Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. Today we’ll be flying this Cessna 208B Grand Caravan at 2000 ft over the Coral Sea. Your pilot will be Matt and your co-pilot… Jessica.
Well, just HOLD. ON. A. MINUTE.. Is this the same Jessica whose knees have been shaking ever since arriving at the airport? Before arriving actually. At the thought of flying in the teeniest, tiniest non jet-engined plane yet, low out over the ocean? And now she’s going to be doing it IN THE FRONT SEAT??
Cleared for take off..
To fill every seat on the plane one of the passengers gets allocated to the cockpit. To say Mike was envious would be the understatement of the year. He’d have been in there like a shot. But.. too heavy you see. It’s all worked out on the basis of weight distribution to finely balance the plane. Seat swapping strictly verboten.
As we boarded I’d taken a good long sideways look at our pilot, Matt. He seemed healthy enough.
At Whitsundays Airport you can have a house right next to the runway.
Does that garage look a tad oversized to you? Could be because it isn’t a garage at all. Nope, it’s an integral aircraft hanger. For one’s private plane. Access straight off the taxiway. Imagine that. Maybe nip across to Hamilton Island and Qualia for lunch and still have time to pop down to Brissie for a spot of retail therapy before tea. Surely it could only happen here.
They’re building more if you’re interested..
Up in the air and a panoramic view over the Whitsunday passage.
It’s a sailing paradise, for those who like that sort of thing.
Bit too built up?
Try this then. There are many tiny uninhabited islands too, only accessible by boat.
But there was one place in particular that we’d come to see.
(“Can you take it from here Matt? I need to concentrate on the shots..”)
The swirling sands of Whitehaven beach and the Hill Inlet. Reputedly the best beach in Australia. If not the world.
And yes, the sea really is that colour.
(Photo by Mike)
Our next destination, glittering in the distance..
The Great Barrier Reef
Well it had to be done didn’t it. We couldn’t come all this way and not even see it.
And what a truly awesome sight it is.
But Australia’s natural wonder is in mortal danger. Bleaching caused by climate change killed almost a quarter of its coral last year and many scientists believe it could be too late for the rest. Many types of coral on the reef have a special symbiotic relationship with tiny marine algae (zooxanthellae) which live inside the coral tissue. The algae provide up to 90 per cent of the energy corals require to grow and reproduce. Bleaching occurs when the relationship between the coral host and zooxanthellae, which give coral much of their colour, breaks down. Without the zooxanthellae the coral’s bright white skeleton is revealed. While some corals are able to feed themselves, most struggle to survive without their algae food generation plant.
The main cause of coral bleaching is heat stress resulting from high sea temperatures. Temperature increases of only one degree celsius over just four weeks can be enough to trigger bleaching events. If these temperatures persist for longer periods (eight weeks or more) corals begin to die. Should conditions return to normal corals can regain their zooxanthellae, reestablish their previous colour and survive. Widespread coral death is the more likely outcome if the stress persists.
For an in-depth analysis of the impact of climate change, and other human intervention, on the Great Barrier Reef try this article in The Guardian newspaper (here). But be warned, it makes for grim reading.
The famous and iconic Heart Reef. Just beautiful.
Much smaller than I’d imagined. Luckily Matt knows where to find it. He’s done this trip a few times before.
The weather wasn’t perfect for the Whitsunday leg of our Australian adventure. You can see in several of the shots above the storm clouds gathering on the horizon. We made it back before the rain but flying toward shore the teeny tiny plane was jostled a fair bit as the wind picked up.
A pilot earns his dollar in these situations, finely tuning his position vis-à-vis the runway to compensate for wind drift.
A view of the approach not usually seen by the blissfully unaware passenger..
“Matt.. straighten up, STRAIGHTEN UP.. we’re going to miss it!!”
Oh for heaven’s sake.