By KATE HUNTER
We’re Queenslanders who had never been to the Great Barrier Reef.
Over the years, Jim and I have dived and snorkelled the waters of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and we’ve been as a family to Fiji and Vanuatu, but our own wonder of the world was something we took for granted. One day, we’d get around to seeing it.
Weirdly, it seemed easier to go overseas. The sheer size of the Great Barrier Reef made visiting it an overwhelming prospect. Cairns is a long way from Brisbane – and Cairns is the hop-off point for the reef, right? Wrong.
The Great Barrier Reef is the size of Italy and it stretches almost the entire length of the Queensland coast, so its southern end is day-trippable from Brisbane or the Gold Coast.
Now, our little tribe does. We took a day trip to Lady Elliot Island. About and hour and twenty minutes in a 12 seater plane from Redcliffe, on Brisbane’s northern outskirts. We took off at 8.30am and two hours later we were swimming with clownfish. Snorkelling kit, reef shoes and wetsuits (for the wimpy – the water was warm) were supplied.
Lady Elliot Island is about 110km off the Queensland coast – the nearest major town is Bundaberg (you can fly from there too). The accommodation on the island ranges from simple eco cabins with shared facilities to two bedroom family suites. There’s a dive shop, restaurant and swimming pool.
The island is a true coral cay, clinging to the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef, in the Marine Park ‘Green Zone’ so the wildlife is amazing. Minutes from the shore, we saw manta-rays, a moray eel and pretty much the entire cast of Finding Nemo. But it was the turtles that had us spellbound.
We’ve seen turtles in the wild before, but they’re usually shy, swimming silently into the blue the second they’re spotted. At Lady Elliot, for some unknown reason, they’re friendly. It’s a marine reserve, so the turtles aren’t fed or handled, but they seem to like sharing the water with people and our kids were able to get closer than they could have imagined.