This morning we were back at the airport, but this time for a helicopter ride over the Whitsunday Islands and out to a pontoon about 30miles off the coast in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. I got to take the front seat and pretend to be co-pilot which meant I got the best views over the islands. It was the first time either of us had been in a helicopter and I was surprised by how smooth it was but also how noisy until you put on your headset.
After about 20 minutes flying over the islands, including the famous Whitehaven beach, we started the 15 minute flight out to “Reef World”.
The helicopter lands on a small pontoon and a boat comes to collect you and take you over to Reef World which is a big floating station with cafe, showers, changing rooms, viewing decks and all the equipment for diving and snorkelling.
We went snorkelling first and then had a ride in a “semi-submersible”. You don’t wear a wetsuit for snorkelling but they do advise you to put on an anti-stinger suit (which is a fancy sounding name for a lycra catsuit) to protect you from jellyfish and other stinging creatures and to make you look like a power ranger (or like you’re about to compete on Hole in the Wall). The ones in my size were a lovely pale yellow! Snorkelling takes a bit of getting used to as I found that when I put my head under the water my natural reaction was to hold my breath rather than to breathe through the snorkel and I was a bit apprehensive about getting water in my mask at first because I was wearing my contact lenses. It was quite a windy day today which didn’t help because you’re really out in the middle of the ocean so the water was quite rough. We only had about 45 minutes in the water because we wanted to fit everything else in and I was just starting to get the hang of it toward the end. There’s a huge number of brightly coloured fish just below the surface though and they swim right up to you. (Tracey – We did have our picture taken in the water with some fish by a man from Yorkshire, but in true Tom style, he had his eyes shut so we didn’t bother buying it.) The coral reef is quite impressive too but it was quantity and variety of the fish that I was most impressed by. I’d love to go snorkelling again and learn to get the hang of it better – we probably should have done it in calmer water for our first time. I had a waterproof camera bag for our compact camera so wanted to take loads of pictures under the water. It’s a bit fiddly to operate the buttons through the waterproof case though when you’re trying to stay afloat and you’ve got pretty big waves coming towards you. That combined with the fact that I’d used most of the camera battery in the helicopter meant that I only got about 6 shots in the water.
After lunch was the semi-sub ride. It’s like a boat where you sit in the bottom of the hull and the sides and floor are made of glass so as it sails around you can see the fish and reef. On a normal day it would be quite impressive but it wasn’t as good as the snorkelling so I’d recommend skipping the sub and spending longer in the water.
Tomorrow is another action packed day on and above the water…
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