Great Barrier Reef, The Universal Icon
As one of the 'Seven natural wonders of the world', the Great Barrier Reef remains at the very top of the 'must do' list for world travellers. It is the most recognisable icon that identifies the continent of Australia. Every schoolchild in the western world learns about it and it remains an irresistible attraction right through to adulthood whether as a qualified diver, experienced snorkeller or simply as a holiday maker fascinated to experience such a unique example of mother natures genius.
Port Douglas is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, nowhere else, regardless of what others may claim, can boast such close proximity and ease of access to this breathtaking natural spectacle. The closest destination for the reef from Port Douglas is Low Isles which is only 8 nautical miles off the coast. This is visited daily by a fleet of sailing craft such as Wavedancer III and the world class catamarans Aquarius and Sailaway IV.
For the more adventurous, the high speed trip on Reef Sprinter will have you snorkelling within 20 minutes of reaching Low Isles or maybe you donâ€™t actually want to get in the water but have a â€˜need for speedâ€™ then a jet ski from Port Douglas Jet Ski Hire will have you racing across the Coral Sea around Low Isles with the reef clearly visible from below the surface !
Of course, for those who want luxurious privacy, then chartering a Super Yacht is an option from the Meridien Marina. Luxury craft such as Galaxy 1 and Phantom may be available but pre-booking will avoid any disappointment. Skysafari and GBR Helicopters have daily flights out over the reef so once youâ€™ve experienced the tranquil and magical world of the reef from below the waves why not take the awesome scenic route. It has been described by many as a spiritual experience and your unique aerial holiday snaps will make family and friends so envious !
The 5 star reef cruise operators, such as Poseidon III, Calypso and Silversonic best cater for groups up to about 90 passengers. They usually design their trips to take you further out onto the Great Barrier Reef beyond Low Isles to two or three locations around the outer Agincourt Ribbon Reef system or Opal Reef (depending on who you book with). All the tours deliver secure scuba diving and snorkelling under expert supervision within superb safety procedures. There are over 40 potential sites to visit on the reef so the variety is unlimited and just depends on tides, weather and favourite locations as to where the skipper takes you to enjoy your swimming, scuba diving or snorkelling.
There is also Quicksilver Cruises, the pioneers of reef trips, founded way back in 1979. They operate a service ideal for first time visitors and even non-swimmers who still want to experience the reef. Quicksilver take you out to Agincourt Reef, at the very outer edge of the Barrier Reef, where they have an anchored pontoon platform. Their 45 metre flagship speeds parties of up to 400 strong to their anchored pontoon to enjoy a day dipping in and out of the water under expert supervision within netted safety areas for scuba diving, snorkelling or just to enjoy the swim. The pontoon has restaurant and bar facilities plus an underwater viewing area and a regular semi-submersible trip to take you around the reef without getting your feet wet !
On any of the reef cruises during June to September you may be lucky enough to see the Whales migrating passed the reef. You may even catch a glimpse of Migaloo our albino humpback, who passes through every year !
All tour operators are guardians of the reef. They educate visitors on the environmental essentials to ensure the reef is protected for future generations whilst being enjoyed by everyone today. These operators are justifiably proud of their reputation as eco warriors, determined to eliminate any possible damage or deterioration of the reef.
It should be noted that the almost evangelical message of the operators does not in any way impact on the visitors. If visitors stick to the simple rules and enjoy the reef safely and sensibly, a day on or under the magical waters is one of life's experiences that touches you and never lets the memories dim. Of course not everyone wants to get under the sea with the fish, some visitors want to catch the fish !
Fishing is a wonderful alternative, maybe even an addition to your holiday itinerary out on the reef. There are many superbly equipped boats available for day hire from the Meridien Marina in Port Douglas to take small groups of enthusiasts out onto the Coral Sea to the designated fishing areas for a fun filled day trying to catch reef fish for their tea. Very strict rules apply to the size of the fish that can be kept and of the total catch for each fishing group. These rules are designed to ensure the reef is protected from overfishing but they won't stop you from having a great day.
The mantra of all Port Douglas Great Barrier Reef tour operators is that they would like ALL guests to leave their tours as ambassadors for reef protection and preservation. The Great Barrier Reef will then continue to amaze and beguile its visitors for future generations.
Check out all available reef tours on www.tourismportdouglas.com.au or visit the Tourism Information Centres around town.
by Roy Weavers, Editor, Port Douglas Magazine