Thursday, June 2, 2016

Great Barrier Reef: Lady Elliot Island

I thought I had done the Great Barrier Reef before.  Oh how wrong I was.

Lady Elliot Island is a "coral cay" (note: I don't know what that is) that is 80km (50 miles) due east of the funnily named town of 1770.  This is what it looks like from above:

Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort is the only accommodation on the island, and I was super impressed with the way they run things.  You pay one flat fee for accommodation, flights, two meals per day and a few included activities.  They don't nickel and dime you to death like many similar places do.

The only way on or off the island is a tiny-ass 13 seat airplane.  I'd never been on an airplane so small before!  So small, in fact, that somebody has to ride in the co-pilot seat.

Highlight of the trip for this aviation lover!

You know what else I've never done before?  Taken off and landed on grass!

No need for tarmac when you're flying such small planes, apparently.  The island is only 45 hectares (110 acres) so the only vehicles are golf carts, 4-wheelers and the occasional riding lawn mower.  Because the runway has to be mowed!

The runway, I should point out, that is literally right next to our eco-tent!

What's above ground at Lady Elliot Island isn't nearly as interesting as what's beneath the surface.

That is my Canadian friend Kim in the purple and me in the blue.  What a great picture!  It was Kim's idea to go as a group of 4 to save a bit of money as a quad share.  I'm so glad I suppressed my prudent, frugal nature and agreed to go on this trip mere days after declaring "OK, we're done traveling for a while".  As if that'll ever happen.

Snorkeling is the main attraction at LEI.

And there's soooo much to sees down there!

Sea cucumber
Giant clam
Green turtle
White tip reef shark

Not to mention innumerable, multi-colored, fascinating tropical fish.

It is with great sadness I report we didn't see any manta rays, at the freaking "home of the manta rays".  Damn it!  It was the very start of manta season so we couldn't be guaranteed a sighting but we spent ages in the water, sitting still, waiting for them to appear.  What adds insult to injury is they were sighted earlier that day and later that same day, just not when we there.  Bastard sea creatures!  I saw one in Hawaii - a huge one - so it wasn't too bad for me but Kim was crushed.  She was talking about a return trip within the next six weeks to try again to see them.  Talk about dedication!

There's a few things to do outside of the water, too.  At low tide we did a reef walk, where we walked around in knee deep water and had a look at the surprising amount of creatures that stick around when the water is shallow.

Also at low tide, but in a different part of the island, we did a shark walk to watch the black tip reef sharks hunt in the shallow waters.

It is insane how shallow they can get!  The sharks aren't huge, maybe 3-4 feet, but they can essentially come right up to the beach in their quest for food.  As both a shark and food enthusiast I find that super awesome.

The resort also does educational talks, so we attended one on manta rays and sea turtles.  I love that nerdy stuff.  This [kinda] being manta ray season, it was the opposite of turtle egg laying season.  During that time (Nov/Dec) giant sea turtles come up on the beaches to lay their eggs.  And then a few weeks later tiny baby turtles emerge from their nests and make the long trek down the beach to their destiny.  Though I think it would be miserably hot at that time of year it's got to be worth it to see this spectacle of nature!

Predictably, the sunsets are off the chain.

Words fail me in explaining how great Lady Elliot was.  It is, hands down, my #1 tourist destination recommendation in Australia.  And I've been around!

The highlight for me (for all 4 of us, I bet) was hanging out with Buddy, the local sea turtle who is all too happy to chill with you and let you scratch his shell.

Have you ever hung out with a giant sea turtle before?  I bet you have not.  Lady Elliot is the place to do it.

As I've said it's a very tiny island, and doesn't hold a ton of guests at once, therefore I don't think it's super popular on the tourist trail.  Lady Elliot is the best kept secret in Australia.  We have friends who've been back multiple times, which I never understood until I saw it for myself.  Much better snorkeling than the Whitsunday Islands so I implore you all to run - don't walk - to this fabulous coral cay.

I just realized this whole post sounds like a sponsored ad, doesn't it?  If only my readership were high enough to warrant me getting free trips!  But alas this is entirely my own unbiased opinion.

Really, truly kick ass.

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