Wonder. Amazement. Gratitude. Beauty. How can you sum up the Great Barrier Reef? Simply, you can’t.
We woke early to drive from Mackay to Airlie Beach, only to find the Bruce shrouded in a thick morning mist. Imagine – the temp is mid-to-high twenties, the road ghostly empty (yes, it’s too early for Grey Nomads). The sugarcane remains still in the soft morning air, craggy green mountains phase in and out of sight as the morning mist slowly beats across this northern land. Sugarcane train tracks lattice across the plains, like silver ribbon wrapped around a present of yellowgreen.
Eight months ago, Cyclone Debbie ravaged this part of the coast. The cyclone has very much passed, Debbie’s destruction remains. Temporary fences surround properties from Proserpine, Cannonvale and Airlie Beach. Men in hi-vis workwear mule around the Port of Airlie awaiting their transport to various Whitsunday Islands, part of the reconstruction efforts. Despite the angry weather, the Whitsundays remain stoic, and forge ahead.
It takes three hours to get to Hart Reef, stopping at Hamilton Island. Sharing our horseshoe seat is a family from Shanghai and a mother and daughter from Melbourne. Both groups are spending the day at Hamilton, and we exchange stories from our respective homelands. My newfound friend from Shanghai goes by the name of Dennis, his wife and 3 year old daughter remain nameless but happy to smile during conversation. We talk about the beauty of north Queensland, and Dennis explains the official government policy of China was not to install heating in homes below a certain parallel. I ponder my privilege, wondering what it would be like living under communist rule, having a choice of how I heat my home dictated by government policy. The three year old wriggles like a fish and spills all our coffee, smiles abound when we share a wipe to clean it out. Our Melbourne friends wax lyrical about how wonderful Melbourne is, trying to make ‘4 seasons in one day’ sound like a good thing. I politely tell them that Brisbane is full and horrible, and never visit. Ever.
Our Chinese and Melbourne friends alight at Hamilton Island, and we are joined by a big family group who invite the kids to play Uno with them.
After a very quick three hours, we make it. We’ve arrived at the reef.
Blues and rich turquoise surrounds us. The sea is gentle, warm and inviting. We are encouraged to wear stinger suits. To the uninitiated, stinger suits primarily prevent being stung by one of the many nasties here on the reef. In all reality, they only look really good one one type of person, and sadly, I’m not one of them.
We suit up and Zoe is off! She is immediately immersed into a new world, loving every second of it. Eli takes considerable encouragement, but eventually he enjoys some time in the water. The fish – amazing. Hundreds, of all colours and shapes. Darting, floating, in schools and solo. The groper lazes around the edge of the reef, unperturbed by panicking scuba divers or underwater photographers. We spend hours in the water, marveling at the beauty under the surface.
The trip back to Airlie is just as relaxing. I perch on the upper deck, surrounded by sunshine and the gorgeous Whitsunday Islands. Yachts sway lazily, tourists rest back, basking in the glorious afternoon sun. The stoic islands stand beautifully in the bay of blue. I relish with the wind on my face and sun on my skin.
It’s almost impossible to describe the reef. The shades of blue. The schools of fish. The beauty. The solitude. We had a perfect day out on the reef, and the contrast with the recovering Airlie Beach couldn’t have been more stark. This beautiful tourist town, it’s main street a patchwork of open and boarded up shops. Bars slowly filling with an early evening crowd, boutiques, cafes and trees filled with fairy lights dot the strip.
On the drive home I listen to Paul Simon’s Graceland, and ponder on how blessed I am. How blessed I am to live in this beautiful country, in this amazing state. How I’m just over a days drive away from this natural wonder, this awe-inspiring coastline filled with the beauty of the Lord’s creation. How blessed I am to live in a mostly free country, how I didn’t have to travel half way across the world to visit this stunning place.
We pass Proserpine, the stunning lights of the sugar refinery a sweet reminder of this beautiful place on our way back to Mackay.
Today has been beautiful, and the highlight of the holiday so far.