7 Minute Read
We did it! We already checked something off of our audacious goals list for 2018! (Yes…I’m excited and if you know me, you know I love a good list.)
We ticked item #1, snorkeling in the great barrier reef off our list on Monday, January 30. Here’s our play by play of the day, our overall feelings about the experience and if we’d do it again.
We booked our snorkeling trip through a Book.Me deal with Diver’s Den, based out of Cairn’s Australia. It was the best combination we could find of a highly rated experience with not a huge price tag.
Our day started when we arrived at the C Finger of the Cairns Marina. Before we boarded the boat, a crew member made sure we had registered and paid. Upon entering, we had to pay a $20 reef tax (per person) and then received a safety waiver to review and sign. Our captain reiterated the importance of disclosing any medical conditions several times while Scott and I were working on the paperwork. We read everything front to back and then signed off on the bottom.
Another crew member came by and collected our documents and then took us to the back of the boat for flippers and stinger suits (for protection from jellyfish stings). As we rounded the corner, we met yet another crew member. This one was extremely friendly, had a French accent and looked like Post Malone…so we called him Post Malone for the rest of the day.
Diver Post Malone sized us up and handed us each a suit. Then we were given flippers to try on without much direction. I put my on and looked at the crew member, “How do I know if they fit?” “Does it feel okay?” he replied. I said yes. “Then you’re good to go.” Apparently, it was that easy.
We were told to wrap up our fins, masks and snorkels with our suit and take them to the upper deck to store until we put them on. Scott and I found a couple of empty seats and placed our goodies underneath. While we waited, we put on the first of many sunscreen applications. Meanwhile, other snorkelers and scuba divers came into the same area and stored their suits, etc. In total, there were 46 tourists aboard snorkeling or scuba diving that day.
About 10 minutes later we went to the lower deck for some announcements and a safety review. The first thing we did was watch a safety video, which was a hilarious music video parody of Eminem’s “Will the Real Slim Shady Please Stand Up?” featuring our crew. After we all stopped giggling from the video, our diving instructor got up to speak. She explained the equipment we would be using and where crew members would be during our dive. I’d say she spoke for maybe 5 minutes. Then the underwater photographer gave us brief overview of what to expect from her, how to get the best underwater tips and a sales pitch on special underwater cameras and lenses you could buy in the boat.
It’s Getting Serious
The last person to speak was Fabian, the crew lead. He was quite serious and went through all of our equipment and how to use each piece again. Fabian also reiterated how important it was to disclose medical conditions and allergies to the crew, even sharing with us personal stories of people being seriously injured on dying on the reef and his watch. It was a very sobering discussion. He also spent about 10 minutes showing us pictures of the underwater life we’d see and which ones to avoid. The last two gave me the most anxiety. There was a small stinging fish with orange, black and white stripes, apparently very difficult to see, and if it stung you would kill you in 10 seconds. Then there are the sharks. They told us the sharks are nothing to worry about and more friendly than anything. But…they’re still sharks. Right?
After our chat, Fabian told us to get suited up and ready to snorkel. Everyone climbed back up to the top deck and fought their way into their stinger suits. If you’re a woman who has ever worn shapewear, you’ll know what I’m talking about. After pulling our suits on and grabbing our masks, snorkels and fins, we walked back downstairs to get ready to go in the water.
The First Reef
We were a little behind in getting our gear on, so most of the other snorkelers and crew members were already in the water. Scott and I had decided the pool noodle options would be enough to help us in the water, so we each grabbed one, put on our flippers, adjusted and masks and dove in.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the water was rougher than I anticipated. If you know me, you know I’m not very good at handling change or things out of my control. Well…here I’d been served both. We were too far away from the crew members guiding the other snorkelers, so we tried to swim in that direction first. I’ve had swimming lessons and thought this would be a piece of cake. I was wrong. Right away I struggled to feel like I was making any progress in the water. I couldn’t get my breathing down right. Scott kept swimming farther and farther away. I started panicking.
Finally I got the snorkel out my mouth and yelled for Scott to come back. I was feeling so overwhelmed and we hadn’t even put our heads under the water yet. With Scott nearby I tried to explain to him that I was just so tired. I didn’t know what to do. He suggested we swim back to the boat and catch our breath. Maybe if we put life jackets on things would be easier? Getting back to the boat sounded like a good idea to me, so I turned around and started to swim back.
Again, I had an extremely difficult time making progress in the water – and in my current panicked state, this only made things worse. In an embarrassing turn, Scott had to call Diver Post Malone over with his safety floatie to get me out. I was grateful for the rest, but felt bad when Post asked what happened and all I could say was that I tired out.
We all got back on the boat and I took a few minutes to catch my breath. Could I go back in? Did I want to? I was really nervous, but I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Plus, we’d paid a fair amount of money to be out here. Did I want to waste this chance? No. I decided I would give it another shot. Scott found life jackets, we kept the pool noodles too, and got back in. With the vest, swimming was much easier and I felt I could concentrate more on my breathing. I took slower, steadier breaths and it worked.
Diver Post Malone also was in the water near us keeping a lookout in case I went into panic mode again – very nice of him. After a couple of minutes, I was able to stick my head in the water and all I can say is WOW. All the stress was totally worth it. I could see all the way to the ocean floor and a couple of fish (we were still pretty far away from the reef). After getting my fins fluttering, we made quick work of a few yards of water and saw more and more. It was truly breath-taking.
