Like so much I'm doing on this world trip, I've wanted to see the Reef since I was a child. And it didn't disappoint. I did a one-day tour with Calypso from Port Douglas, but I think that the vast majority of tour operators from Port Douglas and Cairns do much the same thing.
As an aside, I can't recommend Port Douglas enough. It's small, but absolutely idyllic, and only an hour's drive north of soulless Cairns. Four Mile Beach is perfect. There isn't a lot of budget accommodation, but Parrotfish Lodge is right in the centre, and at AU$15/night, it's the cheapest hostel I've found in Australia.
Calypso picked me up from the lodge and we set off. We were going to Agincourt Reef, which makes up part of the Outer Reef, so it took almost two hours to get there. There were complimentary drinks and biscuits, and the AU$200 price tag included morning and afternoon tea and lunch, as well as three dive/snorkel sites.
I went snorkelling in Florida about ten years ago, but I hadn't done any since then. It took a while to get used to the plasticy taste of the snorkel in your mouth and not bring able to breathe through the nose, but once I was comfortable I loved the whole thing. I want to do it every day.
I saw coral of every shape, size and colour, giant clams that close up when you approach, clown fish, Dory fish, big fish with huge staring eyes, and thousands of tiny fish that follow you around. I didn't see any sharks or turtles, but I also didn't see any jellyfish or saltwater crocodiles. So swings and roundabouts.
I rented an underwater camera from my hostel for AU$50 so I swam my way around each site armed with that, and I got some surprisingly good shots. I definitely recommend hiring a camera if you don't have a Go-Pro. Go for one where you can keep the SD card afterwards.
Calypso were very good. Friendly staff and good food. I'd go with them again, and recommend them to others doing what I did.
That day was definitely a highlight of Australia, and of my trip as a whole too. Speaking of my trip, as I write this I'm lying in the sun by the pool in a hostel in Cairns, getting ready to leave the country in the wee hours of tomorrow.
It's the end of my five months Down Under, and it's been a time of much variety. From living with my aunt, uncle and cousin in suburban Melbourne, to having a busy social and work schedule while living in the centre of Melbourne's nightlife, to going back to solo travelling and seeing some incredible things, I'll never forget my time living here.
But I have three months to the day before I return to the UK, and I have big plans for Asia. First stop: Hong Kong!