Honestly, if I had not seen and touched him myself, I would never have believed he was real. He looks like something out of a Pixar movie. Bright blue, at least three feet long, and so hideous he's adorable, Wally is a celebrity of North Queensland. Even more spectacular than his appearance, is the Maori Wrasse's personality...if you can call it that. He's not exactly friendly, but he doesn't take off like most fish of the Reef do when you get too close. He lets you pet him, in fact you can touch him right on the mouth and guide where he goes. It's strange and amazing; which is pretty much how I'd sum up my impressions of the Great Barrier Reef.
Stretching longer than the Great Wall of China it's over 1,600 miles long, the only living thing visible from space, and getting to see it up close was just as amazing as I'd ever heard. The big companies that organize reef tours have these pontoon boats in the middle of the Pacific Ocean about an hour and a half off the coast of Cairns in Queensland. They're like metal islands serving as a jumping off point for their submarine tours and diving expeditions. We did both.
The sub was a low-stress way to see the Reef, but it was almost like watching it on TV, sort of impersonal. The best part was getting to swim it. The water was warm... 73 degrees at the surface, but jellyfish season meant we had to wear wetsuits. We started out with snorkels, and the water is so clear I could see at least 15 feet below me to the vibrant sea life. The Great Barrier Reef is actually made up of thousands of different reef systems with over 1,500 tropical fish species, and 400 kinds of coral. Most of what we swam were a branch-like coral that came in just about every color.
But snorkels only let you get just below the water's surface letting you observe from a distance. I wanted to touch it. This, by the way, is not encouraged. The reef is struggling against natural, and in recent decades, human impacts. Everything from climate change to tourists are taking its toll. Still, I couldn't not touch it. I was gentle though, although the coral wasn't. Turns out that branch-like coral, though beautiful with hues of blue, tan, and green was hard. But nestled in the crevices were other, even more vibrant colored plants that tickled more than scratched. The most spectacular part though was the fish. Their colors were unreal. They looked like they should be on a Lisa Frank binder. Everything from massive schools of tiny silvery translucent ones, to solitary neon striped versions, to Wally. I saw so much it's hard to believe I experienced less than half a percent of the reef's vast expanse before it was time to get on the boat and head back to Cairns. Sounds like the perfect excuse to come back soon.
But for now it’s time to switch gears from the beach to the mountains and see the Daintree rainforest, world heritage site and ancestral home of the Tjapukai Aboriginal Australians.