4 ways to experience Queensland’s waters without getting on a jet ski
WORDS & IMAGES: KARA MURPHY
Photojournalist and passionate marine advocate Kara Murphy shares some of her favourite ways to experience Queensland’s waters without causing environmental impact. Kara is lucky to spend a good amount of time underwater with our precious marine creatures, and is especially infatuated with sea turtles. Here are some of her top tips:
Snorkelling Lady Elliot Island
Fall in love with sea turtles on Lady Elliot Island, a 45 hectare coral cay on the southernmost Great Barrier Reef and a wonderfully reliable place for marine life encounters. After settling into your accommodation at Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort, sign up for scuba diving (two trips per day are typically offered) or grab your snorkelling equipment and discover the island’s wonders as often as you’d like.
Snorkelling locations/adventures include:
- The shallow lagoon, on the island’s eastern side, which is excellent for novice snorkelers. Here, you’ll almost certainly get a chance to swim near sea turtles (green, hawksbill, and loggerhead) while gliding over colourful coral, sea cucumbers, clams, and tropical fish; if you’re lucky, you might also spot octopus, reef sharks, and stingrays. (The lagoon is only open approximately two hours either side of high tide.)
- The western side of the island, which, with its deeper waters, is better for intermediate to advanced self-guided snorkelers. Depending on currents, enter near the lighthouse to the south or the Coral Gardens to the north, and keep an eye out for sea turtles, eagle rays, manta rays, and schools of trevally as you follow one of two snorkelling trails. Winter is a particularly special time – manta rays often aggregate in larger numbers and humpback whales occasionally swim nearby. Even if you don’t see the whales, you can usually hear their song resonating beneath the surface.
- Glass bottom boat/guided snorkelling tour. This excursion, included in the cost of your visit, explores the island’s western waters. After viewing marine life and listening to commentary aboard the boat, you’ll snorkel over coral for about 30 minutes.
- Snorkel safaris. These guided boat excursions often travel a bit beyond the areas accessible from shore as they seek out manta rays and other marine mega fauna.
As with any snorkelling or diving adventure, you can minimise your environmental impact by staying clear of the coral, taking care not to kick or otherwise disturb it as you explore.
Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort holds Advanced Eco Certification and Climate Action Leader accreditation with Ecotourism Australia. It plans to be 100% sustainable by 2020.
Diving the Great Barrier Reef near Cairns
Meet ‘Wally’, a friendly humphead wrasse, while obtaining scuba dive certification on Pro Dive Cairns’ liveaboard trips to the Great Barrier Reef. On their 2-night/3-day liveaboard trip to the Outer Reef, for example, you’ll have a chance to dive up to 11 times (including two night dives) as you obtain your Advanced Open Water certification.
Alternatively, sign up for their PADI five-day Learn to Dive course, where you’ll spend two days in the pool and classroom before continuing your training on the 3-day liveaboard.
Other trips for certified divers include 3-day/3-night journeys to the Cod Hole and Ribbon Reefs, and 7-day trips to the Cod Hole, Coral Sea, and Ribbon Reefs.
Pro Dive Cairns holds Advanced Ecotourism accreditation from Ecotourism Australia for their training courses and Great Barrier Reef liveaboard dive trips.
Paddle boarding (SUP) Moreton Bay
Experience the sensation of walking (or gliding) on water as you paddleboard along the coastline in 3400sqkm Moreton Bay Marine Park. Standing also gives you a better vantage for observing marine life than sitting in a kayak or canoe – it’s easier to spot stingrays and turtles moving beneath you and, if you’re lucky, a couple of the park’s 600-800 dugongs.
Stretching 125km from Caloundra to the Gold Coast, the park offers plenty of places to begin a SUP excursion; for those close to Brisbane, the Wynnum-Manly foreshore is a wonderful launching point, particularly when winds are light and the tide is high. Winds are most forgiving at dawn, and the light is beautiful then, too, creating a magical environment for communing with the silvery water and spotting dugongs and sea turtles feeding in seagrass meadows and occasionally surfacing for air.
Kayaking near Noosa
Paddle past purple water lilies, paperbarks, and cabbage tree palms as you kayak or canoe the upper Noosa River, in the Cooloola Recreation Area of Great Sandy National Park. A series of campsites along the river facilitate overnight and multi-day expeditions, allowing you to relish the morning mists blanketing the water, the afternoon sun as it disappears beneath the bloodwoods and eucalypts, and the twinkling star canopy.
Begin your adventure from Elanda Point on Lake Cootharaba – or, to reduce your effort by 11.5km, start further north at Harrys camping and day use area, which is accessible via a rough sand track.
Motorised vessels are only permitted as far north as campsite 3, leaving 13km of the upper river solely for non-motorised vessels (and craft with electric motors). Still, Camp 3 is a fine base – you can continue exploring upriver on day excursions and, if you feel like stretching your legs, a lovely 12km return walk leads from the campsite to the 500,000-year-old Cooloola sandpatch, a mesmerizing expanse that offers views towards the ocean.
Images courtesy © Kara Murphy
For more ideas about companies offering eco-friendly tours and experiences along the Queensland coast please visit the Ecotourism Australia website’s Green Travel Guide
Kara Murphy is a Brisbane-based travel photojournalist specialising in underwater and nature-based adventures. She hugs saltwater whenever possible, snorkelling alongside sea turtles, throwing the ball to her dog, or paddleboarding, and she believes picking up plastic bags from the seaside brings good karma. View her underwater photography or purchase sea turtle-themed phone cases by visiting: www.karamurphyimages.com
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