The Great Barrier Reef (Hug a fish edition)

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Hi from Airlie Beach! Got in last night, had a lovely dinner with Whitsundays Tourism, (follow them!) and was asleep before I could close my hotel door. Woke up at the crack of dawn this morning (I think all Australian people are in such great shape because they all wake up at 5am) to catch a bus to Chute Harbor, and the Fantasea Great Barrier Reef cruise/snorkeling/adventure/day.

Got to the boat by 7:45, and was quickly ushered on, and given some motion-sickness tablets. Last time I was on a boat, I declined them. Never. Again. Popped them like they were crack rocks and I was 30 minutes out of rehab. Hey, I don’t even watch “Deadliest Catch” on TV. I was now about to live it. Damn RIGHT I’m popping some pills.

The boat ride to the GBR was a little over two hours – The Fantasea boat is a gorgeous vessel, could fit upwards of 400 people on it, I found out. The second we got on, they had toast, coffee, tea, ice water, you name it. Once we were underway, they brought out little quiches, brownies, tons of snackies. All good stuff.

Probably the highlight of the morning was checking in on FourSquare, thus allowing me to obtain the coveted “I’M ON A BOAT!” badge.

As we left the relative safety of the harbor and made our way into the openness of the Coral Sea, I said goodbye to my Blackberry, and put it away for eight whole hours! My mom emailed me back before I shut it down – “Good – Have fun, be safe, and hug a fish.” I love my mom. But seriously – eight whole hours! I’m getting good!

I said a personal “thank you” to my 30-minutes-ago self for popping those sea sickness pills. The water was ROUGH. The sick-bags came out, and a good portion of the passengers partook. Not me! By focusing straight ahead for 45 minutes and not moving an inch, I made it through! At one point, the sun came out as we were flying through the waves at 28 knots. The person next to me said “The sun’s out!” To which I replied “to mock us in our nausea.”

As we slowed down and got closer to the reef, a brief demo on how to use snorkels and masks took place. I kind of equated it to the seatbelt show on an aircraft – do people really not know how to put a mask on? Either way, the stellar crew of the Fantasea made it funny, if nothing else.

And you put it on with the glass facing the front!

And you put it on with the glass facing the front!

As soon as the boat pulled up to the Fantasea launch, it was clear there was a ton of stuff to do. Snorkeling, Scuba if you were certified, sun bathing, a massive BBQ, even a helicopter ride! It was like a giant flotilla of fun in the middle of the ocean!

This ain't Seaworld, this is as real as it gets/I'm on a boat, MF'er, don't you ever forget!

This ain’t Seaworld, this is as real as it gets/I’m on a boat, MF’er, don’t you ever forget!

Here’s a specifically cool part – You know how, when you go on vacations, you go do sea adventures or whatever, and everyone who’s running it is obviously just doing it because it’s a summer job, or because they can get away with doing the least amount of work possible? Like, places in the Caribbean – you go jet-skiing, they give you a jet-ski and just point to the water?

Not here. I got a private snorkel tour of the Reef by one of the “reef translators” – And get this – HE’S A MARINE BIOLOGIST!

He was pointing out fish – pointing out coral – explaining the difference between soft and hard coral (one is soft, one is hard, I kid you not) and other facts that blew me away. These guys KNEW THEIR STUFF. I actually learned stuff! Of course, I asked some questions.

“What kind of coral is that?””It’s a (Whatever he said that I’ve already forgotten) coral.This went on until I saw something long and stringy in the water.”What’s that over there?””That’s a piece of string, Peter.””Oh.”

Ignoring the bright pink sting-protection suit we all had to wear, here’s me trying in vain to hug a fish.

Life is just better... Down where it's wetter.. Take it from me!

Life is just better… Down where it’s wetter.. Take it from me!

Snorkeled for about an hour or so, got back on the boat. Had some lunch, relaxed for a bit, then I was invited to take a ten minute helicopter tour of other parts of the Reef, including the Heart Reef!

Playing with the Reef of Hearts...

Playing with the Reef of Hearts…

The GBR is actually over 2,700 reefs!

The GBR is actually over 2,700 reefs!

American Chopper

American (in a) Chopper

Standing behind HARO Force 1

Standing behind HARO Force 1

Back on the boat, we chilled for a bit more, until it was time to go. Got a chance to speak with the Captain and several of the crew, finding out how much they all love their jobs. Hell, the Great Barrier Reef is their office – how bad can it be?

The crew of the Fantasea, obviously miserable in their jobs.

The crew of the Fantasea, obviously miserable in their jobs.

As we were heading back, I got yet another thrill – I got to experience what a boat captain does all day. Who knew!

Oh Captain my... Wait. Who the hell are you?

Oh Captain my… Wait. Who the hell are you?

As we headed back to shore, I had one last thrill for the day – The brilliant people at Tourism Whitsundays had heard a rumor that I wanted to hug a Koala. Sure enough, I was escorted off the boat at one of the island stops – Hamilton Island, and taken to the Koala Gallery! It’s a Koala refuge and sanctuary, right on the island! They were closed, and I got an after-hours visit – And that’s where I fell in love with a Koala named Waldo.

I will love him and kiss him and call him George.

I will love him and kiss him and call him George.

Finally – For those who know about Karma and NASA, you know that Karma is the smart older-sister-cat, and NASA is the sort of… short-bus, challenged younger brother. Here’s a photo of what NASA would look like if he were a Koala. This Koala was climbing a tree, and decided to fall asleep, mid-climb.

Just a little more to climb and I'll... Zzzzz...

Just a little more to climb and I’ll… Zzzzz…

More tomorrow, when I land in Brisbane!

PS: Here’s a clean version of T-Pain’s “I’M ON A BOAT!” referenced many times in this post.

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