Great Barrier Reef Cruise
February 26 – March 5, 2017 – Sun Princess
I am having a ball one interacting with the locals! This cruise is filled with Aussies. Americans are a small minority among the passengers. Breakfasting with a lovely, jolly Aussie lady our first morning onboard, I told her how much I have been enjoying Australians. She, likewise, compliments Californians. Her assessment of Californians is that we are fun loving, friendly, broad minded and are not like the Brits “who can be such whinging POMEs”. Whinging POMEs?! I never heard the term.! With devilish satisfaction she is happy to enlighten me, as she is especially knowledgeable of the subject, having been married to one for many, many years. POME , she explains is a negative term for an English immigrant to Australia, allegedly it stands for “Prisoners of Mother England”. It refers back to the original English immigrants who were mostly prisoners. The whinging bit means complaining or whining. (She said, “You know how the pommys like to complain and see the worst in things?”) She has such delight in telling me how her husband was really a ten pound POME. (He is sitting next to her and smiles at her kindly, as only a nice fellow who has heard this story before would do.)
She says that when her husband was a lad, Australia would offer very low travel fares for British to immigrate, if they had skills that were needed and they were “desirable”. The fares were as low as ten pounds British sterling. She tells me that they actually stipulated that only white people were sent and that they even preferred blue eyed English over everyone else! She had British ancestry, but her family has been in Australia for several generations.
I looked up these terms, POME, POHM and pommy. There is some disagreement as to whether pommy comes from Prisoners of Mother England, Property of Her Majesty or from pomegranate (due to the ruddy red faces of the English when they arrive to be sunburned in Australia). Whatever the origins, it was a fun story.
A very strange but entertaining port guide gives an onboard talk about what to expect in Airlie Beach, our first port. Many of us are here to see the Great Barrier Reef and she gives some interesting information. It is over 1,000 miles long, larger than the U.K., largest living thing on earth. This is where we will be going.
In the town of Airlie Beach there is NO swimming in ocean water, they have a man made lagoon with changing rooms if you need a dip. Crocs and jellies are in the water! The port lecturer is so nonchalant that this discussion reminds me of comment made by Segway tour leader several days ago. At the Currumbin wildlife sanctuary crocs sometimes get “special treats”. When a kangaroo in the park dies, they feed it to the crocs. Upon seeing the horrified look on my face the Segway guide followed with a somewhat apologetic, “You know circle of life and all”. They don’t do it in front of the guests though. Seems to me that the Aussies have a relaxed attitude about living with so many things that can kill them.
Some people will go into the rainforest. This rainforest is oldest on earth, 100 million years old, the Amazon is only 10 million! She tells us of another Australian animal that can kill you, which is in the rainforest. We saw one from a distance at the wildlife sanctuary recently, it’s the cassowary. This huge bird has 4″ sharp claws can eviscerate enemies. It’s sort of a cross between an ostrich and a velociraptor. It can live to 50 years old and it’s endangered. Many are killed on roadways.
Airlie Beach, Australia
The Great Barrier Reef
Before we even start out, we are warned several times that it will be rough and they supply sea sickness pills on the boat. Though I’ve never been sea sick, both Barry and I take them. It’s a bumpy two hour catamaran ride from Airlie Beach, past some Whitsunday Islands to a section of the Great Barrier Reef where we will tie up to a huge pontoon to go snorkeling. The pontoon is really interesting. It’s really large, anchored at the reef, includes an underwater viewing area, has a glass bottom boat, changing rooms, as well as stinger suits and equipment for at least 75 people.
We put on the stinger suits. They are lighter than wetsuits, but are very similar. They tell us that there isn’t much chance that we’ll run into any “blueies”, the deadliest of the jellyfish, but we could get a nasty sting from other very small jellyfish.
Trying to push back all thought of jellyfish and sharks from my consciousness, I climb down to the diving platform and into the pleasant water. I have to admit to huge expectations, and I was a little disappointed by the lack of clarity on the water and the bleached white and brown coral. However, the fishes do not disappoint! They are plentiful and colorful and it’s just transcends description to be in the water. Barry and I spend the day in and out of the water, enjoying this wonderful opportunity. The dive supervisor explains to me, before I go in for my first afternoon swim, that the coral bleaching is natural and normal for this time of year. She says it is t a result of pollution.
