FEBRUARY 26 & 27 – AT SEA
After leaving Rabaul we headed south through the Coral Sea to the east coast of Australia and the 1,200 mile Great Barrier Reef. We picked up a Australian “Reef Pilot”, which is required by law for any vessel traveling to the mainland through this fragile World Heritage Site. On the ship right now, the Australians dominate the passenger profile at 956. I love their accent and their propensity to never be in a hurry. They are so laid back and incredibly friendly. Remember the movie Crocodile Dundee and that guy that was on Animal Planet for a long time (The Crocodile Hunter) before he got a little to friendly with a Stingray…? They talk like that. It is so interesting to be surrounded by accents totally unlike my own. I say I don’t have one… but the Aussies and Brits completely disagree. Apparently I have a heavy accent. Go figure. The UK’ers come in second at 747, Americans at 242, Germans at 112, Netherlanders at 81, New Zealanders at 71 and so on. There are passengers from 34 different countries on the ship right now.
FEBRUARY 28 – WHITSUNDAY ISLANDS, AUSTRALIA (Maiden Call)
The “Whitsundays” (on the northeastern coast) are comprised of 74 mountainous islands that were separated from the mainland after the last ice age when ocean levels rose. Aboriginal people lived here for over 8,000 years before “European” history started with Captain James Cook’s landing in 1770. He sailed through the passage on Whit Sunday (the 7th Sunday after Easter) for the first time, hence the name. Only 7 islands are inhabited and the entire area is part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. I had to wrap my head around the “reversal” of seasons here, as compared to home. Right now – it’s late summer. NORTHERN Australia is hot and humid. SOUTHERN Australia gets lots of snow in the winter. The sun still rises in the East… but it moves through the Northern sky before setting in the West – instead of the Southern sky. I know, you know this… but it is still so strange to experience.
The areas of the reef open for exploration via snorkeling is very limited (as a way to keep human impact low) and we had heard that the expedition companies pack 300 people onto the platform at the reef. It was also rumored that there was not enough equipment to go around. Also, it’s over an hour each way from the ship to the reef which would leave no time for seeing the local area by foot. From the complaints we heard from people who went – we are glad we opted to stroll around the Airlie Beach area instead. I would love to see the Great Barrier Reef someday… but not with so many people and such a tight schedule.
You NEVER go swimming from ANY of the beaches in Queensland, Australia during this time of year. There are many varieties of Stingers (aka Jelly Fish) that will kill you slowly and painfully. It seems so unfair. The beaches are gorgeous and the water about 80F. Instead, people swim in man made “lagoons” near the beach. Australia has more poisonous creatures that deliver a lethal bite or sting then any other place on the planet. You always have to watch where you step. Even a single ant delivers a nasty bite.
We enjoyed a delightful day of walking on the beach and people watching – although it was much too hot and humid for our taste. Not quite as exotic as Rabaul… but we got to witness the ritual mating behaviors of the local teenagers.