Australia: Adventures on the Great Barrier Reef
Having exhausted what Sydney and Uluru had to offer us, we made our way to Brisbane for a single night, aiming to catch an early connection to Lady Elliot Island and its Eco Resort in the Whitsundays.
Up extra early and full of enthusiasm, we were driven to a private airstrip to await our flight. When it arrived, I was more than a bit dubious that 12 of us would fit in it- a plane the size of a toaster van.
But pile in we all did, and off we went.
We arrived at Lady Elliot Island early in the morning, ready for 2 nights of wildlife and education about conservation on the Great Barrier Reef. We had picked this resort because of it's eco tourism credentials. As we all know, the Great Barrier Reef is in dire trouble, and whilst we wanted the chance to enjoy the Reef, it was important to us to ensure that we did so in a sustainable and responsible way, not causing any damage, and learning about the environment and conservation efforts taking place.
There are two main snorkelling spots on Lady Elliot Island- the Lighthouse and the Lagoon. The Lagoon is open for certain hours of the day, clearly marked in the restaurant area, whilst the Lighthouse side of the island is open all hours.
We headed straight to the Lighthouse side and gave snorkelling a try. I have to admit that I initially floundered about and struggled to get off of the reef at all, cutting open my thigh on the reef itself and getting a degree of sunburn that was award winningly stupid.
In the afternoon we went back, determined to do better. Entering the water, other snorkellers waved us over to them. Joining them, we found a large sea turtle, 16 meters below us, having a nap on the sea bed. It was absolutely entrancing, and we swam nearby for approximately 30 minutes to enjoy the experience from a safe and responsible distance. And that was when the magic really happened. The water was murky, and out of the gloom came a large, ghostly, dark shape, followed by another and another. Swimming within 2 meters of us were a school of 7 juvenile manta rays! At this point I almost drowned my Travelling Buddy in my desperate attempt to get him to turn and watch the rays that had crept up so silently behind him. We were privileged to watch them for around 10 minutes as they danced and played together, before swooping back off into the deeper sea and disappearing.
The second day went significantly smoother. We went for an early breakfast and walking along the beach back to our room we caught sight of turtles.
We rushed to change and plunged into the Lagoon where we had the most incredible morning swimming with these gentle giants. At one point we were watching 2 different turtles gently glide towards us. We realised too late that they were about to perform a pincer movement on us and had to desperately scrabble to move out of their way so as not to collide with them under water. This was how I learnt that you can scream down a snorkel.
Over the course of the morning we spotted, and swam close too, 9 different turtles.
Having been overwhelmed with absolute joy in the Lagoon, we spent the rest of the day intermittently snorkelling off of the Lighthouse and joining in the fascinating ecological talks and activities available at the Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort. The staff are all incredibly knowledgeable and aim to educate you during your stay about the eco systems of the reef and ensuring you minimise any impact you have on it. Another unexpected bonus of staying in an Eco Resort is that the light pollution is significantly less than any other place we have visited, meaning an unrivalled and beautiful view of the Milky Way.
On our last morning we took a glass bottomed boat tour further off of the reef and were able to snorkel in clearer, deeper waters. Again, we were fortunate enough to swim close by a sea turtle, watch clown fish dance and have an uncomfortably close encounter with a parrot fish that wanted to see what the inside of my snorkelling mask looked like.
With great sadness we prepared to leave the Great Barrier Reef and Lady Elliot Island and make our way to the final installment of Australia- Melbourne.
Things we learnt on Lady Elliot Island
- If you make the time to engage with sustainable and responsible tourism you are given the opportunity to reflect on the impact of your actions. As a result of our trip to Australia we try to be concious of how our travel and lifestyle can affect the environment, wildlife and local people that we encounter.
- Take a waterproof action camera. We didn't have one, and we missed out on what would have been some incredible shots. But, I guess it gives us an even better reason to go back!
- No matter how much sun screen you use, you will burn. Rental is available for a full length wet suit. If not, you might end up with a rash guard shaped sun burn like me.
- Don't be scared. It is a safe environment, the staff know what they are doing, go out deeper and see the most incredible wildlife.
- Don't plan on having any contact with the outside world. You won't need it, immerse yourself in what Lady Elliot Island has to offer you, but if you need wifi then be prepared to sit on the steps of the reception area huddled with everyone else that desperately needs to send that one email.
If you have been to Lady Elliot Island or have more ideas on sustainable travel I would love to hear from you!