Great Barrier Reef

Natural Wonder : The Great Barrier Reef

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Hi everyone!  Juz here…


My mum came to visit us in Cairns during the Christmas period, and while she was here, she wanted to visit the Great Barrier Reef.  I was also keen to see the natural wonder so a booking was made with Ocean Spirit Cruises.


The day started early – we needed to be at the Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal by around 7:30am to board the catamaran by 8am.  We had our bags packed with all the essentials – togs, towels, thongs, tonnes of sunscreen and an underwater camera we hired from a shop in Cairns for $45.


Great Barrier Reef
The boat took about two hours to get to our destination, so we did some sunbaking, watched a presentation about the animals that we might see, and we were treated to complementary morning tea.  Michaelmas Cay is a small sand island surrounded by reef, about 41km from Cairns.  It’s actually a national park and is a protected sanctuary for around 23 species of migrating seabirds like sooty terns and boobies.  The boat was anchored about 100 metres from the cay and after a quick fish feeding session, a shuttle boat started to taxi people to the island.


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With 4 hours to spend on the reef, we spent as much time as we could in the water, looking at colourful coral and watching the fish.  The parrot fish were particularly memorable, especially in big groups – if you held your breath and listened, you could hear their hard beaks crunching away at the coral.  Other highlights included seeing a green turtle, giant clams with fluorescent colours and tiny clown fish.


Great Barrier Reef


After a few hours of snorkelling, it was time for lunch.  We caught the shuttle boat back to the catamaran for a full buffet lunch that included chicken, prawns, ham off the bone, vegetable curry and various salads, and for dessert, there was fruit salad and carrot cake.  Everything was absolutely delicious, and due to our severe food coma, we didn’t go back to the island.  Instead, we went on a tour of the reef in a semi-submersible coral viewing boat before collapsing in the lounge of the catamaran with no more energy to move.


It was at this point that I realised that I must have been sitting down when I applied sunscreen, because my butt and lower back were burnt to a crisp. The two hour journey back to Cairns was spent on the verge of napping, but we held it together for a complementary glass of sparkling wine.


Great Barrier Reef


Once we got back to Cairns, we went to the store where we hired to underwater camera to retrieve our images, which were handed to us on a complementary 4GB SD card.


All in all, it was a fabulous day.  Seeing the reef was a humbling experience, especially from within the semi-sub.  When you see portions of the reef as big as houses and consider that it stretches for 2,600km and is an ancient platform for an abundance of life, you truly appreciate why it needs to be protected.  Ocean Spirit Cruises are a great way to go out and see the reef, but if you can’t afford the $188, there are budget tours for around $99.  If you plan to visit any of the towns and cities along the coast that call themselves the ‘Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef’, I highly recommend that you allocate  some cash for a  day on the water.


Great Barrier Reef - Justine snorkling




Thanks mum!  I had a great day on the Reef, and my bum didn’t peel one bit!


Cobbold Gorge

Natural Wonders : Cobbold Gorge

Cobbold Gorge


Cobbold Gorge was on our bucket list from the beginning, and it was fantastic to finally see it in the flesh… or sandstone.  It is located within Robin Hood station, which is owned by the Terry family.  The cattle property is around 1300 square kilometres but Cobbold Gorge is within a 4,000 acre nature reserve where the cattle are not permitted to graze.


We booked ourselves in for a morning tour of the gorge, and boarded the bus to the nature reserve.  Before embarking through the gorge, we were treated to a bush tucker walk.  We learnt about various plants in the area that supplied glue, insect repellent, contraception, antiseptic and food, like the Aniseed Bush, which provided a liquorice flavour to damper, and Bloodwood Tree, a popular place to find sugarbag.  The local aboriginals would find the sugar bag by catching a single bee and sticking a small feather to its butt.  They’d let the bee go and follow it back to the hive of delicious sugar bag.


