When Sarah (one of our specialist small ship cruise wholesale partners) took her sons on a Coral Expedition cruise holiday to the Great Barrier Reef, she didn’t anticipate that it would become the benchmark against which all future (and past) holidays would be measured. Coral Expeditions is an Australian flagged cruise line that has continued to operate in Australian waters with Great Barrier Reef itineraries and cruise holidays in the Kimberley Region.
Here is Sarah’s review of her family holiday with Coral Expeditions:
Our two sons had been counting down the sleeps for over a month (with some encouragement from both Mum and Dad!). We were embarking on a true family adventure – a 3 night cruise aboard Coral Expeditions II on the Great Barrier Reef. We all have a love of boats, snorkelling and diving, and the natural beauty our world has on offer – so we knew this trip was going to tick all our boxes.
After a leisurely morning in Cairns we boarded our boat nice and early, and settled in with a coffee and fresh baking as other guests began to arrive. We were shown straight to the top deck lounge which was remarkably spacious and well equipped with books, games, a very well stocked bar and a ‘real’ Nespresso machine – more boxes were being ticked for us all. As passengers arrived our seven and nine year old sons were eager to spot the younger ones, and being the school holidays were soon friends with a handful of other kids. Paperwork completed, and we were shown to our cabins to unpack and settle in. Both the twin and double cabins are well set up with plenty of space, and nice big port windows to show off the view and a spacious en suite with everything you need and more. As the engines started and we said goodbye to Cairns we were introduced to the crew, had a safety briefing, and enjoyed the first of many delicious meals Chef Mitch prepared. The dining area on Coral Expeditions II is casual, with tables set for four, six or eight guests – this made it easy to get to know other passengers, and whilst our first couple of meals saw us sitting as a ‘family of four’ this quickly changed and our kids had offers to join other guests in no time!
Our first afternoon saw us dive straight in with snorkelling at Sudbury Reef – our first taste of the underwater playground that is the Great Barrier Reef. All gear is provided, and for those not wanting to get their feet wet, a fabulous Glass Bottom Boat shows the colour and contrast of the reef below. Ours sons were remarkably confident – off the back of the boat and straight in the water; however the set up could not have been better – a platform off the back of the boat, complete with stairs made getting in and out a breeze. Float buoys were also set up as rest stations out from the boat, and a crew member was on constant lifeguard duty. The guests on board varied in age, size and ability and they all agreed the boat’s facilities worked extremely well in showing off the reef below.
After a couple of hours of snorkelling, the vessel quickly changed anchorage and we were taken ashore to a small sandy atoll – Sadbury Cay (sunset above). This was a wonderful opportunity to get to know other guests as well as enjoying the gorgeous sunset Queensland offered. As dusk drew, and we arrived back to Coral Expeditions II an amazing seafood buffet awaited – prawns, oysters, fish, crayfish; all accompanied by sumptuous salads. Our one rule whilst on holiday was that our kids to had to try something new to eat each day – needless to say our eldest fell in love with Morton Bay Bugs, which isn’t the easiest to source once home in NZ!
Our second day on the Great Barrier Reef was my penultimate – a full day of snorkelling and diving at two gorgeous spots on the reef. The morning was spent at Noggin Reef, and after lunch a presentation on the Reef’s ecosystem by our Expedition Leader Kristen, we spent the afternoon at Nathan Reef. Whilst anchored at both sites, there was not another boat in site, and we truly felt the underwater playground was all ours. The reef looked amazing – with the variety of coral and marine life far outweighing my expectations. A ‘touch tank’ was also brought on board in the afternoon. Kristen had dived down to borrow some shells and sea slugs to show and share amongst the guests, and kids and adults alike loved the opportunity to touch and learn.
One of the best things about cruising the Great Barrier Reef was opening the curtains in the morning and seeing which we had ventured to overnight. These days our phones also helped with GPS tracking, and after a long evening of cruising we awoke in the Hinchinbrook Channel (pictured below), which was a dramatic contrast to the past couple of days on the Reef. An early morning boat trip saw an eager few guests cruise up an inlet in hope to spot sleeping crocodiles and waking birds. The serenity was gorgeous, and the landscape looked like something out of Jurassic World according to Master Seven. The morning was spent cruising the Channel, and Kristen shared detailed information about the extensive mangrove ecosystem. This was also a welcomed change of pace, and a much needed down time after plenty of water based activity on the Reef. A short stroll at Scraggy Point on Hinchinbrook Island was an enjoyable way to stretch the legs before Captain Charlie cooked a BBQ lunch on the back deck, and we enjoyed yet another buffet of barramundi, kangaroo, steak and salads. Another presentation on the reef system was offered after lunch, whilst many slipped away for an afternoon siesta.
Wheeler Island provided the afternoon’s swimming spot, and many enjoyed a walk around the deserted island and treasure hunting along the shoreline. Drinks and nibbles were offered on shore, and yet another opportunity to swim, relax or socialise at your own pace. Our last dinner did not disappoint, and neither did the after dinner quiz which proved both entertaining and interesting. When Master Nine came third in the quiz I quietly smiled, as I knew our adventure had also taught him a thing or two!
Yet another gorgeous site appeared as I opened the curtains at dawn on our last morning – a glorious sunrise over Fitroy Island (pictured below). A quick breakfast was enjoyed before we were all shuttled over to the Island where deck chairs, gazebo, kayaks and the like were already set up and waiting for us. Fitroy Island is home to the Cairns Rehabilitation Centre, and a visit here was also on the agenda. The snorkelling off the island was great, and a turtle or two were spotted not far from shore.
After lunch and a packing of bags, we found ourselves back in Cairns and our taste of small ship cruising with the kids had come to an end. Many guests were staying on board to enjoy another four nights further north of Cairns, and our two sons were adamant this would have been much more fun than heading to the theme parks on the Gold Coast to complete our school holiday adventure. This made me smile and my heart fill with pride – even after a fun filled time on the Gold Coast, our kids still preferred the natural adventure the Great Barrier Reef offered and the small ship style of travel. Our short taste was an amazing time to create memories as a family, and open their eyes up to the interesting and diverse natural world. Coral Expeditions provided a friendly, fun and very comfortable way to explore the Great Barrier Reef, and their brochures now sit with pride of place on our kids’ reading pile as they research where to next.
Great Barrier Reef Preservation
The impact of the mega cruise ships on delicate ecosystems is the reason that small ship specialist operators like Coral Expeditions are becoming increasingly popular. Coral Expeditions has this to say about the preservation of the Great Barrier Reef:
Preserving the Great Barrier Reef is something that is often discussed, mostly around what can be done.
At Coral Expeditions, the health of the Great Barrier Reef is of utmost importance. For this reason, we have put in place processes that ensure we conserve the Reef for generations to come. We are a certified member of Ecotourism Australia and work closely with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to grant our guests access to exclusive and private mooring sites, ensuring that these areas continue to flourish.
We understand that our guests want to protect the reef too. and that’s why we have qualified Marine Biologists onboard to educate all of our guests on the best ways to help.