Green Island & The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

It was a promising morning. I slept good. I planned to like Vegemite, and I was going to the Great Barrier Reef. It was a good start to a day with unfortunate twists and turns.

I slept in until 4 a.m. Ha! Ridiculous sounding, but it felt truer than true after 8 hours of luxurious, uninterrupted sleep.

Now, early in the morning, I had plenty of time to daydream and write—a few of my favorite time-off activities.

A journal—and these posts—help me recognize what I’ve forgotten or overlooked. It’s a chance to knit together a bigger picture that began long before I noticed. Do you journal?

Today’s Planned Schedule
  • 4:10 a.m. depart for optional tour—Hot Air Ballooning trip. Afterward, you will be brought directly to the pier to depart with the group to Green Island. Or…
  • Free time until 10:00 a.m.
  • Between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. go down for the buffet breakfast, included
  • Before 10:00 a.m. pick up your complementary beach towel at the hotel reception desk
  • 10:00 a.m. meet in the hotel lobby. Pick up your tickets for the catamaran. Walk to departure pier, 10 minute walk.
  • 10:30 a.m. depart for Green Island, arrive 50 minutes later
  • Optional tour to the outer reef, depart on the same boat, but don’t get off at Green Island. Return to Cairns at 5:30pm
  • 11:30 a.m. glass bottom boat ride in the Great Barrier Reef—30 minutes, included
  • 12:00 p.m. lunch at Emeralds Restaurant, included, about 1 hr
  • 1:00 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. free to explore the island, snorkel, etc., included
  • 4:30 p.m. depart back to Cairns, arrive 50 minutes later
  • 5:30 p.m. return your complementary beach towel. Evening free, dinner on your own. Or…
  • 6:30 p.m. depart for optional tour—Aboriginal Culture Experience after sunset. You return near 10:30 p.m.

It was a Vegemite kind of day. Tom’s face says it all.

Tom tries Vegemite for the first time. 7:47 a.m.

Vegemite is filled with B Vitamins for vitality. Have you tried Vegemite?

Morning Free Time

Esplanade Boardwalk, Cairns Australia 9:07 a.m.

We took the option for morning free time. Me, Mom, and Tom went to promenade on the Esplanade—the long open area for walking along the sea. It was a warm, summery morning.

This was the place you could get 2 lbs of prawns cooked for $25. Right off the boat. 9:02 a.m.

Two days ago a guy we ran into recommended a place for shrimp—2 lbs for $25 AUD. We found it today, but never got there to eat.

Fountains at the Esplanade Lagoon 9:14 a.m.

We watched the fountains bubble at the Lagoon. It’s an artsy area that has regularly scheduled fitness activities each day of the week. We wandered around until we decided to go back to the hotel.

Back at the Hotel

I asked Liz, our guide, when we would have free time in Alice Springs. I wanted to take Mom to the Kangaroo Sanctuary. Liz said Thursday was free.

I attempted to book a sunset tour online, but my credit card was oddly denied. I’d find out later that it was hacked in that moment.

Tip: Call your credit card company prior to travelling. Tell them when and where you’ll be. Even then, your card might not work. Have a back up like cash and another credit card.

After we got home, our credit card company called. They denied a charge on that card from Mexico. Fortunately, there were no negative consequences. The card was cancelled and we were issued a new one.

Risks and Opportunities

The Internet access there was not secure. If today had a theme it would be about risks and opportunities, when to say yes and when to say no, and the draw of temptation.

I knew better, but when would I be back with my Mom to Australia? Never. I did it because my desire to take her was stronger than my fear of consequences.

I am thankful for a God who goes before me to protect and guide me even when I do dumb things.

Getting to Green Island

We picked up our towels, gave Liz our lunch order—chicken, hamburgers or fish, and got our tickets for the boat.

The 10 minute walk to the pier was short and easy. It was Chinese New Year. There were a lot of Chinese tourists and a lot of people waiting to go to Green Island.

All Aboard

All aboard for Green Island! Tom wanted to sit up on top, so we headed to the upper deck. 10:32 a.m.

By 10:30 we were boarding a mega-sized catamaran. We sat where my motion-sick prone husband wanted, on the upper deck. Seeing the horizon for him was good.

They served tea and biscuits on the lower deck, no extra charge.

Tip: Take your anti-motion sickness medication at breakfast so you’ll be ready for the boat ride.

Barf Aid and Prevention

Have you ever been sick on a boat? The crew out to Green Island were experts at dealing with sea sickness.

The ride was a little rough that day with lots of swells. The boat rolled up and down.

