The Aquarius looked gorgeous early this morning waiting for us to board for a day's sailing and snorkeling at the Low Isles, just 8 nautical miles (13km) NE of Pt Douglas, part of the "inner reef" of the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef, and a Marine National Park Zone in its own right.
We're really travelling in style today. The Aquarius only takes max 23 passengers (with 3 crew) and is the newest and most luxurious of all the boats offering day sailing trips around the reef. We can pretend we're rich and famous for the day!
We leave the marina under motor, but as soon as we're out of Dickson's Inlet and into the open sea skipper Drew sets the mainsail due NE and lets the spinnaker fly..and we're off!
It takes about an hour of steady sailing to reach the coral cay named Low Island by Captain James Cook in his day. With its palm trees, fine white ground coral beaches and picturesque lighthouse (built in 1878 and still standing despite frequent tropical cyclones in this region) it looks like a tiny tropical island from central casting. Apparently the island is only 6000 years old, quite young really in this ancient environment.
Low Island and the adjacent Woody Island (together the Low Isles) are surrounded by healthy, abundant coral reef and marine life so we're excited about the opportunity to snorkel around the lagoon on the sheltered side of the island with good equipment and this experienced crew in charge.
I don't feel very brave in deep water so I elect to start my snorkeling with skipper Drew in the more shallow lagoon off the beach while Rob elects to go with the group jumping straight off the back of the boat around 100 metres from shore.
Feeling very safe and increasingly relaxed snorkeling in the lagoon I was rewarded with close sightings of two green turtles, myriad brightly coloured reef fish and a gorgeous array of corals: spaghetti, lettuce, cauliflower, boulder, hundreds of different ever changing types, and some very large clams with rich purple and aquamarine "mouths".
After an hour in the water we were feeling really cold so it was great to warm up in the sun and take a wander around the northern point of the island. We were lucky to see two more Green Sea Turtles just 20 or so metres off shore feeding off the seagrass here. of course I was too late to get a shot of them with their heads out of the water. This relatively shallow part of the marine park only supports juvenile sea turtles (up to 40 years of age), after that they like a more extensive area to roam when they reach breeding age (they're late starters).
Skipper Drew was as obsessed with shells as he was with coral and showed us some of his collection from many visits to the island. I learnt that most shells are "right handed" as well as many other fascinating facts I may not remember in the longer term.
Well and truly warm again we went back to the boat for a very special lunch (lots more prawns - yum!) that English Jemima and German Peggy put together with very little fuss, in between sorting all our equipment for us, keeping a watchful eye out for our safety and hoisting anchors and things.
In the shot of Rob below he is standing slightly to the left of Mt Alexandra (in the background - with Snapper Island in front of it) where we'd stopped at the lookout on the way up to Cape Tribulation yesterday.
After lunch I felt confident to set off snorkeling in deeper water, this time closer to Woody Isle, covered in mangrove forest and a much more diverse reef environment than we'd both seen this morning. I was so relaxed in the water and with my equipment by now I could really ENJOY every minute of this experience. Despite their rarity I saw two moray eels this time and at least half of the 1500 species of tropical fish found on the reef, and many more varieties of spectacular abundant coral species. I also touched a sea cucumber (although not something I'd necessarily want to do again). It was just a wonderful experience.
It seemed like no time before we had to head back to the boat, get dry and warm again, and more food to eat before heading back to Port by our 4.00pm deadline.
There was a strong southerly blowing on the trip back and a 2-3 metre swell. Skipper Drew sailed with just the spinnaker and it was a pretty wild and rocky but exhilarating ride. Ella would have loved it!
Once inside the marina it was all calm again. I could do this every day!!!