The Great Barrier Reef: tips to plan your escape

Time out is crucial for a mama to retain her sanity. I don’t think any of us would dispute that! But it sure can be hard to find the time – and the money – to put together a getaway.

Recently I was lucky enough to enjoy a few days out on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef with my bestie. Yes! Away! On holiday! In another country! WITHOUT THE CHILD! (You know I love him. But you know I love a break too). I’ll share a few tips on how I managed to do it, and then make you jealous describing how completely awesome it was 🙂

First of all, my friend and I put our heads together a few years ago and decided we wanted to do something super-amazingly mind-blowing for our (VERY) distant 50th birthdays. We both love to travel, so we thought we’d start a travel fund to make sure that this dream adventure would truly become a reality. Over a few vinos we hatched a plan to deposit $10 each per week into a special bank account, and over the years our nest egg has been accumulating very nicely thank you! Last year we decided to increase that amount to $20 a week each, so that we could have a special mini-break this year in between our  birthdays. And voila – by the time June came around, we had enough in the kitty for a brief South Pacific sojourn.

TIP 1: START A SMALL WEEKLY SAVINGS FUND AND YOU’LL BE AMAZED HOW QUICKLY IT ALL ADDS UP!

I had a work trip lined up to Australia, and so we decided to tack on a few days to the end of it, which saved us money on my initial airfare.

TIP 2: TRY TO ESCAPE AT THE END OF A WORK TRIP (OR EVEN A FAMILY TRIP) IF THAT’S AN OPTION FOR YOU

Initially we were thinking of Lord Howe Island, which is an Australian territory accessible from the east coast (we thought we could hike, snorkle, read books, and drink wine…all at the same time) but it ended up being the wrong time of year – it wouldn’t be warm enough. We wanted to get away from the cold NZ winter, so we looked further north and decided on a three night liveaboard snorkeling trip on a boat out of Cairns in tropical north Queensland.

TIP 3: THREE OR FOUR DAYS MAKES A PERFECT MINI-BREAK FOR YOU TO UNWIND, AND IS HOPEFULLY NOT TOO LONG FOR SOMEBODY ELSE TO HAVE TO MIND YOUR KIDS!

So, what was it like? It was bliss.

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The boat departs Cairns at the crack of dawn (literally), so we stayed the night beforehand at the Pullman hotel overlooking the marina. After visiting ProDive Cairns HQ to sort out our snorkelling gear (all provided) we relaxed in the tropical warmth on our balcony with some barramundi, chips, and a really good salad, and reflected on how clever, tinny, and lucky we were.

The next morning we boarded the boat with around thirty other intrepid souls from all around the world. What an interesting mix of people! From backpackers to multi-generational families to baby-boom empty-nesters…and us, escapees of the wet NZ winter (and smelly nappies). It was really fun chatting to all these strangers over the next few days and learning more about their lives and stories – it took me back to my backpacking days.

Everything was provided on board the boat – there was a cook stuffing us full of delicious, nutritious meals every five minutes, there were dive guides, and deck crew to make sure we were all comfortable and enjoying ourselves. They were full of knowledge about the reef and its inhabitants, so I dosed up on some Marine Biology 101. The dorm cabins were small but perfectly adequate – ours had bunk beds and we shared a bathroom with two other cabins. The communal areas were spacious and light, with a big sun bathing deck up the top. What more could a girl ask for!

Each day we were up early and had a snorkel or dive before breakfast, then another after breakfast, then we would usually move to a different spot and have lunch. Two more dips in the afternoon (with freshly-made cake in between!) then we would move to our evening spot for dinner and a night dive for those who were keen. After an initial voyage of three hours out to the reef from Cairns, most of the sites we visited were in close vicinity to each other.

All of the sites have permanent moorings so that frequent anchoring doesn’t damage the fragile reef ecosystem, and each night we slept well, sheltered in the lee of the reef and tired from the day’s exertion. Can I tell you how superb it was not to have to worry about little sing-song voices in the night: “Mum-my,  I’ve got a poo in my nap-py!”

Most of the other people on the trip were diving, but we felt like we saw just as much of the reef snorkeling as they did (if not more, as we could access the shallower spots with their abundant fish life). We saw sea turtles and reef sharks, giant clams and rock gardens, tons and tons of colourful fish, and stunning coral formations. It’s a different world down there. I loved just hovering over a coral head and slowly letting my eyes decipher the tiniest details of the little community jostling around below. So relaxing.

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I read three books. I spent a lot of time looking at the colours of the sea and the sky. The starry nights were breathtaking out there, with the Milky Way tumbling overhead and the gentle slap of the water against the hull. Oh, I want to go back!

We thought the trip was fantastic value for money at around $800 NZD which included absolutely everything on the boat – all the gear, the guides, the bedding, the food and tea and coffee on tap. Anyone who loves the outdoors would relish this opportunity – so start your travel fund, even if it’s only $5 a week!

Where would you like to go on a mini-break with your husband, partner or bestie…and NO KIDS?!

 

 

Calling all outdoorsy mamas!

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