Tuesday, December 16, 2014

One Lone Shark

Believe it or not, my first real snorkeling adventure was in the Great Barrier Reef.   And we had it all to ourselves that day......

 There are miles of empty beaches in Australia.  But, it seems, there is a good reason for this.  As we are leaving Port Douglas, we mention to the hotel staff that we are headed to Cairns, (pronounced "Cans") to snorkel @ the Great Barrier Reef, and to soak up some sun on the beaches en route.  

She says, quite emphatically, "Oh, no you're not!"  We laughed (politely) and replied that yes, indeed, that was the plan.  She was incredulous, and asked us if we were not aware that there are crocodiles "up north".  Salt water crocodiles.  I had no idea.

But sure enough, she was correct.  Miles of empty beaches.  
No small wonder, with warning signs like this!   

Beware of jellyfish.  Beware of rip tides.  And, OMG, beware of the crocodiles.  In the ocean.   So we drove without stopping.  For once, I was not tempted to stick my toes in the water, even though I always stick my toes in the water.

We are staying in B&B's along the way, and we meet some very nice people.   We feel like it's special that these Aussie folks have invited us to stay in their homes.

But, there's a problem.  In three weeks time, I have not yet seen a single Kangaroo;  and because I have read that they are practically taking over the country, and are everywhere, I am about to demand a refund on the whole trip........

So Ivan tells us that, just down the road, there is a golf course that is resplendent in kangaroos.   And sure enough.......There's about a hundred of them out there laying in the grass on the driving range.  Just far enough out to be safe from being hit.........

Sometimes it's a B&B&D ~  here at Coff's Harbour B&B in Bonville, they even cooked dinner for us; so it's Bed and Breakfast and Dinner.......It's so nice to stay "in" instead of going "out", especially in tonight's down pouring rainstorm!  Tonight's menu is a fabulous fresh fish, with boiled potatoes and a lovely fresh garden salad.   Remember, this country was settled and initially ruled by the English, so the food here has a heavy British influence. 

It's simple, excellent home cooking. 

Ron was both our host and our cook.  
We had such a nice time with him and his wife Kathy.

Ahhh, but the reason we came "north" was to visit the Great Barrier Reef.  I love love love the water.  I love the water.   There is little I love more in life than the water.  Preferably with sunshine.  Any water will do.  Rivers, creeks, oceans, lakes, steams, swimming pools, fountains, whatever.  (Well, I guess rain does not qualify, otherwise I would have loved Oregon).   But the point is, I believe that I was born to live close to the water.

So when Mr. C wants to head out for a day on the water, I'm always all-in.  This is our boat for the day.  It has a capacity of 48.  We are early (always early, with Mr. C).  I'm a little crabby without coffee, but he has convinced me to wait, that they will be serving coffee on the boat.

So we wait for the other 46 people to show up.  There is nobody here.  We take a walk.  I'm (secretly) looking for coffee. We walk, then we return, then we wait some more.  Finally one other couple shows up.  And we wait some more.  And then, they announce, that's it!   We're ready to go!   

And more most importantly, I finally get my cuppa'.  
It's a flat white.

Now, I must say, in the US, they would just cancel the excursion if there were only 4 people on a 48 person boat.  Nobody in the US would go out with just 4 people.  But I'm so happy to say, in Australia, they did!   

This is a really cool story, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, I have tried to snorkel several times before, all unsuccessfully.   I hyperventilate the minute the mask goes on my face.  While this is happening, I am actually thinking, "This is really weird.  I don't feel apprehensive at all.  I love the water.  I'm a reasonably strong swimmer.  I have no fear whatsoever."   But meanwhile, my mind and my body are not in agreement.  My body thinks I'm being suffocated, and my breath is absolutely heaving in my chest, no matter what my brain is trying to tell it to the contrary.


 Here's where the story gets interesting.  There is only one other couple on the boat with us, they are an older couple from Scotland.  He can't swim, so they won't actually be going in the water.  I just have to say, here, that I so admire that they still want to experience the Great Barrier Reef, in whatever form will suit their needs the best.    

After all, The Great Barrier Reef is considered to be one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and is said to be the only living thing on earth that's actually visible from space. 

We are headed to Low Isles, to the protected Coral Cay, where there is a beautiful lighthouse and beach.  

Normally, there are several boats here, all offering some kind of snorkeling action.  One boat with 100, another with 60, another with 40, and ours with 48, and so on.  Something like 250-300 people in the water.  I would liken it to snorkeling at Molokini in the Hawaiian islands.  It's the spot where everybody goes.

However.  There has been a recent (huge) storm; and we are slightly off-season, so.....all these other boats are in dry-dock for restoration or repair or servicing at the moment.

On this particular day, we are the only boat at the snorkeling site.

And Mr. C & I are the only people in the water, 
since the Scotts are not swimming.

 Just look!!!  
We have the entire friggin' Great Barrier Reef to ourselves!!!!

If only I can conquer the snorkel mask......

