Odds and Ends Travels

Ahh, the warmth of Port Douglas…and the Great Barrier Reef

Melbourne is chilly this time of the year (although, as I write this the sun is shining and I am contemplating turning the heater off). So, like many Melbournians, we set off to Port Douglas to find some sun. Actually, the real reason to head north was to celebrate my Mum’s 90th birthday. My whole family went up, rented a house or two, and enjoyed each other’s company for 6 nights. The warmth was an added bonus!

Port Douglas is in Far North Queensland, an hour’s drive north of Cairns. Once upon a time it would have been lovely sleepy fishing village, now it is full of resorts and Melbournians escaping Winter. Even so, it was a lovely place to spend time, and the Daintree Rainforest is only a little way up the road.

And it is right on the Great Barrier Reef, that marvel of nature that curves its way for 2300 kms along the Queensland coast. Unfortunately it is being impacted by climate change and other human activities. David Attenbourgh produced a wonderful series about the Reef and I would recommend watching it. I would also recommend this website that he has created using footage from the series as well as other scientific material.

I could not miss the chance to see a tiny part of the Reef.

We sailed out to Agincourt Reef on the Outer Barrier Reef on a big catamaran. This reef is at the very outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef, where the Continental Shelf drops away to the Pacific Ocean. It is this shallow shelf, only 20 to 30 metres deep, which has given the corals the light and the chance to form. A couple of kilometres from these reefs the sea floor drops away to more than 500 metres. I could see the line of waves breaking on this edge.

I looked into different options to going out to the Reef and this seemed to be the best one to suit both my low snorkelling ability (i.e. non-existent!) and Mum. We needed a way for her to experience the Reef without getting in the water. The catamaran took us out to a pontoon moored permanently on the Reef. They have to adhere to strict guidelines to safe guard the Reef’s biology and beauty.

Our first adventure was on the semi-submersible, which took us for a tour of the coral canyons. How amazing to have the fish swim up to the windows and glide away, to see the sea cucumbers lying on the floor and the giant coral constructions.

Inside the semi-submersible, right under the water (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2016)

I was blown away but the textures of the corals, so many different varieties! The colours weren’t as spectacular as I expected, but there was a lot of turbidity in the water and it wasn’t a sunny day. Both factors made it difficult to photograph, but you can see some of the coral that I found inspiring.

Surprisingly the fish had the most vivid colours. And we saw two turtles! How special was that?!

After floating with the fish it was time to snorkel. I have never snorkelled, and am not a confident swimmer, but I really wanted to see these creatures for my self. So I kitted my self in everything available, including an optical mask as I am very short-sighted, and off I went. I had to consciously remember to breath through my mouth and not panic when my face was under water. Once I had that mastered I was off and it was a magical experience. No photos to show, but if there were I would show you more textures and colours, little fish darting away from me, big fish gliding past and clams! There must have been half a dozen clams, some quite large, in the roped off area where we swam. One had iridescent blue ‘lips’, probably the most intense colour I saw all day.

It was a magical experience, and it has made me more aware of the fragility of the environment. There are many human induced pressures on the Reef, and we must do all we can to protect it. You might like to check out these organisations who are exploring ways to build awareness and are campaigning to protect it from further damage. (I am not endorsing any of these, just giving you links to follow up if you would like to know more.)

The David Attenborough website I mentioned before

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation

Fight for the Reef

The Australian Conservation Foundation


17 replies on “Ahh, the warmth of Port Douglas…and the Great Barrier Reef”

Oooh, one of my favourite things to do. We’re heading up to Cairns on the motorbike in October with a big tent in the trailer, and if time and $$ permit I’ll be wangling for a reef trip. Last time we went out, we were the only ones who didn’t snorkel, which meant we were allowed a glass of wine with lunch and had the glass bottomed boat to ourselves, not to mention not having to wriggle in and out of wet stinger suits… I’ve scuba dived on the reef once, and found that very impressive if you want to see the deeper corals and much more wildlife. Do go back and try it some time if you get the chance. I’m so glad your Mum got a chance to see all of that close up – and a chance to share some of our sunshine 🙂


What a great thing to do. The trip would be magnificent on a bike. Lots of bikes on the highway between Cairns and PD, which was no surprise as it was a beautiful road. Rather like the Great Ocean Road. I would certainly snorkel again, and the Fella is talking about getting some gear of our own. That should include a wetsuit for me, as I have to inch myself into cold water! As for Mum, she loved it, and was so glad she got to see the Reef.