We also learnt about the amazing work of termites, and were delighted by the fluttering of Common Crow Butterflies.  They are so numerous because they don’t have many predators due to their amazing ability to absorb the flavours of the things they consume.  Because they eat from plants such as Oleander, they are not very appetising to other creatures.


Cobbold Gorge


At the end of the bush tucker walk, we found ourselves at the grave of John Corbett, a pioneer who died 1871.  He was only 12 when he willingly came to Australia to make his fortune.  By the age of 14, he was digging for gold in Ballarat with his brother and became a wealthy lad.  Over the next 10 years, he established hotels in Brisbane, and when gold was struck in Cloncurry, he wanted to monopolise the area by establishing another hotel in Normanton.  This was when John’s luck ran out.  After a series of misfortunes, he was found robbed and dead in the bush with a six-foot spear in his chest.  Local aboriginals were blamed for his murder but there are rumours that this wasn’t the case at all.


After an enthralling tour of the bush, we boarded the boats and set forth into Cobbold Gorge.


The Gorge

As we floated quietly along the river in an electric-motored flat-bottomed boat, we learnt that Cobbold Gorge isn’t just any old gorge – it’s a baby gorge!  Having only been discovered in 1992, the creek that formed Cobbold Gorge changed its course only 10,000 years ago, so Cobbold Gorge is still fairly young.  It was named after pastoralist and surveyor Frank E Cobbold, clearly because he was awesome.


The gorge is about 6km long, with 30m cliffs on either side, and is 2m wide at its narrowest point. The water maintains a fairly constant level and is fed by springs that seep through the 200 million year old sandstone and reach the gorge 30 years later.  There was plenty of wildlife to spy on.  We saw a few archer fish, a baby turtle, and plenty of lazy freshwater crocodiles basking in the sun.




The Resort

If you’re looking for a place to disappear to for a few days, then the Cobbold Gorge Resort is for you.  The campground offers quiet and relaxing scenery, unpowered, powered and powered ensuite sites, and includes facilities such as a guest laundry, Wi-Fi, camp kitchen, BBQs and fireplaces.


MacDonald’s Deck is a fully licensed bar and restaurant with heaps of character.  Have a few drinks and a meal while you soak in the Aussie outback.  Nearby, is the Boomerang Bar, a swim-up bar in the infinity swimming pool. There is also Corbett’s Store, which offers a variety of souvenirs and a few grocery items as well.




The Essentials

Bookings for tours and accommodation at Cobbold Gorge are essential.  Call 1800 66 99 22 or email for more information.


Cobbold Gorge



Attractions : Aquascene




There is a place in Darwin where you can pay to feed the fish. Not like throwing bread off a jetty, but more like feeding the kangaroos in a wildlife park.



Feeding fish may not sound like a riveting way to spend Saturday morning but the tide was up and it was something on our list of things to do in Darwin.  The first thing we noticed as we approached the gates was the enormous marble statue of a fish in the surf.  It wasn’t the only statue there – there were statues of Charles Darwin and explorer John Stuart, sirens, dolphins, monkeys and happy buddhas.  The lovely ladies at the register told us that they are imported from South East Asia and we wondered how much it cost to bring the giant marble fish to Australia.



We paid $15 each to enter the fish feeding arena.  There were heaps of families with kids, as well as a few older folk sitting on their own and peacefully watching the fish.  Aquascene provide trays full of bread scraps, so when you arrive, you just grab a few slices and start throwing pieces into the water.



There are lots of fish.  Most are diamondscale mullet, but there are a few catfish and round batfish, and we saw a shovel nose ray and sting ray in the shallows.  There is a ramp that leads into the water so you can have fish swim around your ankles.  The surrounding statues and garden provide a peaceful atmosphere.


Location: 28 Doctors Gully Road, Dawrin

Phone: 08 8981 7837




Book your tour at TripAdvisor


Humpty Doo Hotel

Eating Out : Humpty Doo Hotel, Humpty Doo NT

We spent the morning on Adelaide River watching crocodiles jump out of the water so by the time we were heading back to Darwin, we were famished.  Someone in the group had the great idea to stop into the Humpty Doo Hotel for lunch.


