Monday, January 31, 4:45 am - so far I'm not adjusting that well to local time. I went to bed before 8 pm last night, slept a solid 4.5 hours then dozed off and on (again, more awake than asleep) for a few hours and was up by 4 am and showered by 4:30 am. Nothing's open, not even the fitness center, and it's still too dark to go for a walk outside so might as well go to the open 24/7 Business Center at the hotel and check in.
Yesterday was our excursion to the Great Barrier Reef. Cairns is about a 90-minute boat ride out to Green Island and the Reef. We were bussed to the marina where our tour guide, Erica, went to get our tickets for the "Sunlovers Cruise" out to the reef. It was then that we were told that, because a cyclone was headed to the Queensland Coast, the waters were a bit choppy. The cyclone was on a path to hit several hundred kilometers south of us so we weren't in any danger but we were going to feel some of the effects from winds and rough waters. There was a chance the boat wouldn't sail out there today so we were on standby.
Not being able to go when we were so close was disappointing but everyone took it well and were prepared to roll with whatever came up. Fortunately, it was decided the waters were safe enough but the captain did warn us that the winds were 25-30 knots (whatever that means) and the ride would be a bit bumpy. He wasn't kidding. Now, I don't normally get seasick. I haven't been on a lot of boats or ships but enough that I know I'm not really prone to seasickness. I went on a cruise several years ago and was queasy the first night but was perfectly fine after that. The waters were so rough that the trip out to the reef was like being on a rollercoaster ride....for 90 minutes. I didn't get queasy but I did end up with a headache from having my brain tossed around inside my skull for so long. You couldn't really walk anywhere on the boat because it was being tossed around so much and even seated, I had to hold the chair rest to keep from being tossed to another seat.
The pontoon at the Great Barrier Reef
When we got to the pontoon on the reef, I was prepared to go snorkeling and had already worn my bathing suit underneath my tank top and shorts. I decided to take it easy for awhile though and let my head get back to normal. I hung out on the pontoon which was steadier than the boat, went back to the boat for the buffet lunch and chatted with Pat, a very nice lady on the tour group whose daughter works for Google and was having a great experience there that Pat was happy to share with me. After lunch, I caught a ride on the semi-submersible boat off the pontoon where you sit in the lower level that's completely below water and you get a ride around part of the reef so you can get a closer look at the coral and some of the fish. In essence, it's like seeing what the scuba divers were seeing.
It was an interesting trip but it turned out to be my Waterloo. While I wasn't nauseous on the boat ride that took us out to the reef, being in the enclosed "sub" and still in those choppy waters turned out not to be a good idea. Yup, I yakked up my lunch. Fortunately, there were seasick bags right in front of me and I had enough warning to have one open in front of me so I could quietly toss my lunch the hard way up there. Eww.
After that experience, I actually felt a little better but was glad to get back up on the pontoon when the ride was over. Okay, no more boat rides in little enclosed spaces for me. I hung out on the pontoon and watched the snorkelers. There were a lot of mostly yellow-tailed fish, swimming so close to the surface that I was able to get some good pictures of them. I saw one large gray fish (I know nothing about marine life) that looked large enough to be a baby shark but apparently it was quite safe. I talked to some of the other people who had gone snorkeling and it sounded like they were seeing the same things I was from the surface so I talked myself out of donning the snorkeling gear and stayed where I was to enjoy it instead. Yeah, yeah, it's the Great Barrier Reef and it'd be nice to say I'd snorkeled there but I'm not much of a swimmer or a snorkeler so I was fine skipping it, especially since I didn't want to risk throwing up in the Coral Sea.
The fish were pretty fearless to watch. They'd swarm around the snorkelers and sometimes the snorkelers were so intent on what they could see through their goggles into the water beneath them that they never looked around to see they were literally surrounded by a school of them. I took some cool pictures that I can't wait to upload to this post. I also attended a mini lecture on the pontoon about sea cucumbers and star fish and got to touch both. The sea cucumber was a bit slimy to the touch and the starfish were spiny. It was interesting to learn about their habits. I'd never really gotten a close look at sea cucumbers before so that was interesting.
The ride back wasn't as bad as the ride out but still choppy enough that I had to lie down on one of the couches in the lounge deck to fight off the headache coming back. It didn't really help that the lady who sat next to me was literally retching half the trip. Apparently I wasn't the only one having a hard time on the boat. Quite a few people did get seasick on the trip there and back.
But all in all, it was a good experience and when I'm traveling, I always chalk up everything to an experience. The day alternated between cloudy and sunny but overall the sights were beautiful and I'm glad I went. I bought a cute t-shirt in the gift shop at the wharf before the boat ride for one of my nieces as her souvenir present from Australia but when I got back to the hotel and tried it on, I liked it so much I want to keep it (sorry, Laur). So now I have to hotfoot it back to the gift shop before we leave Cairns and buy another one so I can still be a good aunt, haha.
Today's excursion is a train ride up to Karanda and a gondola ride back down. It's the only time on the tour we'll get to hold a koala if we choose - more about that tomorrow.
A word about the tour group - there are 33 of us on the tour and it's primarily an older group, filled with retired couples and older people traveling with a friend or sibling. I'm the youngest person here by a decade...or two. One of the couples jokingly asked me if I was even old enough to drink. LOL! Age is apparently relative. But everyone seems really nice and I've enjoyed talking with various people. Most of them are well-traveled with a lot of people having taken trips and cruises to Europe and Asia although it seems to be most people's first time to Australia.