The staff, about six of them, stood with watchful eyes, knowing that exact look when someone needed a barf bag. They passed out ginger tablets to calm a stomach. They passed out ice cubes to keep one’s temperature down, all proven methods to prevent barfing. These few tips could come in handy one day.

Tom’s morning anti-nausea medication worked. If you are one that gets sea sick, there are a lot of compassionate, experienced staff who help.

Managing the Showers

Mom and I perched ourselves in the open air so we could take pictures. The Great Barrier Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and on the list as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The first rain shower approached. We put on our rain ponchos and tucked our cameras underneath the plastic. I opened my umbrella, but it turned inside out and bent one of the ribs. Darn it. Hopefully, it would work later if I needed it.

It began to rain hard enough that we moved underneath the canopy where Tom sat.

They handed out ginger tablets and ice, they served biscuits and coffee or tea downstairs. We didn't have any of either. The ice would help bring down your temperature and keep you from throwing up. They passed out barf bags. This is us after the first rain shower. We took shelter next to Tom only for a brief moment before we went back out to look around. We were prepared with our rain ponchos. 10:46 a.m.

Even after the first rain shower we were happy. No one was barfing and it was a beautiful day. What makes a windy, rainy boat ride when your umbrella turns inside out beautiful?

After the first shower ended, we went back to our previous spot, wiped off the seats and got back to the view.

When the second rain came, we stayed where we were. I could taste salt water on my lips. I pulled the hood of my rain poncho over my eyes and looked through it like a window.

I felt deliriously happy. I am certain I looked ridiculous. Can you remember a time when you were happy even when things were askew?

A panoramic view of Green Island and the Great Barrier Reef 11:31 a.m.

Then we arrived. There it was, Green Island. The sun was shining like an oasis in the desert.

The Map

Here are the logistics for the visually inclined and those who like maps.

The Great Barrier Reef

A Glass Bottom Boat

Liz makes sure we're all on the boat and then sends us off. 11:47 a.m.

We went directly from one boat to another. It was scheduled to leave at 11:30. We were 20 minutes late. Our guide counted us like chickens to make sure we were all on board.

Some kind of dark fish. 11:51 a.m.

I was thrilled to see the first dark thing that swam in the water. The fish appeared slowly. The water was murky and the fish were hard to see.

One of our travel mates complained, “Where are all the fish? Why can’t we see anything?” She wanted a refund.

Where Are All the Fish?

The skipper told us during the ride that none of the locals would come out on a day like this. The seas were turned up. We were surrounded by storms. The water was murky.

I didn’t care. I was happy to see whatever we saw. I was with my mother on her dream trip to Australia. The sun was shining even though the forecast predicted rain.

My optimistic tendencies wrapped around me like a blanket. I took account of everything I knew that was good and surrounded myself with it.

The view: is it good, bad or neutral? Well, that depends on where you sit.

Fish 12:12 p.m.

Eventually, the fish arrived. Look at the bubbles on the glass. You can see the reflection of the metal railing that kept us from falling down through the glass into the ocean.

Another mud shark in the Great Barrier Reef. 11:58 a.m.

A variety of species swam below. This one was a mud shark. Can you see the other darker fish below him?

Fish galore. 12:12 pm. our skipper told us anyone who lives around here would never come out on a day like this. The sea is all stirred up. There are storms in every direction. We didn't have any choice. This was our only day here.

We saw a lot of these. There were other smaller, colorful ones that I didn’t capture with the camera.

Giant Clams, Flowing Coral

Giant clam in the Great Barrier Reef. 12:07 p.m.

Then came the giant clams. I was awestruck to see these huge magical creatures. They looked big enough to lay down and sleep inside.

Shapes and textures of the coral with us peeking over the railing. 12:04 p.m.

Coral was everywhere. It moved gently back and forth in the underwater current. Some of it had turned white on the ends, a sign of stress.

It was really exciting when we started seeing the fish. 11:59 a.m.

The ride lasted half an hour. I loved it even if even if it was lacking in perfection, even if the water was turned up and murky.

Fishing in the Great Barrier Reef

As we came into the pier, there was a bird catching its lunch.

This is my first attempt at using Vine, a short 6 second video loop. You can turn the sound on and off yourself.

What to Do on Green Island?

Let’s Lunch

The boat ride ended and we were hungry.

Our group had reservations at Noon in Emeralds Restaurant. We arrived a half hour late.

The Emeralds Restaurant where we had lunch. We circled back around here after exploring the first half of the island. This is where the bathrooms were, right next to the restaurant. The pool was also right next to the restaurant. 2:52 p.m.

