Suppose you are a snorkeler and want to get into nice clear water. In your place, I
would ask two things of the tourist boats competing for my money. Firstly, I would
want to know how far out to sea they were going to take me. Some of the reefs off
Cairns and Airlie Beach are too close inshore for clear water, by my reckoning.
Secondly, I would want to know about safety provisions. There have been horrific
tales of poor swimmers left to their own devices. A good operator will provide
buoyancy jackets and put out lines to prevent swimmers from being swept away by the
As a diver, my most memorable experiences have been on reefs at the far outer
edge of the Great Barrier Reef at the continental drop -off. To reach them you need to
go on an extended tour of several days. Looking at a map of Australia, it is easy to
underestimate distance. The outer edge of the Reef is about 150 km (90 miles)
offshore in many places. An extended tour, calling at reefs on the way, would cover at
least three times that distance.
I've made repeat trips to memorable places only to be disappointed. The Reef is a
living thing. It's like a garden. Some parts are spectacular one year and dull the next.
By the same token, parts that have been degraded, by storms, starfish infestations or
some other cause, can come good again.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is responsible for the protection of the
Reef, which has World Heritage status . The Authority's headquarters are in Townsville
where it operates an impressive visitors centre featuring a large aquarium and other
There have been rainforests in the mountains of tropical Queensland for over
100 million years. Even during the last Ice Age, when the climate was far drier,
small pockets survived in mountain gullies and other wet areas. When the Ice
Age ended, about 15,000 years ago, rainfall increased and the forests expanded
to cover much larger areas.
Australia's rainforests have survived from the time when the first flowering plants
appeared on Earth and are home to an amazing variety of species. The forests of
Europe and North America date from only 15.000 years ago and are impoverished in
comparison. Their plants and animals are newcomers that moved north to colonise
land made available by the retreating glaciers of the Ice Age.
Like the Great Barrier Reef, the tropical rainforests are veritable wonderlands. They
are luxuriant places where one form of forest gives way to another in rapid succession.
Walk along a forest path and you will pass gullies stacked with slender palms . Further
on, you will come to trees with huge buttress roots. Turn a corner and you'll see trees
bedecked with orchids. Iridescent butterflies flutter in clearings. Ferns cling to