Great Barrier Reef and Fitzroy Island
Travel can be a long and arduous road. And, travel to the world’s largest island is no exception. I’ve recently returned from my Australia Expedition and it was longer than it should be. With no direct flight to Cairns from Los Angeles, I had to bear a connection flight in Brisbane. The long road to Cairns would be bearable as I knew this would land me in one of the top destination in the world, the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest living thing. I arrived in Cairns in the late afternoon so I had time to wander the harbor area and have dinner, but not much else. I had to re-pack for a two-day trip to Fitzroy Island, one of the many islands dotting the reef and one with a hotel. My first glimpse of the reef would be from this island. The morning came and I was off, walking to the harbor to the island ferry with my rolling carry-on luggage now my main bag for this short trip. The 45 minute ferry revealed the island to us and as we got closer and closer, paradise revealed itself.
The beach came to view with the hotel hidden behind the trees and I knew I was in for a treat. We arrived at 12:30 pm and I was surprised to find out that my room was ready for me. I settled my things in the room, had lunch, and I quickly rented snorkeling gear and jumped into the water. The staff said I good spot to snorkel would be near White Rock at the far left end of the beach. I was finally in the water, swimming in the Great Barrier Reef. The excitement quickly wore off as I discovered most of the reef was dead around this beach. It wasn’t a total loss as there was fish still to be seen here including a stingray.
The next morning provided another opportunity to swim in the reef. This island is approximately one square mile and is a national park, mostly surrounded by a rainforest with hiking trails. With multiple hikes to come during my Australia Expedition, my focus was on the reef. The morning’s swim would be at Nudley Beach, one of Australia’s top beaches (included in the video below). This beach is located at the tip of the island and would require a 25 minute hike from the hotel. This barrier would mean fewer people on this beautiful beach. And, I discovered it meant a more robust reef. This reef was full of life with abundant species of fish and coral. Trek to the furthest point of the beach were it gets rocky and plunge into the water and you will be rewarded. It was so beautiful here, I made the 25 minute hike to the hotel for lunch and trekked back to Nudley Beach for more of this paradise. I went for another snorkeling venture and swam with turtles, 3 in total for the day.
For the most part, I had the reef to myself, no other swimmers hindering my day. It was a true highlight and a day to remember. It was time to gather my luggage from the hotel storage room and catch the last ferry at 5 pm and a trip back to the city of Cairns.
The next morning would bring a dedicated trip to the outer reef for a day if swimming in what I viewed as the true Great Barrier Reef. I chose to spend more money to do a tour in the outer reef since a had read that the reef closer to the mainland had less life and was even considered as a dead reef. This was also consider a small group tour in comparison. The boat ride to the outer reef took about 90 minutes and it was well worth the ride.
The environment was rich with life filled with multiple species of coral and even more species of fish. Not only were there dozens of species of fish but they were large which means the environment is healthy and rich, well protected.
Swimming in the reef was like floating above cliffs and valleys but in this case the cliffs were made of coral and the valley was filled with fish and turtles. I looked out for sharks an I was disappointed since I didn’t see any. Another disappoint was the number of people in the water with me. I had to constantly look out for them so I wouldn’t run into them or get in the way of the divers below me. Yes, this tour was a small group tour with a max of 80 people, snorkelers and divers. I could only imagine the average tour which consist of 200 or more people.
Fitzroy Island and the outer reef expedition was a once in a life time experience and definitely one to remember. I highly recommend visiting and if you get the chance you’ll find out why they call it The GREAT Barrier Reef.