They were ready for us. The tables were set. We had a three course meal.

Lunch at Emeralds Restaurant. 1:00 p.m.

  • First, fresh fruit including passion fruit. Have you tried passion fruit?
  • Second, the entree. Mine was the local Barramundi fish.
  • Third, fruit sorbet.

Buff Banded Rail.  It was feared that they had disappeared off Green Island several years ago due to rats eating them. However, with rat eradication, populations are now booming. 1:44 p.m.

The birds like easy food. This Buff Banded Rail might have liked my lunch, but I didn’t linger long on admiration. I am a fast eater. Apparently, this kind of robbery is common for those who dawdle.

Exploring the Island

Our tickets came with access to the pool, but we wanted to explore the island. 2:52 p.m.

For those who didn’t want to swim in the ocean, there was the pool. After this day, I can see the draw, especially for those with children.

Exploring Green Island on the eco trail. Mom's photo. 1:06 p.m.

The eco-trail took 45 minutes to leisurely walk from one end to the other. It was a great refuge from the sun.

We carried our pack with water, towels, sunscreen, hats, and other beach necessities.

Peeking through to the beach. 2:17 p.m.

We poked our heads out from beneath the shaded walkway once in a while to take a look at the beach.

Mom took a picture of me as I walked along the coral near the shore to see if I could find any living creatures. If I did, I'd bring Mom down to see them. 1:25 p.m.

I walked on the coral while the tide was out looking for living creatures. There was no touching, only looking. Some shells on the beach are poisonous. The only thing I found were some small snails.

I also found this shell with all of these colors. 2:28 p.m.

and this colorful shell.

It was hot and heat is an energy zapper for old mothers. Speaking of old mothers, we didn’t go snorkeling or wading. Later, I was thankful we didn’t.

I was uninformed about swimming safety in Australia, different from the lakes at home.

Going Back the Other Way

The day was not void of its irritations. Which way to go? Where’s the bathroom? Can we go all the way around the island and still be back in time? Are you sure this is the way? Waiting. If those were the only problems…

A Small But Important Assignment

Why Were We in All of These Places

We walked all the way to the other side of the trail. On the way there we saw access to the hotel, Green Island Resort, for those staying overnight on the island, we saw the helicopter pad and we saw some of our travel mates enjoying the breeze at the end of the trail. 2:56 p.m.

We made our way to the other end of the eco-walk. The island’s only hotel was down this way. They say it’s peaceful after the day trippers head home at 4:30 p.m.

We saw a helicopter pad down this way. The helicopter was in. There were a lot of Chinese tourists taking pictures.

The helicopter pad…why were we here? Why did we see this?

No Swimming on This Beach

We walked to this beach where there was no swimming allowed. Even though, there was a lifeguard on duty. Mom sat on the wall watching us. It was here that the first lifeguard was called out to a rescue call. He couldn't get through because the tourists in the walkway didn't understand English. As we were trying to have Mom shimmy off the wall, another lifeguard came running as fast as he could looking for the first. We could hear him on the walkie talkie. The emergency had escalated. 3:07 p.m.

Our next stop, there was a sign posted that said no swimming allowed. Even so, we saw two people snorkeling and there was a lifeguard on duty. This was a little confusing. Apparently, people don’t heed the signs or must not understand them.

As we got ready to go, a surfer walked up quickly from the beach toward the trail steps. He was a little impatient. There were tourists that blocked the way.

Finally, he said, “Hurry, I’m on a rescue call.” They didn’t understand English and were slow to part. He wasn’t a surfer, he was a lifeguard, but I never would have known if I didn’t understand what he said.

It wasn’t long after that a thin blond haired guy with a yellow lifeguard shirt came running down to the beach as fast as he could. He communicated via walkie talkie. By his conversation, I heard he was looking for the one with the surfboard. He said he would meet him at the pier. They would take care of it. That’s what lifeguards do.

We got Mom to shimmy back off the concrete embankment where she sat watching us. We walked along the trail looking for better access to the beach.

Who Was that Celebrity?

We had a hard time finding access. Tom’s shoes were full of sand so we walked down to the area with the restaurant and bathrooms. There was a place to wash off his feet there.

Parked next to the trail, I saw a cart with a seat for two and a flat back used to carry things. The beach entrance was temporarily closed. There were three staff waiting. I was certain a celebrity was coming, and they were there to pick him or her up.

Soon a group of people walked up from the beach. I saw their heads first, then their shoulders, then that they carried something. I held my camera up ready to take a picture, then set it down.

