Apologies that it’s been a while since the last post. This was due to…er… “Technical difficulties”. In other words, I wrote this post and it was rubbish, then spent the best part of a week tinkering with it, then scrapped it and started afresh, then failed to save the new version, so this is iteration 7(ish). Anyway, today I thought I’d have a chat about the pros and cons of tourist excursions. Hopefully this is something most folks are familiar with, as generally a holiday abroad will involve at least one or two excursions.
Having left Mareeba, my time in Australia has involved a lot more of the “travel” aspect of travelling, and so it seemed a good time to chat about excursions. From Mareeba, I caught a bus south to Airlie Beach (a trivial matter of 10 hours on a coach… not to be confused with 10 hours on a couch, which is a much more pleasant prospect), where I had a couple of days to spend before moving down to Hervey Bay (a further 13 hours of bus fun). These two towns are best known for their access to the Whitsunday islands and Fraser island respectively, and so it would be remiss for me not to go on a visit (he says having not been out on the reef up at Port Douglas… but that was weather inflicted). While my Whitsunday trip was organised the evening before it left, the trip to Fraser Island was planned months in advance, as I was meeting some friends from back in Sheffield who were on holiday here (hi Nicks).
The Whitsunday trip was a day spent sailing on a catamaran to two dive sites where there are some good reefs. One benefit of visiting outside of “tourist season” was that on a boat licenced to carry 25 tourists, there were 7 of us, a couple from the US, a couple from Taiwan, a couple from Germany, and a Gooseberry from the UK (me). We all got chatting and it turned out there were 3 going scuba diving, and 4 going snorkelling (myself included). This brings about one major benefit of these excursions (particularly as a lone traveller), you get to meet some excellent people, and they tend to be quite talkative and…er… mature. I don’t mean that as in “old”, I actually mean mature. Having lived in various hostels I’ve been finding that the east coast of Australia seems to be where teenagers go to learn what alcohol is. Therefore its nice to chat with people who’re nearer my stage in life every once in a while.
The small group also meant we had much more personal service from the crew, and therefore a more in depth experience than would have been possible in a larger group. At the first dive site we reached, we were virtually the only people there (I believe there were 2 other snorkellers there when we arrived, but they quickly left), and once the scuba divers of the group had descended into the depths, it was very easy to get lost among the corals and fish (“lost” in the daydreaming sense, not lost lost). Unfortunately my marine biology skills aren’t great, so I’m not really sure what I saw, but I don’t think that matters in the grand scheme of things. It was easy to comprehend that here I was swimming around an incredibly diverse ecosystem, and even if the biological significance passes you by, the artistic beauty can’t be missed. Indeed it’s a valuable experience to see an ecosystem from a layman’s perspective, so I can start to understand what non-ecologists get from the systems which I’ve studied.
This brings me to another key point, these excursions allow you to access areas which you simply cannot get to on your own, unless you happen to be (in this case) a very specialist marine biologist, or you charter a boat, get assorted diving permissions, and figure out where is good to dive… unfortunately I don’t have a gazillion pounds (roughly 2 gazillion dollars) and I’m not a marine biologist, so neither of these are really valid options for me. While this has the limitation that you can only go to a very specific area (where you’re taken), it’s still excellent to be permitted access.
Unfortunately there is also the major downside of this, which was realised at the second dive site we visited. Every tour operator in Aerlie Beach knows the best spot to see green turtles, and therefore even outside of tourist season, when the 7 of us jumped in to swim among the turtles, we were also swimming among about a billion other snorkellers. Ok, that may be an exaggeration, but there were at least 50 other snorkellers from at least 3 other groups, in the space of a 100 metre square. Now if we assume they were on similarly under-manned trips, it seems that in tourist season there could be upwards of 150 snorkellers in that small space. Not only does this make it feel somewhat crammed, it also somewhat ruins the magic of seeing wild turtles in the ocean in my opinion.
You no longer feel like you’re experiencing something special. You’re just another sheep in the herd.
The trip to Fraser Island had similar pros and cons. It felt fairly rushed, dashing from one place to another, where we would hop off the bus and see the thing we were seeing (be that a ship wreck, some amazing sand formations, or a large super clear freshwater lake) and then hop back on the bus. However, while we rapidly shifted from place to place, it didn’t feel like we missed out by spending little time at each place. Evidently years of practice has led the tour companies to figure out the optimum time to spend at each point of interest (though perhaps I would have preferred to spend a little longer looking at the history and systems of the place, and a little less time sunning myself by the lagoon).
Fraser had the added benefit that the tour guide was exceptionally knowledgeable about the area, and would give an excellent running commentary as we travelled, so the travel on the bus between points of interest were quite informative and interesting. There’s only so much information they can put on a sign, and having a guide who knows their stuff, and who you can ask questions etc is a very useful thing. However once again this comes at the price of having to follow a prescribed route, and not seeing any of the interesting little places off the beaten track.
So yes, excursions have their limitations, but then if that’s the price you pay (in addition to the actual monetary price you pay) for seeing some spectacular areas, then maybe it balances out? I’m not quite sure myself. I like to see these exciting places, but then as the blog name suggests, I am fond of rambling around to find things for myself.
Until next time.