The dive shop lends visitors a snorkel, face mask and flippers for the duration of their stay. My face mask gave me so much trouble, filling up with water, that I went to the snorkelling lesson in the pool – turns out my technique was fine, but I needed a new mask which was of a much better quality and did not leak. Getting into the water in my flippers was quite another story and I thank my lucky stars that Grandpa Flea didn’t have a camera with him!
The first time I entered the water backwards with my flippers already on – big mistake – they filled up with little bits of coral grit that HURT when I moved. Attempting to wash them out, I fell over in the little swell and was then dragged backwards and forwards like a beached whale!
I was sure I’d be covered in grazes from the dead coral pieces, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover no injuries other than a mighty bruise which no one else could see!
I didn’t have the flipper problem when I snorkelled in Fiji, but I was 20 years younger and slimmer then ….. suffice to say, that after my mortification, I lost all self-consciousness about waddling around in a swimsuit or beaching! Eventually I got into the water and didn’t look back. Because I’m not a strong swimmer I had a noodle tucked under my armpits – magic! Much better than the bubble I wore in Fiji! I came away from my snorkelling adventures intent on buying a waterproof camera for my next visit ….
The fish life in the eastern lagoon was quite varied, but my big thrill came the day we were leaving. We were having one last snorkel before we had to vacate our room. I was about to get out when I spotted an enormous turtle feeding on the algae on the coral – I could have reached out and stroked it – and I could have stayed watching it all day. Next time …..
My memory of the reef lagoon on Castaway Island in Fiji is that there were more fish and they were more colourful. But memory is a funny thing, and with a longer stay and more confidence to snorkel on the western side of the island, I suspect that the comparison would be meaningless. We did snorkel off the glass-bottomed boat on the western side of Lady Elliot where the water is much deeper with large coral crevasses and there were more fish of many different colours and shapes. Next visit (said with a note of optimism), I won’t be as nervous in the deep water and will venture out into the deep water from the beach.
On our second evening, we walked around the island. On the western side of the island, the recent cyclone had blown the coral grit up in tiers on the shore. This photo doesn’t really capture the extent of the tiering, but being all white, it was hard to get a good shot:
Don’t be put off by the coral – there is a sandy beach in front of the lagoon. You are told to wear reef shoes when walking on the beach and in the water because of the coral and the various creatures that are not very friendly when trodden on – stone fish, cone shells etc The reef shoes that are on loan turned out to be a large collection of old sneakers and mangled reef walkers, presumably left there by previous visitors. It was very difficult to find something suitable. Next time I’ll be taking my own.
Lady Elliot is a nature reserve and is inhabited by thousands of birds – white crested terns or “noddys” are the predominant species. They are everywhere, as are the droppings – in fact Lady Elliot was mined for guano in the early 20th century – they removed a metre of guano and soil from the top of the island, and in the process destroyed all the native vegetation except for a small stand of now enormous pisoonia trees.
The island was re-vegetated in the 1960s by the first tourism operator, but along with coastal casuarinas which are effective but not native to the island, there are heaps of exotic weeds from the lighthouse keepers’ gardens – lantana, a poinsettia looking thing, philodendrons, a huge chilli bush, impatiens, mother-in-law’s tongue etc etc. The revegetation policy now is that nothing is to be removed, but as it dies it will be replaced with pisoonia trees. I’m sorry I don’t have photos, but my camera is very old and, don’t laugh, has only a 64mb card with two 16mb cards as back up! I feel that new waterproof camera coming on!
On with the walk … on the western side we saw a fishing boat moored just off the island. The staff had earlier called the police who came out to make sure it hadn’t anchored in the coral (it hadn’t) and that it wasn’t fishing (it wasn’t). Because this is a protected area the staff are very vigilant and shoot first (well, call the cops) and ask questions later when strange vessels come calling. You can see the birds in the sky, returning to the island as the sun is setting. We got a bit distracted here, watching the birds, the boat and the sea, and it was starting to get dark with half the circumference to go. As we approached the corner to the northern side, the moon suddenly came into view – have I said magic before? It was heavenly ….. ( This photo had to be “enhanced” because it was too dark, hence the grainy texture.) Then, as we rounded the corner, there was the moon, reflecting on the water – I’d say magic again, but it might say repetitive 🙂 It is indeed heavenly …
So, two and a half days on lady Elliot felt like a month away from civilisation – I’d still be there if I were able. Unfortunately we had to leave in another small plane: We circled the island one more time, then it was back to Bundaberg and the beautiful beachside at Bargara.