Breaking the Barrier

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I consider myself a fair swimmer. I was swimming before I was walking. As a child, I spent my summers at the pool, on the swim team, and in the ocean. Now, I don’t swim like I used to, but even as recently as last month, I was snorkeling, kayaking, and swimming laps in the Thai Islands. In short, I am no stranger to the water. I’m telling you this so you understand my perspective when I describe the Great Barrier Reef.

It was one of those experience where, if I had known what I was getting myself into, I may not have signed up for it – well, no I wouldn’t go that far, I really wanted to experience this, and I’m so glad I did. Perhaps swarms of box jellyfish, deadly shark attacks or cyclones would have stopped me from swimming the Great Barrier Reef, but those weren’t the conditions of the day. So, off we went for what I thought was going to be a leisurely ride on the ocean and some fun in the sun snorkeling – I mean, that’s what all my other snorkeling trips were like.

Uninformed little me didn’t realize it was a 50 mile boat ride on very choppy water with highly windy conditions. Brrr! I don’t typically get sea sick, but on this occasion I needed a Dramamine – and thank goodness it actually worked!

After almost two hours on the choppy, windy ride, we finally arrived at our first snorkeling point. I was shivering cold as I put on my snorkel gear and prepared to jump into the water. At least the water was warmer than the air, but perhaps I was shivering too much because I jumped into the ocean with twisted goggles that didn’t fit properly. I tried desperately to adjust them, but the water was rough and splashing over my face and the current was strong and rapidly taking me in the wrong direction. I eventually gave up on the goggles (figuring they were good enough) and put in my snorkel only to receive a mouthful of salt water. I should have known better!

At this point, I’m choking on water, drifting in the wrong direction and can’t see through my goggles – with waves hitting my face all the while. So, what did I do? I decided to have a panic attack and forget how to swim – you know, forget that my body floats and instead flail around exerting all my energy. At least I quickly realized I was in trouble and did the smart thing – I signaled to the fantastic staff in the water that I needed help to get back on the boat. They helped me. I sat down on the boat, took a few deep breaths, threw on a life vest, secured my goggles properly, put the snorkel in, AND THEN I jumped back in the water. Everything was fine after that.

This whole panicked experience was about 5 minutes in duration. The 30 minutes that followed were amazing! The fish were spectacular, but it was the coral, the reef itself, that was unbelievably beautiful. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before!

We stopped at three locations on the journey and each one was better than the last. At the second stop, I lingered at a certain spot because the coral was particularly amazing, then a clown fish wiggled its way out of the reef, and I watched it swim about for a minute – I guess I had been still for so long that by the time I looked around again, I was surrounded by a school of blue fish. I spun around in the water and had a good look at them all before they dispersed. Then, I looked down at the ocean floor far below, and five large black fish swam by together. I remember thinking that those few minutes were some of the coolest of my life.

After swimming around for a bit, it was time to get back onto the boat, soaking wet in the cold wind. After some serious teeth-chattering, I was able to eventually warm up in the lunch room. As we arrived at the finally site, I could barely bring myself to jump back in the water, only to endure the freezing aftereffect once more.

Yet, before I could process the thought, I was back in the water thinking, “wow, now THIS is the coolest thing I ever saw.”

It was an 8 hour, uncomfortable and mildly dangerous day that enabled me to spend about two hours truly experiencing one of the most incredible natural wonders of the world.

Port Douglas, Australia

~ LiAnn

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From a Land Down Under

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This has been a wonderful trip up the east coast of Australia. We started in Sydney, then traveled north to Byron Bay, the Whitsunday Islands, Cairns, and finally, Port Douglas. It was a lot to see in just 10 days, but I feel like I got a good taste of Australia’s east coast.

Even though it’s winter and we had a few rainy, cold days, we’ve really lucked out with the weather. Upon arrival in Sydney, the rain cleared just long enough for us to sail on an America’s Cup yacht in the harbor (although it was very cold!). On the yacht, we received some instruction on sailing, worked hard to put the sails up, and even got to steer for a bit!

The worst of the weather was, fortunately, on our travel days and it was nice and sunny just in time for our surfing lessons in Byron Bay.

Taking surfing lessons was awesome! Although, I probably won’t try it again. It’s not like kayaking or paddle boarding, where you just need to carry the board to the water. Surfing was a constant struggle to get myself and the board back out for the next wave. I did manage to learn how to stand up and ride a few baby waves though! It was so much fun!

The weather warmed quite a bit as we migrated to the Whitsundays. It was so beautiful, I could have vacationed there for a week. We hopped on another, smaller sailboat and enjoyed being in the sun. I even saw my first wallaby there!

After a brief stop in Cairns (ahem, pronounced cans), we moved on to Port Douglas where we learned to spear fish crabs and sift through the muddy mangroves for clams. It was actually a very peaceful experience: wandering with purpose through the shallow ocean waters and maneuvering through mud and mangrove roots in the forest. I’m just thankful we didn’t encounter any angry crocodiles!

Finally, we journeyed out to the Great Barrier Reef for a swim, but that experience deserves it’s own entry…

~ LiAnn