The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
29 July 2019
The Great Barrier Reef is not only a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. What’s more, it holds the title of the largest single structure made by living organism in the world, and to cap it all, it can be seen from outer space! Amazing! You will not therefore be surprised that seeing the Great Barrier had to be one of my ‘must see’ when touring Australia.
The Great Barrier Reef is located in Queensland, north west of Australia, and the nearest city is Cairns. The Reef is 2,300 kilometres long and is home to over 7,000 species of marine life.
I booked the visit as part of my mega tour of Australia and the package included the boat ride from the port of Cairns, on a catamaran to the Great Barrier Conservation Reserve on the Outer Reef. The journey was quite smooth and it took about an hour an a half. The catamaran took us to the marine world platform, located on the outer Reef.
Visiting the Great Barrier Reef is big business in Australia and it generates a good income from about two million visitors a year. It is the largest commercial activity in Queensland. So a lot of effort is put into making everything work like clockwork.
As you can see from these photos, I had a great time on the boat. My fellow travellers were great fun. A fellow traveller offered to take a Mollywozhere photo for me but I did not hear her call me as I rummaged through my bag that was placed in between my legs. And when I finally heard her, I looked up and smiled and she took the photo while saying that I had had my legs wide open! So she decided to take another photo and this time asked me to ‘close’ my legs!!! This of course generated a lot of laughter from fellow travellers. I duly complied!
There are lots of experiences on offer such as snorkelling, scuba diving, semi submersible boat ride, whale watching, swimming with the dolphins, helicopter ride. So there is something for everyone depending on which tour you book and where on the coral reef you visit.
I chose to experience the semi submersible and glass-bottomed boat tour. And I decided to skip the snorkelling following reports from fellow travellers about the condition of the coral who confirmed that the corals were dull, grey and lack colour, and that it was too busy to enjoy the snorkelling in the designated area.
I decided to experience the buffet on offer. Nothing special to write about but I must say that there was variety and mostly catered for the Chinese tourists.
Both the glass-bottomed boat and the semi submersible boat had interactive commentary from the Marine guide. He was quite lively and talked enthusiastically about the Reef.
There were fishes and other marine life but these did not look interesting or exciting to see. I had been snorkelling in Hurgada, Red Sea and so I know what a healthy and vibrant coral reef looks like.
Race against time to save the Great Barrier Reef
When you read any of the guide books, or surf the internet, you will find beautiful and colourful images of the Great Barrier Reef and descriptions such as “amazing”, “magical”, “colourful corals” and so on. The reality was far from this. I am sure that there are parts of this vast Reef that are still colourful but the area we visited was not. I was very disappointed and at the same time sad to learn that the Great Barrier Reef was dying. Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing the Great Barrier Reef and other Reefs around the world.
It is estimated that about half of the Great Barrier Reef is dead or dying. The corals rely on algae that live inside their tissue and photosythensising, which gives the corals their colour. When the algae leave or die, a process known as “bleaching” occurs – that is – the corals go pale and dull. That is exactly what I found during my visit.
Every photo I took from whichever angle showed a sad story of colourless and dull corals. It was reassuring to learn that a lot of work is being done by the Australian Government as well as various professionals across the world to save the Coral Reefs before they are lost forever. And no-one wants this in their life time. Tourists are limited to the Great Barrier Reef Conservation Reserve which is a good thing.
Having seen the corals from the boats, I decided to cancel my booking on the helicopter tour which was not cheap. I figured that I probably would not have gained a better insight other than seeing the coral islands from above. The view would have been simply blue and green or a mix of both. So I saved myself the bother and money.
I am sure, like me, you would still want to see the Great Barrier Reef when you are in Cairns. It would be an unforgettably experience. You will come away feeling sad to see the extent of the problem, and perhaps like me, feel angry that the world is not hearing the plea for urgent action to safeguard our planet.
St Monica's Cathedral Church and the Creation Windows
This is something you will not want to miss when you are in Cairns. It is not high profile or popular like the Great Barrier Reef but nonetheless, it is worth seeing. Visiting St Monica’s Cathedral was certainly one of my highlights in Cairns. I was very glad that I took the advice of our tour guide who told us about this little gem. For a cathedral, St Monica didn’t look very impressive from the outside so most people would not skip it. I was glad that I did not skip it. When they say, “don’t judge a book by its cover”, it really was the case here. It was simply breathtaking when you step inside.
There are twenty four stained glass windows (twelve on each side) depicting the story of the creation of the world taken from the Book of Genesis. The first six windows are said to be deliberately designed and painted to be dark. These windows centre on images from deep Space and the beginning of the creation of the world.
“In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep and God’s Spirit hovered over the waters’…. (Genesis 1/6:8)”
The inside of this Cathedral is simple, modern and minimalist. The windows are beautifully lit by the sunshine from the outside. I just stood there in awe, mouth wide open and wanting to speak but nothing came out. I was glad I was alone in the church. I looked around me and saw a table with leaflets of the windows, laid out in sequence and I wondered whether or not I should or allowed to take one when a woman seemed to have appeared from nowhere. She came over to me and asked if I was ok. I asked her if I could take one of the leaflets as souvenirs and she encouraged me to take as many as I liked or wanted. And to put contribution in the box placed by the the leaflets, which I did. She said people were no longer interested in the prints/leaflets since the advent of digital cameras and mobile phones. Even at the time, it didn’t occur to me to take photos with my camera or iPhone that I had with me. I was just in awe of the place. What raced through my mind when I saw the leaflets was giving them out as small souvenirs on my return to the U.K and making a collage of photos with the prints. I must confess that I have done neither.
As I had not taken any photos while I was in the Cathedral, so as to show you the stained glass windows, I took a photo of the prints that I had taken from the Cathedral. Of course, these are not as good as seeing them in real life.
I would recommend you visit St Monica’s Cathedral Church if you are in Cairns. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the beauty of this church and its stained glass windows. You will be blown away by it.
One of the things I liked about the stained glass windows, compared to others in various churches and cathedrals around the world, was that this told a story. And you are able to follow it. Yes, I agree that the story about the creation of the world was an interpretation of the designers and makers (Gerry Cummins and Jill Stehn), nevertheless it was a beautiful and meaningful and very well done.
Bats in Cairn’s City Centre
Now seeing bats on trees on the high street in Cairns city centre was most unexpected! I have never, ever seen bats and there they were in the trees, upside down, not just one but hundreds of them. People passed by, going about their business, without noticing them. They appeared to have become part of the norm. Even tourists didn’t notice them; the bats just blended with the surroundings, except when they are about to go hunting for food and leave the trees. Then you will hear them. Even then, people did not hear or notice them! Unbelievable. It is strange how we take very little notice of our surroundings – people rarely look up or down!!!
Taking a stroll along the Esplanade
The Esplanade is a three kilometres stretch of tree lined paved area facing the City’s foreshore where you can people watch, take a gentle stroll and pass the time. There are course several places to eat, relax on grass and underneath trees for shade or have dip in the saltwater lagoon located at the city centre end of the Esplanade. I enjoyed the walk in early evening when the sun had set and it was cooler. You will too.