When in Cairns you absolutely must go and see Michaelmas Cay, just an hour and a half’s cruise out on a boat and you’ll be seeing the marvels of the underwater ecosystem and a sand island that’s home to thousands of birds.
The reefs and coral formations just off the shore of the small island are a wonder. Fish of all shapes, sizes and colour swim right past as you snorkel, and with the seabed only around 5 metres beneath you, you get an unparalleled look at the underwater world beneath the waves.
But that’s not before meeting the birds. Yes they smell, there are thousands of them, but you quickly get used to it. Michaelmas Cay is a sanctuary and a research station. The sandy Cay (or small island) is only a few hundred metres in circumference, but it’s a bird watcher's delight as well as a great spot for photos. The seabirds are unafraid and you get to see them up close.
Straight from the section of beach that tourism companies share, you can dive into the crystal clear waters and start exploring. You’ll see sea turtles, giant clams, starfish, amazing coral formations and of course wondrous fish, darting about.
For those who don’t like to get wet, there are glass bottom boat tours to take and for those who like to go deep there are diving options available too.
There are other spots nearby that many tour operators use depending on weather and time of year. Just 20 minutes away a much deeper reef (meaning much bigger fish!) lies, known as Hastings Reef. In the centre of this reef there’s a formation known as the Fishbowl, a bowl shaped area with coral around the edges roughly 15m deep where you’ll see amazing shoals of thousands of fish move as one.
And before the kids ask, yes, you can see Nemo in his natural habitat here. If you’re lucky you might also see a majestic Manta Ray, one of the species of small reef sharks or a stringray.
Tours can be arranged in cairns and you can expect to pay around 185 dollars per person, less if you manage to find a deal, but that charge is well worth it for a full day of snorkeling, sunbaking, boating and relaxation. There are no commercialised reef pontoons, it’s just your group, your guides and the underwater kingdom. Lunch and gear (including wetsuits, snorkelling equipment and flippers) is included depending on your cruise operator, you will most likely just need clothes, a towel and sunscreen.
Big tip, hire an underwater camera for around 35 dollars before your trip, well worth it for the amazing photos!
"Michaelmas Cay" by tata_aka_T on Flickr, Licensed under CC BY 2.0 Attribution Generic - https://www.flickr.com/photos/12453467@N00/3946735945
„Eretmochelys-imbricata-Kélonia-1“ von I, Thierry Caro. Lizenziert unter CC BY-SA 3.0 über Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eretmochelys-imbricata-K%C3%A9lonia-1.JPG#/media/File:Eretmochelys-imbricata-K%C3%A9lonia-1.JPG