Green Island

As part of our Great Barrier Reef tour, my husband booked us a two night stay on Green Island, an Island in the Great Barrier Reef an hour ferry ride off the coast of Cairns, Australia.  Cairns is an interesting spot unto itself, with high end shops like Louis Vuitton next to what seemed to be run-down bodegas and apartments.  We hardly spent a few hours in Cairns but people really love it.  I got the sense it was for the college/post college hostel crowd, but again, that was at first blush, and first blush was all we got.

Green Island only has one hotel, the Green Island Resort, which has lush accommodations and a gourmet restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  The island itself also had a beach shack for day trippers, as well as a few shops with the typical sunscreen, sarong, and tank top merchandise.  After boarding the ferry, with our lovely turtle green island sticker adhered to our luggage (it’s still there by the way), we were assured our luggage would make it to our room and were told where to check-in.  We arrived mid-day and the island was already hopping.

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Welcome sign and fish on the dock upon arrival

Upon checking in, we were in a Reef Suite Room, with a spread of chocolates and fruit awaiting us upon arrival.  To say that Steve and I mauled that chocolate is actually putting it delicately.  The flourless chocolate cake was to die for, and for anyone watching the scene unfold, it looked less like honeymooners and more like Lord of the Flies with us trying to ensure every last crumb was consumed upon pain of death.  The room was beautiful, with a king bed, private balcony, and a separate seating area, a true spot for newlyweds.  After taking a moment to compose ourselves, we switched into our swimsuits and prepared to explore the island.

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The reef and that view, incredible

Raised boardwalk paths lead you through thick rain forest around the island in just under an hour, as well as to beautiful beaches with fewer tourists.  And tourists, during the day, are plentiful.

Green island is a favorite spot for day trippers off the coast of Cairns, with many ferries arriving early in the morning, with the last ferry out around 5pm.  The island is beautiful, with day trippers seeming to be the biggest detriment to the reef.  The main beach on Green Island, patrolled by life guards, is incredibly close to the coral reef – you could walk to it, and in low tide many tourists stomped all over it.  However, there were nooks and crannies throughout the island where you could snorkel away from the tourist crowd and see multiple different kinds of rays, beautiful turtles in the morning and in the evening, and reef sharks.  The snorkeling there was beautiful, and we spent most of the time snorkeling and enjoying the natural resources around us.

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Post snorkel

When we weren’t in the water, we took a quick glass bottom boat tour around the reef and just relaxed in the sun.  Steve kayaked while I read some magazines, and eavesdropped on the life guards.  My favorite stolen moment was when a young woman asked a life guard if he could take her mother out on the surfboard to see the reef.  Her mother couldn’t swim but wanted to see the fish anyway.  He politely declined and after she walked away, he turned to his mate to say “WTF?” I laughed to myself and then went back to my magazine, thinking silly tourists.

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The beach emptying out as the day comes toward a close

When the tourists left, the island felt quiet, undisturbed, and completely at peace.  The resort set up nightly sunset cocktail events, evening hikes through the rainforest, and a fish feeding frenzy.  The first night we watched the fish feeding with all the other guests on the dock.  There were sharks, smaller fish, and a massive grouper.  My husband, ever the risk taker, decided the next night to watch with his snorkel on, under the dock.  I was none too pleased, but he promised to be safe.  Apparently watching this 80 pound grouper was a huge thrill, happy he didn’t turn into fish food himself, we changed for dinner.

I decided that this was the night I would try kangaroo meat.  After feeding the adorable kangaroos at the Port Douglas Wildlife Habitat, I was torn.  They were adorable animals!  But they’re like the deer of Australia, and people eat venison back home, it should be fine, no?  Well, the verdict?  Kangaroo is delicious, and that’s all I’ll say on the matter.

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Kangaroo salad

Our two nights on Green Island were wonderful, and were the perfect end to our great barrier reef extravaganza.  Our next stop, Noosa Heads and Fraser Island.

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Getting ready for the first bite
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Turtles may out number tourists on Green Island

The Great Barrier Reef – By Sea

As previously mentioned, we took the Great Barrier Reef by storm from the air, but had yet to really “dive in”, pun intended.  The time had finally come for us to truly explore its depths from below.  Steve found a tour that accommodated both snorkelers and divers (I’m just a lowly snorkeler), so after booking a trip with Poseidon, we were off to see the Agincourt Ribbon Reefs.

The snorkel/dive adventure was an all day affair.  The reefs were approximately 2 hours away, so after boarding early in the morning, chowing down on some breakfast aboard the ship, we sat on the deck and watched the shore fade away.  Steve was brimming with excitement.  Thanks to one of our great friends, she provided him with a dive guide for his adventure.  There were about 150 snorkelers on board (I’m a terrible estimator, this number very well could have been only 50, lol) with only about 10-12 divers.  The divers were taken below to go through instructions, listing out the dive sites, review of equipment, and getting paired up with buddies.  Steve was paired with a lovely man from Norway, Lars, who was his buddy for the three dives planned for that day.

While the divers were getting prepared below, the snorkelers up top were getting their own lessons, masks, and equipment.  Snorkelers were supposed to have buddies but I was the odd man out (I referred to this day as the saddest day of our honeymoon, when asked who didn’t have a buddy I was the only one who raised my hand, womp womp).  However, this was a fabulous development.  I’m very comfortable in the water, but it didn’t seem like anyone else aboard this ship was. Picture 140 people jumping into the ocean with noodles and other accouterments to keep them afloat, I did not have time for that.