Diver Post Malone noticed we were getting the hang of it and asked us if we wanted to see some “nemos.” Of course! He let us hitch a ride on his safety floatie and pulled us to another part of the reef where we saw plenty more fish and sea creatures. We spent maybe another half an hour or so swimming around, checking out the sea life. I calmed way down and really enjoyed the experience. Scott filmed a ton of things on our Go Pro (this is the one we have) and took lots of pictures (the ones you’re seeing in this post), so we were happy to use that camera under water for the first time.
At lunch time, Fabian whistled us to come in from the deck of the boat. When we go right up close to the boat, we noticed a huge fish swimming by and Scott followed it around to get some extra footage. The crew told us this fish likes to visit them often on the reef.
The Second Reef
While we ate lunch, our crew drove us to the second reef of the day, Saxon Reef. It took about an hour to get there and this time we duly prepared ourselves We went back upstairs to pull on our wet stingers suits – they were much more difficult to get on at this point. We took a couple of goofy pictures and then got ready to dive back in.
My second reef experience was quite a bit smoother. We had our swimming down and got right to look at the water and seeing all the fish and coral. This time we tried to follow one of the crew divers a little more carefully to see what they would point out from time to time. About five minutes in, Diver Post Malone was shouting something from our left side and I started to panic. I couldn’t understand what he was saying…what if it was an emergency? Why couldn’t I understand him? I looked at Scott who only shrugged his shoulders and laughed. Every time Post yelled, I would yell back “what?!” I still had no idea what he was saying. As he got closer, Scott finally was able to make it out: “turtle.” Hahahaha. All of that panicking for nothing.
Back to Normal
We stuck our heads back under the water and there it was. A turtle! Of course most of the scuba divers tried to get in and get a closer look so everyone crowded the water, but how exciting to see. We watched the turtle swim and dive for about a minute before turning a different way to explore more of the reef.
In my opinion, this part of the reef seemed pretty similar to the first one. We continued to snorkel and see all the gorgeous fish, coral and sea life for maybe another 10-15 minutes. Then I decided I’d seen all that I wanted to see. I know some people would have wanted to soak up every single minute possible, but I honestly felt like I’d accomplished what I wanted to that day and would rather have a few extra minutes to get settled out of the water. So, Scott swam with me back to the boat, got me on board and I cleaned up while he went back out for more snorkeling.
…and wouldn’t you know it about five minutes after I’d towel dried and was watching from the boat deck, Diver Post Malone yells “shark!” He also put his hand upright from his head like a fin, which I assume is some kind of a signal to the rest of the crew in case no one could hear him. I felt relieved I was up on the boat. I knew that if I had been in the water, Scott would have wanted to swim toward the shark and I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere near it.
So, I watched Scott swim toward Post’s voice and try not to panic. Several other people wanted to swim in that direction now too and it was interesting to see how many people turned the other way. From the top of the boat, I could see everyone bobbing around with their heads down in the water. It was fun to watch the little groupings of people and how everyone had their own technique.
In the next 15 minutes, Diver Post Malone yelled shark a couple more times – I found out later apparently there were two in the water – and the other crew diver noticed another turtle. I could pick out Scott from the other divers with his vest and blue noodle combo, so it was fun to watch where he was going.
Snorkelers started to slowly come back on board throughout the afternoon. A trickle of people joined us every few minutes until everyone was back on the boat. Scott removed his snorkel gear, hopped in for a quick shower rinse and then we settled in a spot on the bottom deck to watch our GoPro footage on the ride home. They set out some leftovers from lunch and fruit for an afternoon snack, which folks gobbled up in about 10 minutes. It took about an hour an half to get back to the dock but seemed to go by pretty fast. We landed, said our thanks and walked by to our car after a full day on the reef.
As far as once-in-a-lifetime experiences go, this one was pretty amazing. I’m glad I got over my initial anxiety and went back out there. Plus, I think we learned a lot of about each other. I always knew that Scott would be calm in a crisis and in this situation he knew just what to do to help me.
But how much did we spend and do we think it was worth it? As I mentioned, we used Book.Me again to buy discounted tickets after quite a bit of research (on Scott’s part). There are so many tour options to choose from that it can really get overwhelming. For the one-day trip with the Divers Den, we spent $150 total for both of us. We saw tours that cost a little less and much more, so after reading lots of reviews we decided to choose something in the middle. I honestly think that’s a bargain for everything included. At approximately $75 a person we got:
- a full day at the reef
- two diving locations
- all equipment included
- buffet lunch and snacks
Plus, going in the offseason really helped. As I mentioned, 46 divers were on board and our crew captain told us they normally have 150 in the busy season. If you’re looking to go snorkeling, I’d highly recommend trying to go in the offseason or shoulder season (February-April). You’ll have to compete with fewer divers in the water and it’ll cost less money.
Do Again or Done?
I’m going to have a complicated answer on this one…
Would I snorkel the Great Barrier Reef again? Probably not. It’s unlikely we’ll be back again soon and I don’t know what kind of condition the reef will be in at that point (you can read more about the threats to the reef on the Great Barrier Reef’s Foundation website).
Would I snorkel again? Yes, I think I’d like to try snorkeling again if we ever make it to the Caribbean. I’ve heard great things from my friends about snorkeling in this area and it sounds like it might be a little tamer too 😂
Have you ever gone snorkeling? What was your experience? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.