My heart sank when I saw they carried a blue body bag. It was zipped shut, the size of a small person. It didn’t look very heavy even though six people carried it.

It was terribly sad to witness. Why were we there? There were so many other places we could have been.

I Heard Her

They opened the entrance to the beach, but it was closed for swimming. The rip currents were strong.

Mom and Tom had started down the path. It was then that I heard someone wailing.

I looked to my right. She came from the other side of the island flanked by four helicopter personnel wearing jumpsuits, a woman on each side of her and two men in front. She was crying inconsolably. I didn’t have to wonder why.

We made our way down the trail. They had closed access to the beach. We stood near that path so Tom could wash his feet off in the fresh water spigot provided. The staff waited with a small two seated truck with an open back. I was sure there was someone famous about to arrive. Finally, someone was coming up from the beach. It wasn't anyone famous. Four, five or six of them carried a light blue body bag that was zipped shut. The person inside was small. When they were gone, we walked down to the beach so Mom could put her toes into the ocean. It was not before I saw four helicopter personnel flanking a bawling Chinese woman. There wasn't any question about putting the story together. By the time we got down to the beach, it was closed. We heard the rip tides were strong. There was a heavy sadness in the air. 3:28 p.m.

We walked down to the beach so Mom could put her feet into the ocean. I saw a lifeguard carrying up a large yellow case of emergency equipment. He looked like he just swam a marathon.

We never got a picture of my mom by the water. I held her arm the whole time. It didn’t feel safe enough to let her go to step back and take that photo. The ocean had taken a wild turn.

A happy day had turned tragic.

Why Were We Here?

Of all of the places we could have been I wondered why we saw the helicopter pad, the lifeguards, the body bag and the woman wailing. There were so many other places we could have been.

When I ask our guide the next day if she knew someone died, she said she did. Someone dies every year during the Chinese New Year holiday. Two-thirds of the people on the island had no idea it happened.

As for me—why was I here? I did what I always do when there is nothing else I can, I prayed. It was a small, but important assignment in my mind and so is sharing beach safety.

Safety Tips: Rip Currents on Australian Beaches

In the summer months in Australia, on average, someone drowns in a rip current every 2-3 days. Most rescues are related to rips. It only takes 1 minute to drown. Watch this video before you go.

Lifeguards place flags on the safest part of the beach. Swim between the flags. Here are a few bits of information you’ll want to know about a rip current.

What Are Rip Currents?

They are not an undertow. They won’t pull you under water.

They are not a tide. They are a current and their flow is steady. They pull the water on shore back out to the ocean.

They look like a clear, calm gap in the water. There are no breaking waves. There is hardly any white water.

What to Do If You Find Yourself in a Rip Current

Don’t panic. All a rip will do is take you farther out to sea.

If you’re not a good swimmer, raise your arm up in the air. It’s a signal for the lifeguard to come and get you.

If you’re a good swimmer, look around. If you can see the sides of the rip where the water is white and the waves are braking, swim toward that area.

White water is good. It means it’s shallow and you may be able to stand up.

White water brings you back to the beach.

Never swim against a rip. You’ll get tired. You’ll start to panic.

Why Are Rips Dangerous?
  • They flow faster than people can swim.
  • They look like the safest place to swim.
Three Types of Rip Currents

Fixed Rip: They are stuck between sand bars and may stay in the same place for days, weeks or months.

Flash Rip: They occur when there’s a large group of waves braking. They can occur suddenly. This kind of rip pushes the water from the waves out and then it dissapears.

Permanent Rip: Located near rocks and headlands.

Simple Rules to Stay Safe

If there are no lifeguards and no flags, don’t swim.

If you do go into the ocean to swim, make sure you’re an experienced swimmer, make sure you’re always with someone, and make sure you know how to spot a rip current.

In honor of the man who drowned on Green Island, follow these rules to stay safe. It’s a small, but important assignment on your part.

Heading Back to Cairns

It was not long after this tragedy that we saw our guide. She sent us early to one of the catamarans to return to Cairns.

The sky had turned stormy. The wind was picking up. It was an omen of things to come. Just 4 days two cyclones would hit this side of Australia, one to the north and one just south of Cairns. Mom's photo. 3:52 p.m.

The beautiful day had begun to turn stormy. The wind picked up. It was a sign of things to come. In just four days there would be two cyclones, the equivalent of hurricanes in my part of the world. They would hit this side of Australia, one to the north and one just south of Cairns.

