Tropical North Queensland is well worth harping on about – warm days and balmy nights, rainforests filled with chattering birds and a coastline glittering with the bluest of blue water. But it goes further than that.
Just like ‘Tim the Demtel Man’ of ’90s TV infomercial fame, Tropical North Queensland adds a proverbial set of steak knives to the package, exclaiming: “but wait, there’s more!” But, in this case, the steak knives are the ability to swim with sea turtles.
While swimming with sea turtles might sound a bit abstract, it’s actually pretty easy to pull off. After flying to Cairns and heading north to Cape Tribulation, I boarded an Ocean Safari boat with 16 other turtle-lovers – it’s the ultimate way to spend quality time on the Great Barrier Reef, minus the crowds.
As we headed out to the Mackay and Undine Reefs, we were told that these spots aren’t visited by other tourist boats and both reefs thankfully dodged most of the damage done in the recent bleaching episode, so it’s still possible to see unblemished coral and the other marine life the reef sustains.
Hopping into the clear water and seeing what lies beneath is one of those ‘OMG’ travel moments, capable of erasing all your worldly worries in a nanosecond. Down below, there’s no rent due or bills to pay. There are no work deadlines or performance reviews. Not a whiff of looming exams, dentist appointments or other responsibilities.
None of the above applies once you’re below the waterline because, strangely enough, once you’re down there, your head is really there. The funny thing is, people all over the world are desperately reading books and enrolling in courses to learn how to live in the moment when all they have to do is snorkel the Great Barrier Reef to empty their heads for a while.
There’s coral that looks like a human brain, multi-coloured parrotfish in 50 shades of neon, giant clams that are so amazing they hardly seem real, rectangular trumpetfish who won’t win any beauty contests but we love them anyway, and there are green sea turtles.
With an estimated one in a thousand making it to maturity, these little dudes and dudettes of the sea could have turned out to be jerks with a superiority complex after surviving against all odds. Instead, they are the coolest, most unaffected, chilled-out lovelies of the sea. I spent a fair bit of time swimming with one particular sea turtle, who kept coming back to me. I believed he was utterly bewitched by my figure-hugging wet suit, flippered feet and the oh-so-sexy snorkel suctioned onto my face with huge dollops of Vaseline.
I’m not the only one who appreciated what I saw. The Ocean Safari team are obviously crazy in love with the reef, too. Our host, Sam emerged from the water with one of the biggest smiles humanly possible, marine biologist Dave raved about sea cucumbers and our skipper, Kane, waxed lyrical about how awesome sharks are. Unlike many people, the Ocean Safari crew seem permanently stoked to be at work.
On the 25-minute boat ride back to Cape Tribulation, we listened to ‘Run To Paradise’ by Aussie rock legends The Choir Boys. I think about how it should be compulsory for every single politician and policy maker to go snorkelling on the reef because it’s hard to imagine not wanting to protect and preserve it. Regardless, we all agreed with the captain’s choice of tunes. This is paradise.
(All images courtesy of Ocean Safari)[qantas_widget code=CNS]Get to the Great Barrier Reef with Qantas flights to Cairns.[/qantas_widget]
Jo is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist who knows that the best stories are yielded from time spent on the road, not behind a desk. She writes about travel, pop culture, sustainability, nature and indigenous issues for a bunch of Australian newspapers, magazines, journals and websites. Her work reporting on scientific expeditions means she has lived and worked in some of the harshest environments on the planet including Antarctica, the Simpson Desert and the means streets of Sydney.