It is believed that the current living reef is over 200,000 years old. The reef starts at Fraser Island on Australia's east coast and travels all the way up to Papa New Guinea making The Great Barrier Reef the largest living reef in the world and visible from space. This reef which is longer than the Great Wall of China has the world’s largest collection of corals and is home to over 1500 types of tropical fish and over 200 species of birds. The reef is also the breeding ground for humpback whales and the habitat of endangered species such as the Dugong and Large Green Sea Turtle.
I think these stats alone make it worthy for been on the list of the 7 natural wonders of the world. However the reef is so much more than its impressive size.
Growing up on the east coast of Australia I have been lucky enough to visit it a few times. My first experience was going snorkelling off the Whitsunday islands when I was about 14 years old with my brother. The amount of colour and life underwater was eye opening. I vividly remember having that moment where I realised that being on the land is only a third of what the world has to offer, that there is so much happening underwater that you can’t quite comprehend until you see it for yourself. My brother and I were so excited to spot a sea turtle that we began to follow it to get a closer look. It ended up turning to face us then charged at us chomping it's mouth! We had never swam so fast scared that the turtle wanted to bite us! It turned out that the turtle wasn’t going to hurt us, it just wanted us to leave it alone! That day we both got a good life lesson to not invade the space of wildlife as they are wild!
We were staying on a boat so we were lucky enough to go snorkelling off the boat by ourselves rather than in the large snorkelling tours. If you are a boat person I would highly recommend chartering a boat from Airlie beach to see the Whitsundays and the reef, each island has moorings that you can hook up to so you can island hop at your leisure and really get off the beaten track.
Snorkelling at the great barrier reef is what increased my curiosity in to discovering the world beneath the water and ultimately lead me to getting my open water diving certificate when I turned 16. After learning to dive I always wanted to make it back to the reef to be able to see all the things that I couldn't get to when I snorkelled there.
Last year I made my way to Hamilton island and organised a dive trip in the thick of the reef. It definitely didn’t disappoint. It’s a diver's paradise, the water is warm, the visibility is usually very good, there are both soft and hard coral of all colours for as far as the eye can see. Big shelfs to swim down, numerus caves and hidden pockets. We saw reef sharks, turtles, large octopi, sting rays, large cray fish, dolphins, star fish, puffer fish, lion fish, sea snakes, countless tropical fish and even Nemo! It is like the amazon of the ocean, wildlife everywhere you look that are too busy doing their thing to really even notice your existence.
This year I went back to the Whitsunday's for a couple of days and decided to get a scenic flight over the reef. As I had been on the water and under it before, this time I wanted to be able to take in the reef as a whole plus see the famous heart reef for myself. I knew it wasn’t going to be cheap so I began saving sometime ago and kept it all as a surprise for my husband as a mini trip after our wedding. The flight was absolutely stunning, I had no idea I would enjoy it as much as I did. The sheer scale is breath taking. Along with seeing the reef we also got a good look at all the surrounding islands and the famous hill inlet and Whitehaven beach before landing on it for a hour. This is a flight that I will treasure in my memory for a very long time, the feeling of excitement, looking over at my husband grinning from ear to ear at each other saying 'did you see that?!' as we held each others hand and snapped pictures out the window.
Although the are many places you can get onto the reef from, the Whitsundays and Airlie Beach gives you the best access to see it from an island, from a boat, from the sky or from within the ocean while also been able to see some of the islands and beautiful Australian landscape at the same time.
So start saving your pennies and add the Great Barrier Reef to your bucket list. After all you will be able to tick it off your 7 natural wonders of the world list at the same time! ;)
All images are copy right of Andrea Kristin