We learn that the box jelly-fish are out, and that means that we must don these fetching wetsuits for protection. They include full-on gloves, and even face coverings. The box jelly-fish are considered some of the most dangerous, partly because of their sheer numbers.  They liken it to the difference of being stung by a single bee, or being stung by an entire bee hive.  It's usually fatal. And they are invisible in the water, since they are translucent, so they are impossible to avoid.  So every inch of the body is covered.  The only thing left to nature is lips.  Serious.

And because we are the lone candidates for the water adventures, the "First Mate" on board, who is in charge of leading the snorkeling charge, now has just me to focus on for the day.   Cool.

So if you've had these challenges, like me, here's what she did to get me into the water, as a full-on 5 hour snorkeler.  

First, she told me to don my mask while still on shore.  Just get used to breathing that way.  No pressure.  You're still standing on shore.  

Next, sit down on the beach with your toes in the water.   Still dry.  Still breathing on dry land.  Just sitting close to the water. Hang out like this as long as you want.  At least until your breathing stabilizes.

Next, once you're comfortable, start to ease into the water.  Just a bit at a time.  Still sitting.  Still breathing above water.  No pressure.  Just breathe.  No suffocation here.

Then, finally, flip over and start to float on the top of the water.  But still, basically, "on the beach".  If you need to, just reach down into that 6 inches of water and feel the sand under your palms.

And it worked!  It worked, it worked, it worked!  
I spent the next 3 hours in the water, 
snorkeling in one of the best places on the entire planet!!!   

 Then we broke for a quick lunch, and back in the water we went ~ for another two hours!  

So very cool.   Since this time, I've been snorkeling in several other places where fish and sea life are equally abundant.  But nowhere have I seen the coral, the soft, flowing coral like here.

It's a huge flowing garden of coral, (the largest collection of corals in the world, over 400 different kinds), swaying in the breezes of the tides of the ocean, and when snorkeling you become immersed in this undersea world.  Transported. There is no sound but the ocean lapping in your ears.  There is no world but this, the undersea world of sea creatures and the garden of sea coral, swaying this way & that, calling to you, beckoning, showing off, even!   All the vibrant colors and textures.  Both the sea life and the coral are in life-sponsored motion.  Many other places in the world have beautiful coral, also, but it is firmly structured, more like rocks than plants.   We did not have an underwater camera with us that day, I'm sad to say.  But just Google it and you'll see what I'm talking about.  

It was just the two of us, and the beautiful fish (over 1500 species here), and just the one reef shark (who was minding his own business so did not raise any concern); a turtle or two;  and the giant clams!!!   Oh my, it was like a National Geographic special ~ these things are as big as a full grown man!   5 to 6 foot long, anchored to the bottom of the sea floor, rimmed in purple and blue fringe to filter their food.   


The colors of the flesh or "mantle" are extraordinary. They tell us that some of these guys are over 120 years old.  And when even so much as our shadow crossed above them, they would close up in defense!  It was freaky, let me just tell you!!! 

A dead Giant Clam
There was the occasional empty shell, when the clam has gone on to clam heaven, which was big enough that Mr. C could have crawled inside it..........(These are not my photo's ~ thanks to those who shared them with me!)

It was such a quiet day that the Captain actually came in to snorkel with us for the last hour.  He would free dive to the bottom and bring up this or that to the surface, explaining the resident sea life to us, then diving back down to replace it precisely where he found it.  

Wow.  What a day!   What a fantastically amazing fabulous day!

And of course, Mr. C has never let go of the notion that he was personally responsible for creating all that solitude just for us.......  Not another boat in sight the entire day......It's hard to argue with that kind of logic!  They even let him drive the boat for a bit, which pleased him greatly.

Nobody else in sight......

And one of the best pieces of the day, for me, is having conquered the whole snorkeling deal!   I will confess, I still have to give myself extra time at the beginning of every single snorkel session, just to acclimate. But I know that if I do this, I can have a wonderful snorkeling session.  It works!   And  just knowing that I can overcome that hyperventilating is liberating.  

'Cause I really hate being left behind when there is fun to be had ~ whether it's here in Australia, back home in the US, or some other far-flung place on the planet.   Whatever you have planned.....don't count me out!


  1. I am still amazed that you were the only two snorkeling on this trip! The other couple didn’t swim! You had the entire waters to yourself! How rare and so vast!

    Such a great tip they gave you about getting in the water with your mask on. I am so glad that the crocodiles were not in the water where you were. Yikes!

    You just look so cute in your snorkeling gear too. Mr. C is a natural at the wheel of those big water crafts!! He really planned a great excursion for you that day!

    1. A very rare opportunity, indeed. Mr. C is still taking credit for "buying out" all the other boats so we could have the place to ourselves! Hilarious! But you can see in the pictures, there is no one there to share the waters with. Not another boat, not another swimmer, not another snorkeler. Phenomenal. Sometimes you're just in the right place at the right time.......


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