An old coworker of mine recommended Port Douglas as a destination to see the Great Barrier Reef vs Cairns, the larger, more well-known area. I landed at the Cairns airport this past Monday and boarded a shuttle for Port Douglas - 1.5 hours north. Port Douglas is EXACTLY what I needed. There were like no people. Anywhere.
Per my usual travel schedule, I spent the first day getting the lay of the land. There was 4-mile beach - where I learned stingers and crocs tend to populate during summer months. Hence the barren beach and streets. Apparently I landed in Port Douglas during their off season, also known as the rainy season. But as luck would have it, the first two days were rain-free. I went for a run on cliff/beach trails, hung out at the beach and finished two books. Wandered to a brewery, bar-hopped a bit and was in bed the first two nights by 8:30.
The third day, I was supposed to go to the rainforest, but there weren't enough people signed up for the tour. Yes, I was bummed, but oh well. And it was raining like a mofo. So, I went to a wildlife sanctuary - where I was literally one of three people in the entire place. I hung out with some kangaroos, wallabies and a host of other weird foreign-looking animals. My favorite by far was the koala - which oddly enough reminded me of my dog.
The fourth day, my favorite, was spent snorkeling over the Great Barrier Reef. I am kicking myself in the arse for not getting an underwater camera, however I don't think photos can quite explain the depth and beauty of the reef. Holy cats man - it's like hovering Mars.
There are hundreds of different species of coral reef - both hard and soft - but most are white due to coral bleaching. Our captain on the catamaran explained that 60% of the coral reef has died in the last two years (don't quote me on this piece) and most of it has bleached due to heat. See zooxanthellae for coral is similar to chlorophyll for a plant - chlorophyll is what makes a plant green. Zooxanthellae photosynthesize like most plants - causing the white coral to turn shades of brown, yellow, blue and red. Long story short, because of the higher-than-normal temperatures over the past two years, the coral has developed heat-stress and stops producing zooxanthellae - resulting in white, or bleached coral. I'm not a marine biologist, but if you'd like to read more on coral bleaching, you an here: http://www.reefteach.com.au/coral-bleaching/
The Great Barrier is reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world - larger than than the Great Wall of China and the only living thing on earth visible from space (it's over 1800 miles!)
Oh and I saw several animals including a clam the size of a sofa, parrot fish, and a sea turtle - but still, nothing in comparison to the living, breathing beast that is the reef.
Leaving for Brisbane today to meet my friend. Til the next post!