Arlie Beach and the Whitsundays
Arlie Beach and The Whitsundays
About two hour’s drive north of Mackay, is Arlie Beach where many of the cruises to the Great Barrier Reef dock. It was our first real chance to see the reef on our trip north, so we booked a day trip that would take us out. The islands off the coast of these waters is known locally as the Whitsundays, and are mostly uninhabited except for the few with some pretty posh resorts. We chose more modest accommodations in Arlie Beach!
The Great Barrier Reef is about two hours off shore by boat, so booking a cruise is pretty much mandatory. “Cruise Whitsundays” offered a day on the water with activities on a pontoon moored off a lagoon called Knuckle Reef. They picked us up at 7:30am and we were soon on our 2 hour ride out to the reef.
After picking up a few more passengers from some of the resorts, we continued on our trip. The 37 meter “wavepiercer” that took us out to the reef was a powered catamaran with twin German made V-12 diesels, sucking down 2000 liters of fuel for our round trip to the reef! We moved along at 25-27 knots the whole way, and she actually did seem to pierce the waves!
The Pontoon is anchored to the reef, and offered shelter from the sun and the wind for our visit. Our boat moored next to it and offered us food and drinks all day. Because we came during the off season, our boat was practically empty. With only about 40 people on board and a crew capable of serving over 350 people, we had plenty of friendly staff on hand.
Longer than our boat, the pontoon offered amenities like a dive center, a snorkel platform, a sun deck, fresh water showers, changing rooms, and even a water slide!
A guide rope was set up to steer you to the reef for people who wanted to snorkel. It was a short swim over 4 meter deep water to the shallows of the reef.
In the middle of the dive center was a platform for the divers to jump off.
Schools of fish would swim at the diver’s feet trying to hide from the larger fish trying to eat them. Standing on the dive platform, you would occasionally see several fish jump out of the water to save their lives.
Next to the dive platform was an underwater viewing chamber where you could see some of the action, but the best way to see it was in the water with a mask!
The staff at Cruise Whitsundays sold me on diving for the first time. With so few people on board, I was guaranteed personal instruction in a place that would offer some of the best scenery.
After I overcame my initial fear of stepping off the dive platform, I relaxed and had a great time. The amount of wildlife living around the reef was amazing. I even got to pet a giant Maori Wrasse that has befriended the instructors. My wife also dove for the first time while I watched our daughter on the pontoon. There were plenty of things to keep the little girl busy, and the day flew by quickly.
We left the pontoon at about 3pm, and returned to our dock at about 6pm, for a long day out on the water. The wind had picked up for the ride home, and the portion of open water we had to cross gave us 2 meter swells. I won’t go into details, but the hour we spent on open water was not good!
Even with that little bit of rough water, it could not spoil the great time we had. My wife and I agreed that we probably would have never tried diving had it not been our being on the Great Barrier Reef. We would even do it again, but let’s hope it’ll be as nice as our first experience!
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