Great Barrier Reef! Wednesday, 12/14/16

We shook off that red rock desert ennui the moment we stepped off the plane on Tuesday evening into Cairns, "where the rain forest meets the reef."  The grounds of our Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort are filled with abundant, lush tropical plants and flowers, and exotic birds.  We were happy to be here.  

First order of business was the introduction of Sue, our site coordinator, and Dave, our field guide ... he's the guy who gave a marvelous lecture that evening on the Great Barrier Reef, complete with slides, and the guy who will be with us tomorrow when we cruise out to the reef.  Cut to the chase!

Wednesday morning, we're boarding the 105' luxury catamaran, Ocean Spirit, at 8:30am for our day trip to Michaelmas Cay.  They have a great website, complete with a map of where the cay is located in relation to Cairns, and photos.  Check it out.

Bernice and I stood at the bow, watching, feeling the wind on our faces.  Sure, those are rain clouds.  This is the tropics, warm and humid, with intermittent sun and squalls.  We did not care about rain, but when it started, we went aft and under cover.

This has to be one of the most colorful trios I've ever seen.  Albert, Ibby and Jimmy greeting y'all.  Ibby is tall, but not that tall ... he was standing on tippy-toes!  What a merry-lookin' bunch o' pirates!

Our first look at Michaelmas Cay.  I thought it would be bigger, like an island.  One other cruise boat was here before us.  As our boat closed in, I realized the cay was bigger than it originally looked, but devoid of trees or vegetation, like a long sandy spit.

After dropping anchor, a fish-feeding frenzy took place on the port side.

For those not too claustrophobic, a short cruise in a semi-submersible for coral-viewing was included.  Jimmy and I have overcome most of our claustrophobia, and we opted to go, so we could view what a scuba diver might see.

And it was great!  Even with tinted windows, the blue coral was a standout.  Seeing my first giant clam was neat.  Blue and yellow fusilier reef fish were plentiful (below).

Initially when we entered the water, the sky looked ominous behind the Ocean Spirit and Jimmy.  He was getting ready to snorkel in the clear, warm sea water; all equipment and wet suits were provided by Ocean Spirit, the suits mainly to keep us from sunburn while in the water.  The clouds finally passed and when the sun shone on the coral, it was like a magic wand had been waved, and everything below came into sharp focus and brilliant color.

What a win-win-win for me!  Not only do we enjoy a boat ride to the cay and we get to spend a very long time snorkeling, I find out that Michaelmas Cay is recognized as one of the most important seabird breeding sites in the Great Barrier Reef! This small vegetated cay is an ideal habitat for thousands of ground nesting seabirds (with up to 20,000 birds observed at the height of nesting and breeding season during Summer months), especially many varieties of Terns.  (I didn't see any vegetation today, but I saw thousands of birds!)

Ahoy, there, mates!

A rope (fence) is there to protect the nesting seabirds,
people on one side, birds on the other.

Common (Brown) Noddies with lots of chicks.

Brown Boobies feeding their chick.
Seemed like most everybody had a chick.

A guano-besmirched sign about the nesting birds on Michaelmas Cay.  I saw:  Brown boobies, Common Noddies, Sooty Terns, Crested Terns and Lesser Crested Terns, Black-naped Terns, and a few Gulls.  Dave saw a Red-footed booby, but I missed it.

While I watched from my side of the fence, these two Common Noddies on their side got involved in a serious dispute!  Two feet (that would be 24") and one rope separated us.

When we were finally shagged out of the water (as usual, last ones out), and changed into dry clothes, a really good buffet lunch was served, plus beverages and snacks later as we neared Cairns.  Jimmy and I could easily have spent a week on the cay!  Sorry, we didn't take an underwater camera with us while we snorkeled ... we simply wanted to enjoy what we saw.  I think I was most impressed with the numbers of giant clams (and the beautiful colors of their mantles).  Yes, we saw lots of colorful sea life; it was grand.

Many people we've talked with ask about the reef, and if we saw a lot of dying coral.  The answer is, no, the coral we saw looked alive and healthy.  Such a variety, too!  If you want to see pictures of the Great Barrier Reef, Google it and drool over the photos!  We loved our day out on the reef today!

Would you just look at this tree in front of our hotel?  What are those things hanging up in the branches?  Bats, oh yeah, big ol' fruit bats, almost like creatures from the movie "Invasion of the Body Snatchers!"  Naw, not really, they're harmless pollinators.  We sure didn't expect to see a tree full, though!

Later, Bernice and Ibby, Jimmy and I went out to dinner, choosing a restaurant on the waterfront called Dundee's, followed by a leisurely stroll in the balmy evening air, back through the Christmas lights to our hotel. Remember, we're still workin' up to Christmas!

And a pleasant goodnight to all from the gang in Cairns!
Tomorrow we visit the rain forest.


  1. What a contrast! Red to blue, desert to reef. Amazing. You definitely looked refreshed and happy in your floppy hat. I know that talking to you after your trip, Cairns and the reef is what seemed to stand out the most. Wonderful, just wonderful. So happy to hear that the reef, at least the part you saw, is alive and well.

  2. Sounds like a wonderful time on the reef ... and having birds, too boot ... I should be so lucky since I don't snorkel but am going along for the ride.

  3. Great trip to the reef. Has been on my bucket list for a long time.

  4. The Reef! Birds! wow, what a great adventure!

  5. Anonymous7:55 PM

    You really have done a great job!

  6. Anonymous10:04 AM

    Thanks for the "read" of your fabulous trip. You do such a great job Nickie documenting your adventures! T.A.


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