This historic pub has a real rustic feel with the concrete floor and bull horns mounted on the wall behind the bar.  There is even a framed newspaper clipping of the article about Norman the Beer Drinking Brahman Bull.  The Humpty Doo Hotel also boasts about being the only drive-thru bottle shop on the Arnhem Highway.


We sussed out the menu – plenty of kangaroo, buffalo and crocodile on offer.  Dave went with the barramundi fish and chips while Juz couldn’t resist the trio of mini burgers.  While we waited for our food to come out, we had a few games of pool.



Dave’s fish dish looked delish!  Two pieces of battered barramundi that were juicy and tender, with a pile of tasty chips and some lemon for seasoning. It was super filling and everything was delicious.


Juz’s trio of burgers were so cute – one was buffalo, one was crocodile and the other was barra.  Working her way from the mildest flavour to the most robust, the barra burger was juicy and delicious, the crocodile burger was ok but the patty was so salty and spiced that the true flavour of the crocodile was masked.  The buffalo burger was very similar to a beef burger.  The buns for all three burgers were super soft and included lettuce and tomato, with a cup of beer battered chips on the side.  Juz went to the condiments and brought back some tartare sauce to add a bit of extra flavour and moistness to the barra and crocodile burgers.


We can’t wait to go back to the Humpty Doo Hotel.  A parmigiana is in order, as well as a purchase of one of their merchandise as a souvenir.



Fishing : Keep River

While we were in Kununurra, we had the pleasure of being invited out on a fishing trip with a local couple – Crystal and Jarrod.  The destination was Keep River, which is about 70km north of Kununurra, across the border into the Northern Territory.  The trip didn’t take long at all, even after a quick visit to the Hoochery, and we had our camp set up by around lunchtime.



Keep River is a muddy, tidal river inhabited by saltwater crocs.  During the dry when the river is low and the muddy banks are baked in the sun, you can see massive croc tracks in the dry mud.  That’s why you need to be super careful when fishing next to the river.  You don’t want to stand in the water while fishing, avoid repetitive activities near the water and don’t camp or clean your fish next to the river.  There are a few species of fish that live in the Keep River, and the most wanted of all is barra!


Barramundi is massive.  When you go fishing for barra, legally, your catch needs to be between 55cm and 80cm. It has a maximum size because most barramundi over 100 cm are sexually mature females and we need them to make more barra.   There are two kinds of barra – the kind that swim in salt water and the kind that swim in fresh water.  Saltwater barra are silver with yellow fins and taste delicious while the freshies are more muddy and don’t taste as great.


You don’t need a license for recreational fishing in the NT but you do need to stick to the fishing regulations and size limits for each species. If you catch a barra that’s too big or too little, do the right thing and carefully unhook it and chuck it back in the water.


Keep River



We started off with a rig that involved a massive hook and a float, and we used a cast net to catch live bait.  Popeye mullet was available in abundance and when we saw a big school skipping about in the shallows close to the bank, we’d run towards them and throw the net.  The live bait was pierced through the base of the tail so that they could still swim about and attract the barramundi.


All you have to do is cast in your line, loosen the reel and wait.




Rumour has it that barramundi often feed at night after a gush of high tide.  We camped just off the banks of the river in our 5 million star accommodation, and built a fire close to the rods so we could hear if we caught something.


During the day, you may see a ‘logodile’ float by, but during the night, you can shine your torch over the water and see the little red, beady eyes of the crocs.


Waiting for a nibble


Damn Straight!

When a barra is on the line, you can hear your line pulling (bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz).  There were a few times during the night when Jarrod rushed over to the rods and pulled out a good sized barra.  If it was close to eating time, he’d fillet it straight away and chuck it in a pan.



A great way to prepare them is to fillet the fish, coat in a mixture of flour and curry powder and cook in a frypan.  Delicious! The flesh is soft and buttery and a pleasure to eat.


