Great Barrier Reef: Smurfs on holiday

As we all know, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the wonders of the natural world. What they don’t tell you at school, or in the travel programmes is that you can get pretty darn sea sick there.

You can’t say we weren’t prepared… we planned thoroughly. We researched which boat to go for – modern (more stable), a catamaran (more stable), and a boat that moored onto a pontoon (to allow us to get off the boat). We researched “stinger suits” – which are basically lycra suits that cover every inch of skin on the body except the face, in order to protect against jellyfish stings. The Irukandji jellyfish is found off this part of Australia, and it is extremely poisonous – a sting can hospitalise someone and even kill them. A guy we spoke to in Cairns said it is rare for someone to be stung by one, but someone was stung around 6 weeks ago and he said he didn’t know a person could scream that loud. So being a wimp, and not wanting to die, I opted for full stinger suit protection. We were prepared in every way – sun cream, stinger suits, and boat research done. So did it pay off?

Not at all. I felt sick by the time the boat got out to the reef – which took around 2 hours. I was relieved when we reached the pontoon, as it was an opportunity to get out of the boat. That should help… right? No. The pontoon was rocking up and down just as much as the boat was, except they were not moving in harmony, so when the boat rocked up, the pontoon went down. So watching them moving around like two crazy things was enough to make you feel even more queasy.

However, the snorkelling on the reef was amazing, and we enjoyed seeing lots of types of coral and fish. But it wasn’t as vibrant as I had expected. The photos always show brightly coloured fish and a multi-coloured landscape. But the colours were more muted than I expected. Maybe we went to a touristy area and the corals have been damaged or bleached, I don’t know.

The buffet lunch provided was excellent… although I just had a couple of bites of lasagne. My boyfriend tucked into the buffet properly but all I could do was lie down and try not to be sick. I am still gutted that I went to an all-inclusive buffet and couldn’t eat any of it!!

It is a shame that I spent so much of the day – pretty much all of it – lying on my back trying not to be sick, and feeling terrible. I did see the reef, but obviously feeling ill does take the shine off the experience a bit! Needless to say, I was glad to see the lovely harbour of Cairns (and dry land) at the end of the day.

So… what would I recommend to anyone going there?

  1. The Great Barrier Reef is fabulous – Go!
  2. If you are prone to sea sickness, don’t go on a tour that involves being on a boat all day. It’s a long day – we were at sea for 8 hours (2 hours out, 4 hours there, 2 hours back, or similar). Instead, go on a tour that stops off on an Island. There was one tour where the boat stops at Green Island for lunch. Even a few hours on dry land with the ground not moving would have helped me a lot.
  3. Consider taking sea sickness pills before you leave land. I think these need to be taken in advance.
  4. Consider renting stinger suits for the reasons above. They can normally be rented on the boats for about $6 AUD, but check when booking the tour. Also, you may need to pay a deposit in order to rent a stinger suit. We were not told this in advance so we turned up on the morning of the trip without much cash. Most of the stinger suits are bright blue so you will need to reconcile yourself with the fact that you will spend the day at one of the wonders of the world effectively dressed as a smurf.
  5. Lastly, we were told that men with moustaches or beards may not be able to snorkel or scuba dive as the hair would break the seal around the mask. If you turned up with facial hair on your face then you had the option of smearing Vaseline on your moustache to keep the mask air-tight. That is the kind of thing I would NEVER have thought of beforehand!

Next Blog: Tokyo, Japan

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