I will admit, I know I am a lucky person. I have a great husband and wonderful children who make me proud every day, and I have a job I like most days. It has provided well for my family. I live on a lake, where I fall asleep at night to the sound of loons, and I can Kayak or Jet Ski off any stress at the end of a work day. Being surrounded by nature and water leads to a calming and happy atmosphere in my everyday life, but sometimes there comes along a day which exceeds our dreams and expectations in life.
I can think of many such days over the years, but recently I had what I would consider a day to remember all of my life. It was a day that exceeded my expectations of life.
My husband and I went on an adventure to Australia and New Zealand to celebrate and appropriately mark our 30 year anniversary. We got back a week ago, so this is fresh in the memory books. Part of our adventure led us to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
I loved water growing up, swimming and water skiing, and now living on a lake, and I have always loved the ocean even though I live in Minnesota and could not be farther from any ocean. My fascination with the oceans may have begun with Jacques Cousteau, a Frenchman who was an explorer and scientist, and who studied the oceans of our planet. He had a TV series through National Geographic back in the 1960’s and 1970’s. His shows featured colorful underwater video of fish, sharks and dolphins from all over the world. He and his divers perfected deep diving and spent hours under the surface. I watched every show he made from his exploration vessel the Calypso, but my favorites were always the shows involving the Great Barrier Reef.
He moved from show to show studying a particular area or a particular species of sea life, and created a curiosity and a passion in a young farm girl from Minnesota, wondering what the worlds oceans had to offer. I remember pretending our lakes were the ocean and pretending to dive and explore. I was excited when I was lucky enough to see some of the pan fish in our Minnesota lakes as I swam in our clear but cold waters.
I watched Cousteau intently each week and longed to dive or snorkel and see the beauty of the reef for myself. Over the years I have traveled to the Caribbean and Hawaii, and both the East and West coasts of America to swim in the oceans. About 10 years ago I was certified in Scuba diving and went diving in Mexico, and even in some Minnesota lakes.
It was a dream come true. However, the Great Barrier reef was still on the other side of the world, unexplored by me. I had not been lucky enough to be able to travel to see the Reef of all Reefs. This was the Reef that made Jacques Cousteau famous and the reef that I longed to explore since I was a young child, watching intently as Jacques took us along on his diving adventures — until now.
Joe and I started our adventure to Australia with about 19 hours of flying time. A marathon in travel for sure, but all went well and with some napping, movies and reading we were soon landing. Our first day by the Great Barrier Reef started at our lovely resort on the north beaches just outside of Cairns, Australia.
The weather was sunny and 95 degrees in the morning as we woke up in our jungle lodge, tucked into the palms along the yellow sandy beaches of the Coral Sea. We were picked up by van at 7:00 a.m, armed with our gear for the day, as we were off to catch the boat for a reef trip to explore multiple reefs.
We also booked a helicopter ride back over the reef at the end of the day to see the reef from the air as well. We boarded a beautiful reef tour boat called the Evolution, which was new and had only been used for the last two months. It was equipped with stairs in the back to make access to the water very easy for anyone, at any ability level. It held a lot of guests maybe 200 or so, but it was well equipped to handle the crowds and the crew was fun, experienced, organized and helpful.
The trip to the first reef would take about an hour, and during that time the crew fed everyone muffins and coffee and fitted everyone for snorkel and dive gear. They reassured apprehensive newcomers to snorkeling, and they assisted anyone who needed it by offering guided tours and a buddy to swim with for anyone who needed a little confidence booster. I was so ready for the reef, and Joe and I have snorkeled all over, including our own lake, so we needed no assistance and we were ready to explore the reef as soon as the boat was in position and the stairs lowered for access.
We were armed with our underwater camera, and I felt as if I had been ready for this for 40 years or more. Now I have to admit, I built up the beauty of this reef all throughout my life, and I was a little apprehensive that I may be disappointed, but as we entered the water for the first time on the reef, my fears were immediately dispelled.
I saw corals in pinks and cobalt blue, and fish as orange as the setting sun. It was almost overwhelming at first and I had to just lay flat on the water and just look around in one area to take it all in. The more you stayed in place the more you observed and saw happening before your very eyes. The activity of the multitude of different kinds of fish and sea life was unbelievable. Every color and size of fish, small fish clinging to large fish, one fish the size of a small child and so colorful it looked like a cartoon, and coral the size of tree branches. I was looking at things I had seen only in movies and on TV, and as I moved around slowly exploring and taking it in, the phrase I had heard Jacques Cousteau repeatedly say more than 40 years ago came to me over and over.
He used to say that the reef was “teeming with life.” There is no better way to describe it. Even though we explored that particular area of the reef for about three hours, and then moved to a different area reef for another four hours, we kept finding and seeing new things.
On this trip we spent a week on different boat trips to the outer and inner reefs and a few days on Green Island which is right on the Great Barrier Reef. On Green Island we could snorkel right from the beach and see different reefs. Each time we saw new things my excitement and enthusiasm increased even more. We saw sharks and sting rays, and we saw a jelly fish and many sea turtles. The sea life did not seem the least bit afraid or concerned that we were swimming with them. They went about their business as if we were a part of their big world. That made the experience, for me, even better. I felt like a part of something much bigger in our world.
I could not get enough of the beauty; I was like a starving person in search of food. I could not stop myself. I just kept exploring and swimming and taking pictures, hoping to grasp enough memories for a lifetime of living in the middle of a continent and not on the seashore. In hours spent on a reef I spent little time on the boats or land. I would only come in occasionally to wash the salt water taste from my mouth with juice and obtain more energy to move on. We were there for a week, but no matter what time we would have spent, it would not be enough. The Reef did not disappoint, as I had worried. It was even more spectacular than could be captured in the films and photos I had seen before.
The first day on the Great Barrier Reef ended with a helicopter ride over the reef to see it from the air. The day was as perfect as one could ever hope for in a lifetime. As we flew over the reef, I was lucky enough to get the copilot seat for the best views possible. The waters of the Coral Sea in its deep blues and aqua hues glimmered in the sun as we made our way along reefs visible from the air over the crystal clear waters. I cannot imagine a more perfect day, and I will remember and cherish these memories for my entire life.
What started as a curiosity as a young child watching the movies made from the Calypso, turned into a lifetime passion to see for myself, the beauty of our oceans and to appreciate the rich life forces at work everyday so many miles from our work a day life. My passion to see more of our great planet is enhanced by such perfect days when traveling. As Jacques Cousteau so eloquently put it many years ago, “the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” No truer words were ever spoken.
I have been lucky enough to have a lot of great days in my lifetime, but seeing and experiencing the Great Barrier Reef for the first time, after a lifetime of dreaming about it, led to a most perfect day that I will cherish forever. Travel provides and maintains the mystery and keeps alive the childlike wonder in all of us and is essential for a full and fun life. Never set aside your childhood passions and curiosity. Pursue beauty on this planet at every opportunity and relish every perfect day.