March 23, 2012
Our time in Australia is coming to an end. After traveling through four states on planes, trains, buses and ferries, we are now in the northern section of this vast country, just smaller than the continental United States. We are also back firmly in the tropics, having crossed the Tropic of Capricorn heading north. With the tropics come hot and steamy temperatures, as well as rain.
This is the wet season so we knew to expect rain. We had already experienced some while in both Sydney and Melbourne. As we left Sydney on Saturday, March 17th on our second ocean leg of our journey, we had some rain as we sailed through the iconic harbor. When we reached the port of Airlie Beach, in the state of Queensland, three days later, it was a dismal day and raining quite heavily.
That was too bad, because this is a beautiful part of the world. Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. It was so named by Captain James Cook in 1770 when he sailed into this area on Whit-Sunday on June 3rd (he was also the first European to discover the Great Barrier Reef when he ran aground on a submerged reef!). There are 74 islands in the Whitsunday chain with only eight of them that are inhabited. Seventy percent of the land is set aside as a national park.
We sailed past several of the islands as we headed towards Airlie Beach. However, visibility was limited as it was raining. In fact, all ocean-related activities were suspended for the day so we walked around the town of Airlie Beach during our time there.
The next day we arrived in Cairns (pronounced ‘Cannes’) in the northern portion of Queensland. We had scheduled a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef, just off the coast. Based on the previous two days’ weather, we were expecting our trip to be cancelled. We were surprised and happy to see clear skies as we pulled in to Cairns. After our ship docked, we transferred to a large catamaran for the two-hour trip out to the reef. As we traveled to the reef, we were told that it had been raining heavily for the last week and today was the first dry day.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef and one of the natural wonders of the world. It stretches over 1,800 miles / 2,900 kilometers along the state of Queensland’s coast and is comprised of almost 3,000 reefs. Our catamaran took us to an outer reef platform at Moore Reef, about 30 miles (47 kilometers) from Cairns. There we had about three hours to participate in a number of activities, including snorkeling.
Since we brought our own snorkeling equipment we were one of the first in the water. The water temperature was just a few degrees under the air temperature of 86F (30C). Almost immediately, we were treated to the sight of many different types of fish. There were also several types of interesting coral. With our underwater camera case we were able to take pictures and video. The heavy rains of the past few days limited visibility somewhat but we were very happy with the numbers of fish that we saw and the interesting life underwater. Within the reef, there are over 1,500 types of fish and hundreds of different coral. Since we snorkeled independently, we were not able to identify most of what we saw but hope to research that later when we have faster Internet.
Yesterday we sailed up the Queensland coast and were treated to the sight of mile after mile of beautiful, undeveloped coastline. We rounded the top of the east coast at Cape York last night. A heavy rain greeted us this morning, followed by a rainbow that literally continued right into the water. Today is the first time in a month that we are headed west again and forward on our global journey.
For now we have a couple of more days in the Top End of Australia, including a visit to the Northern Territory city of Darwin. We enjoyed our time in Australia and the variety of sights that we saw, from the large cities of Sydney and Melbourne, to the natural beauty of the Overland Track, to the amazing underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef. Next week we will be entering Asia and the country of Indonesia.