It does not mean Cairns stays warm through the winter.
|Don't let it fool you!|
The thing is, Cairns usually isn't - the average high in June is about 79 F (26 C). But on June 19, our day on the reef, the high temperature barely kissed 77 F, spending most of the day around 68 F. Throw in some very blustery wind, and you have a pretty cold day for a swim!
|Wetsuits - not as warm as they look. And they don't look particularly warm .|
Now, the Great Barrier Reef isn't one reef: it's actually a huge system of thousands of smaller reefs, of which our snorkeling site was just one. Most of these reefs, ours included, consist of a coral wall facing the open water, defined on each side by a channel of deeper water, with a shallow lagoon directly behind the coral wall.
At each of the major reef sites, the operating tour company builds a platform anchored to one of the channels at the edge of the lagoon. This serves as the base of operations for a variety of activities: snorkeling, diving, semi-submersibles and glass-bottomed boats, and such.
|Entering the lagoon.|
|Looking back at the platform from the middle of the lagoon.|
You'll notice that sometimes the composition is a bit . . . off. That's because the surf was pretty heavy for our day at the reef: even though we were well behind the breakers in the shelter of the lagoon, the seas were still rising and falling about a foot every few seconds, making it really tough to steady your shot.
|This is immediately before Nana rammed face-first into the camera.|
But the fish and other animals were something else entirely. Simply put, there were tons of fish, many of which were much larger than anything we'd gone swimming with before.
For example: Nana caught a brief glimpse of a white-tip reef shark at the edge of the lagoon. (Alas, no photo to confirm.) We also spotted some huge sea turtles on our semi-submersible ride through the channel.
|Not a photo-friendly ride, unfortunately.|
We also both got to pet Wally, a friendly and fearless humphead wrasse.
|This shot is from the tour company's official|
This was just incredibly cool. The swimming was sweet - bobbing up and down in the rollers on the edge of the open sea. The reef wall just seemed to plunge down forever into the darkness. It felt like hovering or flying (though I think the vertigo got to Nana a bit).
|These divers passed by directly below us.|
And the fish were awesome. Huge schools of larger pelagic fish, too many to name, including a couple big rock cods stalking their prey. Flashes of red and gold and gray and white rippling in the surge. Nana had the camera and snapped a few great shots of the fish.
|Not pictured: our valiant camerawoman getting motion sick and hypothermic in the chilly surf.|
|Also not pictured: me turning around every ten seconds to make sure Nana wasn't drifting out to sea.|
|It's a bit blurry, but that's a huge rock cod a long way down through the water. |
(In the US, we call similar fishes "groupers.")
Swimming and marine life and scientists and more swimming and the freaking ocean? I was pretty much in heaven. Well worth the price of shivering violently the whole way back to the platform. I don't carry quite as much insulation as I used to.
Plus, we got to cap the day of with . . . another boat ride!
|We were nowhere near toasty warm in that garb.|
|Here we are, returning the camera safe and sound.|