It’s another bumpy ride back for two hours and we don’t have time to see the town of Airlie Beach. I don’t need another tee shirt anyway.
We are onboard the Reef magic II (Wonder what happened to Reef Magic I?). Today’s catamaran ride is rougher still. (I didn’t take any seasick pills today, I think they made me sleepy yesterday). There is no outside seating in bow, so rode the waves on the deck on the stern. It is exhilarating to bump up and down on the water, the wind is whipping all around me, sea spray making my hair wild and I hear myself laughing aloud. Just glorious! A very few other ladies, fellow sea witches, are outside near me. We are all, the coven, grinning from ear to ear, celebrating this moment.
Several poor souls, mostly men, are throwing up and looking miserable. Barry was queasy and went to the poop deck (the bottom level at the stern. Watching green faced people stumbling past him to grab rails and puke didn’t help him to feel more refreshed. He went back to our seat inside and just kept breathing. One especially menacing, heavily tattooed fellow spent the whole day with his head in his hands or puking into a sick bag. I don’t think that he even got into the water. That is tragic!
The stinger suits have hoods and gloves this time. We are assured again today that the deadliest jellyfish (maybe the blue bottles aka “bluies”) are not in these waters. However, the sting from some of some very small, barely visible jellyfish around here can be very painful, though rarely fatal. (This conversation brings to mind a part in the Bryson book in which he retells a story of a poor swimmer who was strung by a small jellyfish, the type I’d don’t recall. Bryson said that emergency personnel arrived to find the patient screaming in agony from the pain of the sting. The unfortunate soul was then heavily sedated, but chillingly, continued to whimper and cry out. Oh. Shit!
The dive supervisor also assures me that the over one hundred (!) varies of sharks that we could see will not bother us. She says there are so many fish that the sharks enjoy eating on reef that they won’t bother with us. Mmm, comforting.
Once in the water, all this is forgotten. The underwater visibility is much better than yesterday. The coral more colorful and the fish just as plentiful. We are so glad that we came out a second day. We see countless fishes, sea slugs and a green sea turtle. The weather temperature is warm, but not uncomfortable, considering we are covered completely with the stinger suit. After an hour or two In the water, I enjoyed a really nice chicken curry lunch. There was plenty for seconds, since so many people were either too sick to eat or too queasy to risk an upset with some nice spicy curry. More of a shame, this, since the ships food is pretty good, but light on seasoning. Back in the water, there are more interesting corals and some breathtaking varies of fishes.
Back on the ship we learn more Aussie wisdom. We are told, with all due respect, that Americans just can’t make coffee. Brunetti’s, in Melbourne makes coffee the right way and we should go there. I heard an expression I’d never heard before, “She’d make old bones”, as to live a long time. So descriptive.
Port Douglas, Australia
Lunch with the Lorikeets
Port Douglas, Australia
We do a bus tour and a walk through a wildlife park. We are in the rainforest, a clue that there will be water. It feels like stepping into a bathroom right after a shower had been running. We wear the lightest clothing possible and a light foldable rain poncho. The poncho was a problem as it traps the moisture on our skin like a greenhouse. A stranger passing by suggests to Barry that he take his poncho off since he looks so red and sweaty. Rain came intermittently, so we are always pulling the ponchos on and off, trying to guard iPhones and keep from getting soaked.
The weather doesn’t dampen our enjoyment of petting and feeding wallabies, kangaroos and birds. It’s probably all old hat for Aussies, but Barry and I enjoy interacting with these Australian animals.
There’s a brewery on the way back to the ship, Hemingway’s had a lovely view of the harbor and the beer sampler that we shared was nice.
Willis Island, Australia scenic cruising
I have to look this up, a small treeless island with a large building I think there’s a lighthouse and nice beach scientific recording I wonder if my fellow passengers are also wondering if they could live such an isolated life.