Great Barrier Reef & Mission Beach

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
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Trip End Dec 29, 2008


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Where I stayed
The Sanctuary

Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Saturday, April 26, 2008

We toy with the idea of renting a camper van to travel around the state, but in the end we decide upon a Toyota Corolla and head on down to Mission Beach, a small quiet town around 200km south of Cairns, stopping off along the way at antwhere that seems interestin.  The drive along the "Bruce" highway (no kidding!!), is very scenic as we pass through banana and sugar cane plantations which are sandwiched between the beach and the rain forested mountains and we get a taste of how really BIG this country is.  After driving down to Cardwell, an even smaller town, we return to Mission Beach to stay at a motel right next to the beach and what a beach this is!  It is rated as one of Australia's top beaches and yet it is virtually deserted!  We buy some beers and take them down to the beach as the sun sets behind us.  This definitely is the life!

The next day we head off a few miles north of Mission Beach town to our hut in the rainforest at "The Sanctuary" an eco resort set in the hills above the beach.  We park in the car park and phone reception to collect us in their 4WD.  As we drive up the seemingly near vertical hill we can see why they don't recommend that you tackle this with bags!  As we get out the jeep and walk through the public areas we are faced with one of the most amazing views right through the rainforest canopy to the Coral Sea - all for less than the cost of staying in a youth hostel!  Indeed they are part of the "WWOOFERS" scheme - willing workers on organic farms, and it is possible to stay there board and lodging free in return for 5 hours work a day for 6 days a week.  A number of guests seem to be taking this option including a couple of German students and a grandmother from California. All of them have one thing in common - they are either ex or wannabe hippies!

Part of the fun of staying here is the daily 600m trek up and down the hill through the forest to get to our  car or Mission beach itself.  We are constantly on the lookout for Cassowaries, an endangered bird species which is about a metre tall and is like a cross between an Emu and a giant turkey. Whilst we hear them and see their droppings, unfortunately, we never do get to see one.  Probably just as well as they have a reputation for extreme violence and have been known to kill large dogs and wild pigs!

We spend our time here going for very long walks around the rain forest and hill and have seen yet more fantastic scenery, unfortunately, the Australian rainforest, like so many others, is under threat with 80% already having been destroyed, which is part of the reason why the Cassowary and so many other species, are endangered.  It is still possible to buy a piece of rainforest, clear it and build a house in the middle of nowhere.  Some of these places are absolutely fantastic but are obviously not good for the environment.  There is a lot of eco publicity in Australia about the need to protect the environment, but sadly many do not practice what they preach.

After a few days on land we head out for our first sight the Great Barrier Reef and our first scuba diving in  a couple of years.  We are a little apprehensive as it has been so long but we need to get ''dive fit'' for our live aboard trip in a week or so.  Like our Dive master said, it is like riding a bike. You never forget how.  Unfortunately, the consequences of getting it wrong can have a significantly greater impact 30 meters underwater!
We arrive at the jetty early in the morning in plenty of time to get the inflatable boat out to the dive boat, a very nice 21 metre boat.  There are about 30 people on board only 3 of which are certified divers.  The remaining passengers are just out for the cruise, snorkelling or just on "try dives" - where the instructor takes novices through the basics and then literally holds their hands whilst diving to around 5/6 m.

The cruise out to the reef is pleasant and takes about an hour as we are going to a spot on the outer reef. Our first dive is fairly shallow, about 8m but the coral is quite different from other reefs we have seen elsewhere around the world.  We see lots of reef life including giant clams, Christmas tree worms, Nudibranches and lots of Stingrays.  The coral is in OK condition but not as pristine as we expected, perhaps due to global-warming or maybe because of "over-diving" - this is the closest point of the reef to land.  We do however see some spectacular Sea Fans, gigantic Lettuce and Cabbage corals (yes they do look exactly like their names! But are up to 4 metres across!).  Unfortunately we don't get to see the 15ft reef shark which was swimming around just as we anchored the boat.

Our second dive is a bit more challenging in that it is deeper and on the drop off on the outer edge of the reef (on the side of the open ocean), again, we don't get to see any of the big fish we were expecting, but upon our return we do run into all of the try-divers being led around by the instructors - just like an underwater traffic jam.
After a pleasant, if not spectacular, days diving we head off back to land having honed our dive skills in readiness for the live-aboard. We stop on the way back at Dunk Island and have a wander around and look across to Bedarra Island the all-inclusive island favoured by the rich and famous - apparently Brad and Angelina, Bill Clinton and Kylie amongst other have stayed here.  We console ourselves with the fact that whilst we may not be sipping the unlimited vintage Bollinger, we are paying AU$ 65 a night rather than the $1500 per night on Bedarra.  I say to Carolyn, as Aussie beer is really good, who needs french champagne? She quietly, but firmly points out that she does!

After a few days in Mission Beach we head up north to Cape Tribulation. Our attention span these days seems to be 4/5 days in any one place.  We ask ourselves - are we turning into gypsies?
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