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August 31, 2001
Whitsundays: The Great Barrier Reef (Russell)

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The view from the sub (the photo through glass does not do the colors justice)

There are times on this trip when we all wonder, "Why did we ever leave our nice warm home?"  We had that thought at Clermont, where we spent the night of August 29th in yet another one-room holiday villa cabin with no heat (and not enough blankets).  We stayed as a stopover and spent the entire night freezing.

Then again, there are other times when we look around in awe and astonishment and think, "Wow... we're really going around the world!"  We had this thought as we sat out in the mid-afternoon sun on the deck of our tour boat, cruising the Great Barrier Reef.

On August 30th we bypassed Mackay and went two hours further north along the coast to the tiny town of Airlie Beach, part of the Whitsundays.  The Whitsundays are an incredible enclave of islands named  (incorrectly) by Captain Cook -- he thought it was Whitsunday but he was a day off.  We decided to stay in this beach town for four nights, and treated ourselves to a two-bedroom apartment (bathtub, washer/dryer, etc.) -- it still came out cheaper per night than the motel in Emerald.  We also needed to park somewhere with a direct-access telephone, as the arrival of our grandson is now imminent.

This is probably as far north as we'll go in Australia, but there are a ton of activities here.  For our first full day, we booked one of the many, many possible day tours out to the Great Barrier Reef.  This company, FantaSea, offers a 2-hour trip out to their own "FantaSea Reefworld" in the outer reef.  For four hours you can eat lunch, snorkel, go on a short submarine ride, or just look out the windows of their semi-submersible observatory.

Naturally, we ate lunch first.  We were going to wait for the next sub ride, but the reef was too exciting.  So we all put on wetsuits, fins, masks, and snorkels.  Joss made it as far as trying to put his masked face in the water before he had a panic attack.  So he ended up staying on the pontoon with mom and fed the fishes (Gail didn't mind -- it takes an act of sheer will for her to snorkel anyway).

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A couple of guys in wetsuits (one of them is definitely getting taller)

Meanwhile, Cameron showed incredible daring.  He started out hanging onto the safety rope, but soon he was out swimming around, enjoying the coral and the schools of fish that swim right up to you.  Every time the sun escaped from the clouds, it was like someone turned the lights on underwater, and we were treated to an incredible panorama of vivid colors.  Cameron even saw a small shark -- very rare during the daytime, as they only feed at night.  He declared that he enjoyed snorkeling so much that he would "like to try it again" -- high praise from Cameron.

With a sub ride that spotted two giant sea turtles and a return trip that cruised back through the Whitsunday Islands, it was an exciting day very well spent.  And we have three more days to look forward to!

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Enjoying the customary post-adventure ice cream


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