Oh, you just brought back so many memories, we went to Cairns and Bloomfield as part of our honeymoon, went out onto the reef with what sounds like the same company, loved it so much we brought our kids back a few years later 🙂


So pleased to be able to bring back good memories. It is the place that inspires them! I would love to go back but go to a spot where I could spend more time pottering around the Reef. Maybe an island…..


Any recommendations for another place to visit it? I am thinking about an island……One of the research ones would be fascinating, but I don’t suppose they take guests.


I saw that David Attenborough program too! He’s brilliant and gave this land-lubber a real feel for the reef. Sadly, I fear the Reef may already be too damaged to recover. I can’t remember the exact amount of it that is already ‘bleached’ but the figure was huge. 😦


The damage is heartbreaking, and it is overwhelming to think that the Reef may die during our life time. However, there is research going on which shows that if we can get the CO2 emissions down much of the coral can be saved. Then I hear that one of the new One Nation senators doesn’t believe there is any credible data to show humans are impacting on the climate. That makes me very cross.


-nods- We can’t possibly be the cause of the bleaching or the hole in the ozone layer, and the massive increase in asthma could not possibly be because of the polluted air of our cities…. 😦


what a great occasion – your Mum’s 90th – the family around – holiday/sun of course – and GBR – try to remember also it’s not just the Southern Aussies getting away from winter – but many from across the ditch fly the coop to catch some sun – come winter. I wish I could do that – first time typing with a glove on the left hand, ttrying to keep it warm,have a wrist warmer on the right hand… main reason a southerly is hanging around, which means it’s snowing somewhere down south…I’m in the Auckland region…

btw my big sis turned 90 this week as well… yep, I’m the baby a whole 25 years her junior – parents hadn’t expected me!


It was a wonderful time with Mum and the family. One of the delights was to spend good amounts of time chatting to my nieces and nephew, getting to know them more as adults. They are all fantastic people, interesting and curious and compassionate. Congrats on your sister turning 90. I hope she is well and able to be independent.

It has been very cold here too, and I understand why you are writing with a glove on! My friend is leaving this week to ski on the South Island, so she will be enjoying the cold!

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My sister is only vaguely independent – needs a massive amount of help to stay in her own home. She has a DIL close by, and her only Daughter about an hour away. I don’t get to see her much, because basically I’m useless – no car, but I chat with her on the phone about once a week…


Such a dilemma ~ for your sister move out of her house into some form of assisted living, or stay with help. I have an elderly (95 years old) friend who still lives by herself; she is amazingly independent and seems to have no thoughts about moving somewhere else.


Anne, what an amazing trip! We saw an incredible documentary on the impact of warming on the great coral reefs. It was both beautiful and heartbreaking to see the damage. Good for you for braving the waters. Like you, I’m not much of a swimmer and I’m afraid of the water, but I too did a bit of snorkeling in Hawaii and again in the Caribbean, though it has been many years. It’s extraordinary.

I’m so glad you got away to warmer weathers and time with family. Thanks for sharing the links, too.


The time with my family was very special, Alys. I see my Mum frequently, but don’t get to see my nieces and nephews as often. I loved being able to sit and chat to them about their lives.
i agree with you about the reefs, they are in a desperate way. How sad it would be if thenGreat Barrier Reef disappeared in our life time.


I’m so glad you had that time, Anne. Time with family is precious, especially when the gatherings are rare. I hope we can stem the tied of destruction to this planet. It’s good that so many more of us are aware. I shake my head though at the climate change deniers. It does no one any good.


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