One of the many ways I’m kind of weird is that — while I apparently have zero qualms about booking a one-way ticket to New Zealand without a job, or jumping off a bridge over a river filled with storm debris — there are some areas where I prefer baby steps.
Take water activities, for instance. I’m not the world’s greatest swimmer. Despite the fact that I grew up in Minnesota, a state that literally took its name from the Dakota word for “water,” I’ve always been more comfortable on land.
So it should come as no great surprise that I approached snorkeling in the Whitsundays with a bit of, well, trepidation.
Simon and I spent our last three weeks in Australia road tripping from Cairns to Sydney. This limited timeframe gave us just two nights and one full day in Airlie Beach — gateway to the Whitsunday islands.
If you haven’t been to the Whitsundays, they are basically what you imagine when you close your eyes and think “tropical paradise.” Crystal clear seas, white silica sand, and a million forms of marine life brimming just under the surface of the water. Gross, I know.
I’d been in New Zealand and Australia for nearly four years at this point, and I knew this was probably my last chance to do a snorkel in this part of the world (for a long time, if not forever). The Whitsundays was the perfect opportunity, presented to me on a silver platter. It was time.
We chose a half-day tour with Ocean Rafting that was a mix of sailing, snorkeling, and beach time. We sped around on a giant yellow raft, while our tour guide pointed out rock formations shaped like animals and attempted to sell us a private island for the low low price of 200 million AUD. (Later, he serenaded us with Kings of Leon, a capella.)
Though it was only a six-hour trip in total, we crammed in quite a bit of activity. Along with zipping across the water, hiking to a lookout point atop Whitehaven Beach, and eating a picnic lunch on the shore, we had about one hour of snorkel time. That might not sound like much, but in my opinion, it was just right — enough to get my feet wet (so to speak) without too much pressure.
Even though the temperature was only in the low 20s, I opted to forego the offered wet suit. I didn’t want anything to interfere with my movement in the water — something that I wasn’t very confident about in the first place.
For that matter, I wasn’t very confident about any of it. But when the moment arrived, I knew what I had to do. Sure, jumping in sounded bad, but not jumping in sounded a lot worse. (I mean, people would see.) So I took a deep breath, held it, and let go of the raft.
In a disappointing but predictable twist, I did not immediately turn into a graceful mermaid once in the water. In fact, the first few minutes were downright uncomfortable. But once I become more accustomed to the mask on my face and the tube in my mouth, I was able to look past the weirdness of it and start to relax.
Of course, I was also distracted by the vibrant, lively, and colorful world I found when I looked underwater.
The fish swam right by my face, so nonchalant about my presence it was almost insulting. The coral was so close you could reach out and touch it while floating on the surface of the water (don’t do that). It was like witnessing an entirely different universe, only inches away from the one you’re used to.
The whole experience was fairly low-key, yet it came with its own little adrenaline rush all the same. It was exactly what I needed to show me I could handle it, and prepare me for bigger, bolder steps.
When I got back to our boat, I saw I was one of the last to return — even though I was one of the only ones not wearing a wetsuit.
“You’re so brave to go in with just your bikini!” one other tour-goer said to me.
As it turned out, I was feeling a bit brave at the moment — but it had nothing to do with the cold.
Ocean Rafting: We booked the Southern Lights tour; it lasted from 10am to 4pm and included lunch. (For the record, we booked and paid for the tour ourselves — this is just a good old-fashioned shout-out.)