The helicopter pilot was flying just low enough over Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) for me to get a good view of the area.
There are around 900 islets in the GBR, but the sparkling azure coral reefs were our main focus that day. It was the largest tropical coral reef system on the planet, a Unesco natural heritage site under full protection and preservation.
We had arrived earlier at the Cairns City Jetty in North Queensland for a 2,300km long GBR tour. We boarded a large glass bottom boat in the afternoon, listening intently to our guide as he explained to us in detail the 400 types of coral found there. It was the most complete and alluring coral reef system I have ever seen so far.
Through the glass below our feet, we could see colorful sea creatures swimming happily in the water, including reef sharks, stingrays, sea turtles, and countless multicolored fish.
You can find Australia’s ‘big eight’ sea creatures in the GBR: giant clams, manta rays, Maori wrasse, sharks, clownfish, turtles, cod and whales. I was so blessed to have seen some of them with my own eyes.
In total, more than 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 species of molluscs live in the GBR. The entire place plays an indispensable role in the global marine ecosystem.
One of my traveling companions, Tom, quickly put on a wetsuit provided by the cruise line and dived straight into the pristine blue waters of the sea. Some of us were a little jealous as he may have had some close encounters with some of the marine wonders, as we were just staying in the boat.
We were then split into three batches to board the helicopter for a more in-depth view of this stunning location. At strategic points, the pilot flew the helicopter low enough so that we could better see the bluish and whitish corals which shimmered like a million precious stones in the sun…it was so beautiful!
The “architects” of the majestic GBR are in fact these small polyps, only a few millimeters long, whose viscous secretion from the skeleton, together with the residual gums of other marine organisms, form the structure of the reef. This process takes a very long time and even under the most favorable conditions the reef only thickens by about 3-4 cm per year.
I don’t know how many centuries these “architects” had to work tirelessly to build these massive reefs several hundred meters thick.
Unfortunately, due to the degradation of water quality, overdevelopment and other human activities, the GBR today faces many problems. In the last 30 years alone, the place has lost almost half of its coral reefs and the rate of degradation is getting faster and faster.
In 2017, Unesco proposed to put the GBR on its list of endangered sites. However, it now risks being further “downgraded”. After Australia pledged to invest around A$3 billion (RM13.06 billion) to improve coral health, some believe the GBR might be saved from destruction after all.
Although visiting this place is a dream come true for travel or nature lovers, most have no idea how much longer it will remain.
Natural parks and cities
Australia has large tracts of tropical rainforests over 100 million years old. And as if that weren’t enough, they even grow fruits similar to ours like rambutan, mangosteen, pineapple and lychee. Sounds amazing, right?
To learn more about the heart of Australia’s green lung, we traveled to the Rainforeststation Nature Park just 30 minutes from Cairns, where we were greeted by the Pamagirri Aborigines who enthusiastically showed us their customs and traditions, and performed folk dances and sang for us. .
I would say that the Pamagirris have a unique physical appearance, but their way of life, musical instruments, dances and language are not that different from the indigenous peoples we know from various parts of Asia.
This natural park is definitely an anthropological treasure that deserves a visit.
As for the city of Cairns itself, I think a lot of people know this place because of the GBR and its centuries-old rainforests. I noticed that this coastal town is very well planned and orderly with almost all the buildings painted white.
With its rich natural and cultural landscapes and a wealth of exciting outdoor activities, Cairns is an ideal destination for those considering a move to Australia.
Plus, Cairns’ relaxed vibe and unparalleled beauty make it an excellent retirement city, as well as a fun family vacation destination.
The opinions expressed are entirely those of the author.
Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has traveled to 132 countries, six continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He is also the author of five books.