But this is not your regular vessel, with cups of watery tea and gentle rocking.
For Ocean Safari’s high-speed journey out to two snorkelling locations – Mackay and Undine reefs – the more adventurous types are encouraged to sit on the inflatable sides of the 700hp boat, grip on to the safety straps and “ride it like a bronco”.
“But be warned, I am going to drive this boat as I stole it,” the skipper gleefully announces.
I daintily perch myself on the sides as the boat glides from the beach at Cape Tribulation, with 25 eager tourists on board. As we leave the shore we are treated to a stunning view of the Daintree rainforest.
Five minutes in, the serenity is gone. We are driving head-on into towering waves and I am high pitch screaming. My body repeatedly leaves the boat. I cling on for dear life as I am bounced like a bad cheque.
It’s been a long time since I had an adrenaline blast like this. The screams turn into maniacal laughter from me and my airborne buddies. It’s exhilarating.
Soon we arrive, drenched and delirious, at our first destination for a snorkelling lesson with our “eco host” – an affable marine biologist with an impressive knowledge of the reef.
Last time I snorkelled on the Great Barrier Reef was about 10 years ago and, to be honest, it was a little depressing. The vibrant pops of colour that Finding Nemo had me expecting were, sadly, nowhere to be seen. But this is recent. The abundance of tropical fish and extraordinary colours of the coral formations have me shedding happy tears into my swim mask.
I pop up to the surface to express my delight to the eco host. He explains that now is an excellent time to see the reef – it’s in a period of recovery, with coral cover rising and sea life flourishing. As we’re paddling and chatting, a sea turtle bobs past. I nearly drown with happiness. After I pull myself together it’s time to move to our second destination. A short boat ride later we step onto a pristine coral cay surrounded by turquoise water the saturated colour of a 1980s postcard. We’re invited to simply laze on the sand, or continue snorkelling.
“The bar is open,” yells the driver as he cracks open an Esky. Kids clamour to buy chocolate bars and my friends and I grab gin and tonic cans and flop, giddy and happy, onto the sand. It’s the middle of Australian winter and the tropical sun is beating on our faces as we enjoy a cold tinny in the middle of one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It’s been a precious few hours of sun, screams, silly jokes, leisurely swims and stunning natural beauty. This is Australia at its best.
NEED TO KNOW
Ocean Safari’s half-day tours depart early morning or lunchtime. They cost $169 for adults, $109 for children or $506 for a family. The cost includes courtesy bus transfers from Cape Tribulation accommodation and all snorkelling equipment.
Grab coffee and food at the excellent Turtle Rock Cafe<, next door to the tour check-in desk.
Cape Trib Beach House is just up the road and a great base for this adventure. It has a private beach (that offers incredible sunrise views).
The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism Tropical North Queensland. This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com