One of the goals of our trip was to see the magnificent Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Often described as one of the great wonders of the world, we did not want to visit Australia without seeing this.  Of course, one of the challenges anyone faces in visiting Australia is seeing much of the country, because it is so vast.  Most people from the U.S. don’t have much exposure to Australia, especially the geography of the country, but when you focus on visiting, you realize the size of the country is about the size of the entire continental U.S.  One eventually realizes that seeing much of the country in a short period of time, or even two weeks is like planning to tour the whole U.S. in two weeks.  So we had to pick and choose!

Cairns, the city that is one of the optimal places from which to launch a visit to the Great Barrier Reef, is about a two-hour flight from Sydney.  We flew on a bargain domestic carrier to get to Cairns, but it was fine.  Cairns is a wonderful city and would remind in the U.S. of coastal towns in Hawaii or the nicest parts of Florida.  And the weather (and remember it is winter now in Australia!) was gorgeous.  It was over 80 degrees Fahrenheit the whole time and sunny, for the most part (except the day we went out to the Reef, of course!).  Cairns is full of nice restaurants and boardwalks and shops.  Australia is smart about its school calendars apparently, so that students attend school more weeks of the year than our students do, but they also stagger the calendar so that not all students are on break at the same time, and so different provinces are on break at different times of the year, so the tourist destinations are not overcrowded.  So we saw some families at the beaches, but it was not horribly overcrowded.

We booked a tour for the Great Barrier Reef since it is quite a long boat ride out to the Reef from the town, perhaps 25 miles. As you would expect, as have you have perhaps seen on TV, very soon after you leave, the water is so crystal clear and blue in places it is breathtaking.

Each tour group has a Catamaran out near the Reef, and from there people can snorkel or scuba dive, or ride one of the company’s glass bottom boats.  We were there for about four hours.  I snorkeled twice, and it was wonderful. 

The moment you get under the water you see the coral and dozens and dozens of colorful fish, as you can see from these photos (I did not buy an underwater camera, so these are not my photos, but ones taken when we were in the glass bottom boat, so they do not capture the brilliance of the colors I saw, to be honest). 

The fish swim right up to you and around you and they are translucent as you would imagine.  Some are big, some small, some striped, some glow.  It is an experience like you would imagine, though until you do it, it is more wonderful than you can imagine. 

Yet I still felt that if I could get out further or deeper, or in scuba gear, it would be even more magnificent.  Nevertheless, I felt I had seen one of the wonders of the world, much as when I saw the Great Wall, the Grand Canyon, the Forbidden City, and the Gold Gate Bridge for the first time.