortable in the water or can’t swim. There was a lady who gave a commentary on the semi-sub advising us what we were viewing as it motored around the reef.
It was a treat when the clouds departed and the tide went out. This was great for snorkelers like me as you can float around the surface with the coral being closer to view due to the lower water level. It also allowed us to see more fish coming in to feed in, around and off the coral. You could even hear the crunching sound of the Parrot Fish biting in to the coral as they grazed across the bommies. Those fish must have teeth as strong as titanium!
My husband and I had such an enjoyable day. He being new to snorkeling, was in awe of the view below the Coral Sea’s surface. And me, I can’t wait to try the Scuba Doo next time. There will also be an intro dive booked in for me as well at some point in the near future.
Meet Wally the World Famous Maori Wrasse
If you take this trip out with Great Adventures you will either go to Norman Reef or Moore Reef depending on the weather conditions for the day. If you go to Norman Reef, stay close to the guy that has the professional underwater camera. There is a Maori Wrasse that follows him around like a pet dog. I tried to work out what drew him to the photographer and was later told it is because the photographer sometimes feeds him, hence why he hangs around him. The Maori Wrasse even has his own pet name “Wally”. He is so friendly you could even pat and cuddle him. Do you dream of cuddling a giant fish?
I recommend this tour for anyone new to snorkeling, experienced at snorkeling, intro and certified scuba divers. The semi-submersible submarine and the trip to Green Island on the way also makes this tour suitable for non-swimmers.
One bit of advice I will give to people looking at doing this tour if the weather is looking a little wet and overcast, is to not let it stop you from getting out there. We had an amazing time and saw so much even though the sun wasn’t out all day. It seriously is like a different world under that water.
This is the best value Great Barrier Reef tour out there as you get to experience a tropical island and the outer Barrier Reef all in one day. Read more about it and book your space for this adventure here.
Blog written by Jennifer – Cairns Tour Specialist
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