We walked along the jetty. I had already tucked away everything that could blow away. I held onto Mom’s arm. The wind had gotten so strong that we had to brace ourselves as we came out from behind the wind guards along the pier. It began to rain.

The next catamaran pulled in. The staff all had their slickers on, hoods up and buttoned up to their necks. The lifeguard who had the walkie talkie in the earlier emergency was standing on the pier. It was not a comforting sight.

The crew had on their slickers with the hood up. Rain and waves splashed against the window. There was a mother and her daughter who laid their heads down on the table in front of us, seasick. 4:44 p.m.

I was glad when we were seated on the lower deck of the boat. A mother and daughter laid their heads down on top of the table in front of us. They didn’t like the waves. The funny thing was, when we got back to Cairns, the sun came out.

Dinner in the Cairns Night Market

I would have been happy going without anything to eat, but Tom was hungry.

And a little closer to the Night Market we saw a tree full of green parakeets with red breasts. 6:44 p.m.

On our way to the Night Market, we saw a tree full of red breasted parrots.

We decided on the Self Services Chinese & Seafood stall where you paid by the plate and could pile it as high as you wanted. It wasn't that I was hungry. We'd been eating more than enough. I got some prawns and green lipped muscles and lots of steamed vegetables underneath those three egg rolls. 6:57 p.m.

There weren’t many restaurants open. It was Monday. We ate at the Self Service Chinese & Seafood restaurant. It was the most popular place to eat. The prices were reasonable. Most of the food was good. I didn’t like the prawns. They were mushy, but they were mushy everywhere I tried them. I didn’t eat my green lipped mussels because they looked dirty. A dirty mussel is not a good mussel.

Do any of these plates of food look like they belong to someone who was not hungry? We ate and went back to the hotel.

The Day Was Not What I Expected

It was a vegemite kind of day. I expected Vegemite to taste smooth and creamy like chocolate. It didn’t. I expected a happy day on Green Island, but there was a terrible tragedy. It was a beautiful day, but the wind turned up and the sea got rough.

Have you run into an unexpected difficulty in your travels? What did you do? Do you journal? Have you tried Vegemite or passion fruit? Have you ever been sick on a boat? What makes a day beautiful even in the wind and the rain? Can you remember a time when you were happy even when things were askew? Have you ever asked yourself why was I here and not there? And why were you? What was your purpose in the moment and the moments that followed?

Traveling isn’t always what we expect. There are risks and opportunities, times to say yes and times to say no. How do you decide?

Marie LaForce About Marie LaForce

Writer | Photographer | Explorer |Dreamer | Intentional Disciple of Christ


  1. Karen Goedken says:

    Marie, when we took Ashley on her senior trip to Hawaii, the same thing happened. Several people died in a rip tide on the north side of Oahu by the main surfing area. There was a topical storm on our arrival and the rip tide was part of the consequence. Then we went to the Island of Hawaii, the Big Island, and someone had part of her arm taken off by a shark. And 12 hours after we got home Ashley’s head size started to double! I called the University of Hawaii and talked to an epidemiology prof there and was told it was either dingy fever, a kind of untreatable malaria, or leptospyrosis, which is usually from wild boar feces. Well, I knew dingy fever from traveling with the military to central america and knew it wasn’t that. So we got antibiotics on board and her head started to reduce to normal within the next 12 hours. None of this was that simple but in general that is what happened. It was scary. She would have died pretty quickly actually. In Hawaii they normally put people in the hospital right away but here they kept wanting to do blood tests. I found a nurse practitioner who would listen to me after several return trips to the clinic and she gave me antibiotics without a diagnosis and Ashley responded immediately. All of her skin peeled however. She should have had IV antibiotics. But she survived and so did we. Again that tropical storm had apparently washed wild boar feces onto a trail we took to petroglyphs on the Big Island, and she had been wearing flip flops. We saw signs but didn’t consider what we were doing to be dangerous. So you just never know. After that trip, I decided Hawaii is not quite as much of a paradise as they advertise it to be. And I learned to be a much more discerning traveler. But of course still anything can happen when you travel, and it does. Loved your story. It made me think of mine!

    • Wow! I am so glad everything turned out for your family and Ashley. I can only imagine how scary that was. I’ve been kind of amazed about some of thing things that I’ve discovered writing these travel blogs. Of course, I discover them once I’ve already traveled there and I’m back home, but I write about them as a public service announcement. I am particularly thinking about the Monkey Temple in Lopburi, Thailand. Thanks for sharing your story and getting the word out about the wild boar feces in Hawaii. Who would think about that before going?

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