Travel experiences

Moments in Australia: the Great Barrier Reef, close and personal

The trip to Whitsunday Islands, a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, begins after a few days in Sydney with detailed information about the flight in the waiting area. Is this a news channel?! Never before have I listened to such a comprehensive monologue regarding the flight, the weather, and everything related. Impressive!

The thought of spending a  few days in the humid, tropical climate of Queensland, already excites me and teases the adventurer in me.

Where is the sun? Why are clouds hiding the turquoise water, and, wait, is it raining?! It’s not the wet season! Busy with my confused thoughts, I am trying to peek between the clouds as we are landing on Hamilton Island. Even the brisk views of electric blue water bits are enough to forget about the unexpected weather. The stripe of land on which we land is so tiny that I get the feeling we are landing on water.

Complimentary hotel transportation, waiting half an hour for the vehicle to fill up, and we are in paradise. For real! Minivans in Australia have an external trunk for luggage – something I have not seen anywhere else and find intriguing.

Barely left the luggage in our home for the next few days, we are greeted by a yellow-crested cockatoo on the balcony. We find this amusing, exotic, extraordinary. However, the poor bird is considered a pest in Australia and we are careful not to let it in. A warning sign informs about the consequences if anyone feeds or lets the bird inside the apartments. Later we will see a flock of 5-6 cockatoos confidently landing on neighboring balconies.


Hiking in paradise

Hiking has become a favorite activity of ours during trips. Whenever possible, we always go on a hike to explore the area from a different point of view.

Hamilton Island has several well-maintained hiking paths, enough to keep one’s body and mind active for a whole day. No question about it, we will hike all of them. A recent cyclone has destroyed some parts of the paths, however, this unfortunate event doesn’t spoil the experience.

We find a warning sign to bring and drink enough water, a fountain with drinkable water, and a route map with photos of spectacular viewpoints by the hike entrance. Steep terrains, the need to be fit, etc. – all similar warnings usually exaggerate a little bit. It sounds scarier than it is.

Humidity, not terrain, exhausts me quickly. Birds sing in the black tree branches and wild kangaroos vanish in the bushes before you know it. A usual sight on Hamilton Island are mobs of scared kangaroos to maw the green lawns in front of hotels.

The sun reaches its zenith around noon – perfect timing for the steepest hike. Steep wooden steps, a few other hikers politely greeting on their way down, and all the sweat was not in vain: we are rewarded with otherworldly views of scattered in the bluest of waters uninhabited islands.

Soon we realize we are all alone in the tropical bush. There are no more fellow hikers around. Did they give up? Probably not everyone is interested in exploring everything.

Deserted beaches, lonely dirt roads, the cry of exotic birds well disguised among the trees. The vastness of Australia is immensely beautiful and it sparks so much joy in me!

Whitehaven Beach, considered one of the best beaches in the world, offers a more relaxed hiking experience. Sand like powdered sugar reflects the powerful tropical sun. We rush for the bush shade and discover new amazing views to marvel at.


A glimpse of the Great Barrier Reef

Traveler’s dilemma: which part of the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef, to explore? The reefs around Cairns in the north, Whitsunday Islands in the middle or the Southern Great Barrier Reef? In an ideal world where time and other constraints don’t exist, I would go for all of them. In reality, we choose to spend a few days on the Whitsunday Islands, famous for one of the best beaches in the world and to visit the Daintree Rainforest in North Queensland. As I find out, the aquatic activities are different and more diverse around Cairns.

A promise for clear skies and warm water – the perfect setting for visiting the Reef. Two hours later the ferry arrives at a pontoon, a floating platform which offers activities for both divers and non-divers: snorkeling, a sea observatory, and even a semi-submersible boat to explore the Reef. For a non-swimmer like me to see the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet is essential. The turquoise rings of the Reef are mesmerizing and spotting them for the first time when arriving is an experience which I’ll always treasure.

We ride the semi-submersible boat a few times and every time we encounter different fish species. This part of the Reef looks pale, only a few vein-like blue corals stand out. We are quickly informed that the Reef is healthy and those colorful photos we all have seen are photoshopped. I have a hard time believing this – I’ve seen photos and videos of the Great Barrier Reef and I’ve always been amazed by its vivid colors.

After an entire day on the Reef, we sail away happy and longing for more. The Great Barrier Reef is so enchanting that no number of visits is ever enough.


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