Dave’s rod snagged a stingray that looked more like an alien, and on the next day we caught a catfish too – both of these are crap eating so we unhooked them and chucked them back.


Crocs in the Keep River



Seeing as we were with locals, they took us to where the locals go, not where all the tourists go.  The only other people around were other locals so we all had plenty of space to ourselves.  We had heaps of fun barra fishing at the Keep River and we’re so lucky to have had the privilege.  We’d like to extend a massive thank you to Jarrod, Crystal and Gavin for showing us such a great weekend.


Greens Pool

Experience : Greens Pool

About 15 kilometres west of Denmark is William Bay National Park, and if you drive down William Bay Road, you will arrive at magical Greens Pool.



Probably one of the best beaches in the area, Greens Pool is a large sheltered rock pool that is surrounded by granite boulders.  It is an excellent spot for swimming and snorkelling as the crystal clear water allow for great visibility while watching all of the beautiful tropical fish.  The species we spotted include moonlighters, groupers, old wives and a big school of bullseye, as well as other colourful little fish and a sting ray!


It’s quite a popular spot with heaps of people swimming and sunbaking.  There’s a car park and toilet facilities, as well as a lookout over the ocean.


Mermaid Leather

Experience : Mermaid Leather

Leather made from mermaids?  Not exactly… and the curiosity to find out what this place is all about was too strong to ignore.


Mermaid Leather


Dave MacDermott was a chef and one day, he got a phone call from his brother, Andrew, asking for fish skins from the kitchen so that he could do an experiment.  Using a big milo tin and a tanning hobby kit, Andrew started tanning fish skins and this is where Mermaid Leather began.


Andrew and Dave had a mate called Bob Bubb who had a fishing boat and was interested in reducing waste by using all parts of the fish that he caught.  He teamed up with Andrew and started a business that made use of the flesh and skins of fish, reducing waste and working to conserve fish populations for future generations.


All of the fish skins that Mermaid Leather use are by-products of the food industry and they use local and imported skins; never from protected species.  They purchase the skins which would otherwise be destined for the bin for 50c a kilo and start the two week tanning process only with the nicest skins – all icky, smelly, old skins are discarded.


The skins are soaked for 3 days in fresh water before all the flesh and scales are removed with a drawknife.  The skins are then put into the tanning tumbler and coloured with either synthetic dyes or organic eucalyptus tannins that produce brown and honey colours.  Drying the skins take between 3 days and 4 months and in that time, they are stretched and handled to ensure softness and flexibility.  Finally, they are sprayed with a finishing product before being sold or made into purses, bags, wallets, iPhone covers, buttons, pens and other accessories.



Mermaid leather also use shark skins to make leather, or shagreen.  Shark skins are covered with little teeth called dermal denticles, which remove drag when swimming by 10%.  Fish skin tanning is an old art that was practiced in Scotland, Norway and Korea and shark leather was used by Vikings.  Mermaid Leather has featured in 2000 Leagues Under the Sea in Michael Caine’s costume.


Mermaid Leather is now Australia’s only fish and shark leather tannery and produce leathers that are about 25% stronger than sheep-skin.  They’ve appeared on a few television programs over the last 20 years, including The Discovery Channel (1991), Clever Country (1992), Healthy, Wealthy & Wise (1995), Getaway (1999) and Our WA (2001).


Fish leather falls into the category of exotic leather, meaning it has decorative value in the pattern. Other skins that fall into this category include crocodile, emu and snake.  To get the best fish leather, scales need to be removed without damaging the cell pocket.  Leathers with big scales, such as barramundi and grouper, sell more than the smaller scaled leathers, and it is probably the most affordable of all exotic leathers at $50 per square foot, compared to crocodile at $400 and emu at $200.


The guys keep a cat on premises as a means of pest control – rats and mice like the warmth and chewiness of leather.  They’re currently on their third kitty and he’s gorgeous!


Mermaid Leather is open Tuesday to Sunday from 2pm to 5pm.

Phone: 08 9071 5248