Your typical bucket list is compiled of places to visit before you “kick the bucket.” Yet our trip to Australia made us think differently – to visit places before THEY leave this earth. We had to bring the kids to Great Barrier Reef before it was gone – NOT an exaggeration. The timing of our trip, on the heels of the worst coral bleaching in the history of the Great Barrier Reef, confirmed our views.
(Be inspired in the comments below, share a place you would put in this blog title. Whats your “Bring the Kids to _______ Before It’s Gone” place?)
We arrived in the boating village of Port Douglas, set between ocean and rainforest just miles from the reef. The tropical warmth helped us feel at home, but we were on the other side of the globe in Australia. As far as it seemed, we were just minutes away from one of the seven natural wonders of the world. For 13 years we have travelled together, yet it was this experience with the kids that focused our attention towards places we had to see before they vanished: Madagascar, Galapagos, Arches National Park, and the list can go on forever…
It’d be fair to think that an all-day snorkel trip with 3 and 5-year-old kids could be challenging. We thought so too until we found Quicksilver Cruises through an Aussie family blogger. Although we had our hearts set on the outer reef (“we” meaning Danny really wanted to dive), there was family-friendly day trip that didn’t water down our adventure while engaging the kids. The Wavedancer, an extremely kid-friendly sailing catamaran, would sail with us to the Low Isles, two small coral islands lined with sandy shores and limited accessibility. From land, we could ease the boys into the water, hop on a small glass-bottom boat, walk the island or leave them building castles in the sand while we were blowing bubbles on the reef – and bubbles we did blow!
One of the largest reef systems in the world, we had only experienced it from our sofas while watching BBC and National Geographic, in the words of Sir David Attenborough. While our trip on the Wavedancer included a knowledgeable marine biologist, narration wasn’t needed for the story being shown under water. Nature was about to tell us a billion-word story, depicted by the reef life below. It was nature at its finest, thriving while struggling. The vibrancy of diverse life we saw was a poignant reminder of the expanse of white corals surrounding us, drained of life and color.
The voyage to the Low Isles, one mangrove island and one sandy island with a lighthouse, was smooth sailing. The crystal clear blue water surfaced where the pure blue sky rested. A glance down and we saw box jellies swishing in the marina. (FYI –their stingers can be fatal, more about that later). We approached the mooring off the coral cay, surrounded by turquoise water. A grey silhouette passed by the tender boat. A black-tip reef shark greeted us (less dangerous than box jellies people) and the adventure was on! This was where it could have gotten interesting with Marty’s fear of sharks or the potential freak-out from our boys. Instead…
“COOL DAD, LOOK! A BLACK-TIP REEF SHARK!!! CHECK IT OUT MOM!”
So happy we haven’t watched Jaws with them yet.
Mom’s potential fear subsided in the kids’ excitement. We came to learn these small sharks were scared of anything bigger than baitfish.
Our tender boat landed on the soft white sand that we’d make ours for the hours. We squeezed into our slimming “stingers,” a Lycra head-to-toe “Scuba Steve” wetsuit that protected us from painful stings and sunburns. The boys were amazing, suiting up without a battle, ready to swim into the world below the surface.
Bringing the kids was a success by our standards. While the boys weren’t fully ready to bite down on a rubber straw and stare at the ocean for hours, they had a respectable go at it and enjoyed it. It wasn’t long before we all found our own interests. Jake was dreaming of Atlantis, building castles in the sand with his new buckets. Landon led the exploration from above, spotting Nemo and the only green sea turtle of the day from a glass-bottom boat. His alert prompted me to follow his finger, finding my way to cruise with the creature, one of the most serene experiences in nature.
Taking turns, we explored, dove, GoPro’d, ooooooo’d and aaahhhh’d. Marty was amazed by the giant clams and colorful schools of fish, waiting for us to pass them by as they swayed with the tide. Danny was lucky to find a blue spotted-ray, puffer, parrot and other fish. Together, we were mesmerized by the fans, brommies and the forest of coral within arms reach of the surface. But the reef told the story in stunning live images better than we could ever share in words. You’d have to see it yourself to truly understand. (But check out our gallery and video in this post to get an idea.)
On our way back to port, we had a 360-degree view from deck, wind breezing past as we watched the water, sun and sky sharing the horizon. With a glass of wine in hand and the tune of a strummed guitar in the air, the four of us sat beneath the towering mast, rocking and gazing at the white sail and clouds painted on to shades of blue. Just as quickly as our eyes opened at the life below us, they closed under the view above. The memory of this place and time was etched in our minds forever, just in case we’d never have the chance to see it again. And for our boys, who may live through the extinction of many reefs, we were able to nurture the exploration of our fragile world. Thankfully, we were able to bring the kids to Great Barrier Reef before the reef (or we) were gone.
Don’t forget to share your “before it’s gone” place in the comments.