The first dive site was a beautiful reef, I saw a nurse shark casually sitting along the bottom, and many other beautiful coral fish.  I love spotting the Sargeant Majors as well as the colorful Parrot Fish, especially the blue ones with the pink lips.  We did not unfortunately see the famous Great Barrier Reef Wrasse that you can swim up to and pose with, but that was fine with us.  Steve was on his first dive since his certification and getting to know his partner.  The first dive site was fairly shallow, only about 30 feet.  Remarkably, I did not happen to see any of the divers during my first snorkel, but that changed during the second dive.

Upon returning the boat, we ate lunch and a few of the marine biologists on staff told us about significant initiatives to save the coral reefs, and that usually on these tours they do a check of each dive site to determine if there has been significant damage.  Additionally, during the third dive, they promised to lead a guided tour of the reef and point out specific animals.  During the meal, they also quizzed the boat on the types of coral they saw, and played fun games for the younger snorkelers.  The staff on the boat really hustled to ensure this full day experience was one of both fun and learning, especially about protecting such an incredibly beautiful natural reef system.

Dive site #2 was coming up.  Free of nurse sharks, I got to see many of the divers during our snorkel.  So after following them for a bit to determine if they were seeing anything cool, I went off on my own.  My husband saw a moray eel, but since snorkelers were too far up, this cool yet scary (at least I think so), fish eluded me.  After listening to the marine biologists talk at lunch, you could definitely tell parts of the reef that were suffering from coral bleaching, but overall the reef seemed fairly healthy.  One of the joys I have when snorkeling is spotting turtles, and I was hoping to see one on this dive, as I had not seen any on the first one.  I was on the hunt, but had come up short again.  The second dive site was hard for me to enjoy, as it felt smaller than the first, which meant everywhere I went I would be dodging poor swimmers with their floaty toys and less time looking for a fish.  As a result, I went in a wee bit early, but was looking forward to our final snorkel location.

The final dive site was what was called a drift dive.  We dropped the divers off at one area where the current would rip them around to our final destination.  After waving over the side of the boat at Steve, we headed to our final, guided snorkel, and it was a great one!  It was so much fun snorkeling with someone who truly knew what they were looking at.  She pointed out some beautiful fish and then finally, turtle sighting!!  There it was, a beautiful turtle in all its glory swimming along peacefully.  The entire group (probably 15 snorkelers) was filled with glee, and started to follow it.  No other fish in the sea mattered once a turtle had been spotted.  My day at the Great Barrier Reef had been made!  Especially after starting on such a low, lonely little note, I was thrilled!  Turtles are so beautiful and majestic in the water.  Despite our trip taking place in 2013, I don’t think GoPros had been invented yet (or at least were not nearly as big a deal), and we had no way to capture the beauty of our underwater trip, though we have the wonderful memories.

After returning to the boat and catching up with Steve, he loved the drift dive and I loved the turtle.  Bucket list item complete!   But don’t worry, our Great Barrier adventures were only beginning, as after Port Douglas we headed to Green Island for two nights, an island in the Great Barrier reef where turtles, rays, and reef sharks abound!

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Steve with his underwater dive guide!

The Great Barrier Reef – By Air

I’ve mentioned a few times that my husband is a huge fish.  He will literally jump into any body of water, regardless of temperature, and on our honeymoon, we checked off a bucket list item for him: dive the great barrier reef.  As mentioned earlier, Steve planned our entire honeymoon, and as a result, he came up with numerous ways for us to immerse ourselves in the world’s largest reef system. First up, a helicopter ride.

I had never been in a helicopter and as always, I was the nervous one.  Skysafari Port Douglas (no longer in business unfortunately!) picked us up from our hotel and drove us to their helipad.  Our pilot walked us through the safety procedures and we signed the typical waivers as with any adventure.  The plan for the day was to head up over the reef, land on an uninhabited island, picnic, snorkel, and then head back, completing our half day of adventure.  Snug in the backseat with my headset on, throwing out cliches like “alpha, niner!” to cut through my own nervous tension, we were off.  Taking off in a helicopter was the smoothest, most incredible experience.  A ride in a chopper is just beyond words, you don’t even feel like you’re flying, you’re floating.

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The Great Barrier Reef from the air!

From the air, we tried to spot fish from above and just take it all in.  The views were spectacular!  To see such beauty from above was incredible, and knowing my husband, I knew he couldn’t wait to literally dive in. Unfortunately, which turned out to be a serendipitous event, we could not land on the island in the reef as previously mentioned, so instead, we landed on a beach in the Daintree Rain Forest, which was pretty hard to beat.  We had a picnic, some beers, and a snorkel, our first time really in the Great Barrier Reef.  Our pilot was awesome, and because he thought we were fun Americans, he gave us some extra time in the air above the reef and above the Daintree. The people in Australia are just wonderful, and it felt like we knew the guy for years.  It is always nice when you’re on a private tour to really get along with your guide, and it was as if we had made a fast friend.  The American and Australian cultures have so many similarities, and the people really put us at ease there.  Especially calming my nerves around take off!

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Landing spot

I still couldn’t believe we had gone up in a helicopter, and after such a smooth and incredible ride, I swear all I talked about for days was learning to fly one (the dream’s not dead!).  It was such a memorable experience, and I cannot imagine leaving this out of our Australian experience.  To be fair, it was expensive (~$1000) but can you put a price tag on making those kinds of memories?  Sometimes, you just have to go for it, “yolo”.

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Checking out the Great Barrier Reef below
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Posing with the choppa!
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The most incredible view of the Great Barrier Reef