I remember the first time that I had an opportunity to snorkel on the great barrier reef. I was in graduate school in Australia getting my masters of law and my roommate, his girlfriend and I decided that we were going to take a trip up to Cairns so I could see the reef. At this point in my life, I assumed that this would be my only trip as it was a “once in a lifetime event.” From our hotel in Trinity Beach, we rode the tour group’s bus to Cairns proper and the docks. It was a calm morning, though it looked like there was rain on the horizon. Since we were leaving early, the aqua blue waters of cairns were an inky black as the sun had not illuminated the waves. During the ride out, we hit that little bit of rain, but once it passed it became another beautiful North Australia day.
When we arrived at the reef, it was calm water as far as the eye could see. Occasionally, when there was a large swell, the trough would expose a bit of the reef, just enough to have you wondering about the majesty that lay below the waves. After a short safety seminar, we went into the water. I was the goofy American who asked for a float to swim, but it paid off in the end because I stayed out the full three hours while those “good swimmers” got tired and returned to the boat to rest. I always recommend a floatation device when snorkeling, if for nothing but the reason of safety. My first time in the reef made me never want to leave. It was amazing, the vibrant colors of the reef, mixed with the palate of the wildlife was a sight to behold. I am a person who can stay in the water forever, and when the boat sounded the horn to return, the three hours felt like I had been in the water only a few minutes. They say there is nothing like the first time, and in the case of diving the GBR, that statement is true.
The most recent time that I went to the GBR, it was not a solo trip. I was faculty for a class of 13 students who were on an experiential learning trip. As a key focus of the trip was environmentalism, the GBR was one of the key events on our six-week excursion (if anyone is interested in their child going on such a trip, I still do them from time to time, contact me via the magazine). Though the magic of the reef was not lost, it was not the same as the first time. Bleaching has taken its toll on the reef. One of the locations we visited was a dying part of the reef. Broken stag’s horn coral was pushed around by the waves as other types of coral struggled to survive in the lukewarm water. The guide company had asked us to grab any plastic we saw, in an effort to keep the reef clean, which is why I recommend them (the boat name is Passions of Paradise, a maxi-catamaran). The second location was a vibrant part of the reef that was still healthy, the way the company mixed the dying reef and the thriving reef really hit home for the students how this is a living organism that needs to be protected. Both trips had their charm, but I would love to go back to a time when the whole reef was healthy.
Solo snorkeling the reef, even if you are part of a group is a great exploration high. Even if you are not the first person to see a given area of the reef, you are the only person in the world that is seeing that exact moment in time form that perspective. This is why solo snorkeling is so amazing, that moment belongs to you. While each moment in your life technically belongs to you, which makes a better story- sitting in an office hearing the 24th telemarketer call of the day asking you to “protect your Google listing” or seeing what you thought was a flower on the reef, pull back within itself because something swam close to it? Given the choice, I will always select the later; I would guess most who are reading this would do the same. This is why solo snorkeling is so amazing, it is a private adventure which you do not have to share with anyone.
Three can’t miss events that you should try on your recovery day after diving are:
- Kuranda Village- a great little shopping spot where you can get souvenirs;
- Tully River Rafting- This is a great way to see parts of the rainforest you cannot see anywhere else;
- The Beaches of Trinity Beach- there is some great swimming and fishing near the hotel.
Even if you are just scheduling a trip to snorkel or dive, having a few other fun activities can make the trip a memorable story you can share.
About the Author
Dr. Smithmyer is the Vice President of International Affairs for Brāv Online Conflict Management, an international consortium of conflict resolution professionals. Dr. Smithmyer is also a columnist for NRN doing mostly political and international business columns. When Dr. Smithmyer is not working with people to make the world a better place, he enjoys snorkeling the waters of the world.
Dr. Smithmyer has traveled extensively in the United States, Australia, Vietnam, and the Bahamas. He has also presented in the U.K., India, Brazil, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. Dr. Smithmyer is one of the most lettered men in the world with nine degrees. As an adjunct professor in his spare time, Dr. Smithmyer uses his business experience and travels to help bring the world to his students and even brings the students to the world through experiential learning trips.
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