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MT 18 September 2016

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maltatoday, SUNDAY, 18 SEPTEMBER 2016 39 MARC CASOLANI THEY say that it is the largest of its type on Earth, so big that it can be seen from outer space. They also say that it holds a wide diversity of marine and bird life and that it is a key spiritual area to aboriginal Australians. However the most worrying thing that is said is that this beautiful marine eco-system is severely threatened by so many factors and that the future could be bleak. However it is not too late to conserve what is left of the The Great Barrier Reef, thus avoid- ing the disastrous loss of one of the world's most treasured sites. Though I have experienced a mere fraction of The Great Bar- rier reef, I have taken home some life-long lessons I am eager to share. But don't take my word for it. Take the time to head down to the reef itself and experience a breath of fresh ocean air. Keep in mind that the whole of Europe can fit inside Australia, therefore any distance travelled here is never going to be a short one. The Whitsundays part of the Great Barrier Reef can be reached either by sea plane, helicopter or by boat. It's about 300km away from the mainland and the closest point of connection by land or sea would be from Airlie beach. This is a backpackers haven, a long strip of beach with a commercial back drop of clubs, shops, hotels and hostels. All ferries leave from here to get around the Whitsun- day Islands, most famous for the luxurious Hamilton Island and the backpacking Daydream Is- land, from there the ferry then goes directly to the reef. You will be looking at around $120- $500 per person for ferry tickets which will include meals and snorkel- ling gear, with the lower fares charged for transportation to the islands, while the upper regions of the price bracket are reserved for those spending a night aboard. Where there are no budget con- straints, getting to the reef by helicopter or sea plane may be an option – even if you are on a tight budget, this is a 'once-in-a- lifetime opportunity'! The flight will range from 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the package you choose, where you will catch an areial glimpse of the miles of reef along with the array of colours presented in both high and low tides. Naturally, this is the best way to get to the reef. If you're lucky you will even get to see the migrating Humpback or Mink whales that pass through between June and October. Although it is great to see them from the ferry, in the air you are guaranteed a special show with a unique view. Once on the reef you will realise how crazy it is having to navigate through the channels, high and low tides, and currents that back in the day would have been able to get you stranded on the reef itself. Of course if you fly in, you will be able to see this amazing maze from the air. The different col- ours of the water not only create a beautiful landscape but also tell tales on the depth of the water. Whether travelling by sea or by air you will land at Reef World pontoon at Hardy Reef. Surround- ed by trecherous looking reefs, the quaint pontoon can hold around 200 people there to explore the surrounding reefs for the day. Whilst on the pontoon there are a variety of activities of offer from snorkelling to scuba diving as well as tours in a glass hulled boat for underwater reef viewing with a marine biologist for a guide. Why not take a helicopter flight around the two closest reefs of just chill out and sunbathe on the roof deck or watch the underwater activity from the pontoon's very own ob- servatory. Time flies by while on the pontoon, so unless you plan to spend the night, plan your activies out to make the most of the day. Scuba diving and snorkelling will take the bulk of your time as you explore the reefs around you, but there is plenty of time for a 20 minute helicopter ride, which I highly recommend. Also try plan the flight with the tide, as the at low tide the views are even more spectacular, with small parts of the reef jutting out of the sea. Once you've had your fill of ad- venture, take some time to feast on the top class seafood and chill out on the sun deck while working on your tan. If you decide to spend the night on the pontoon, again, this comes highly recommended, you will be one of very few enjoying this experience as the pontoon only sleeps six people at a time. Aside from all the daytime activities, you can enjoy a bottle of wine while the sun sets followed by some star gazing or head down to the obser- vatory and catch a glimpse of the larger marine life come alive, all in a five-star setting. The journey back from the reef will leave you feeling happy and sad all once – happy to have expe- rienced such a journey whilst sad that it has come to an end. Preser- vation of the reef is vital to ensure that this experience is available to our children and their children. Spending a little bit of money whilst visiting goes towards pres- ervation, so put your hands in your pockets and enjoy the expe- rience, knowing that you are help- ing to preserve one of nature's greatest treasures whilst creating memories that will last a lifetime! Travel Getting there Getting to the Whitsundays from overseas is best done by flying into Brisbane, Cairns, Sydney or Melbourne, and then booking a domestic flight into one of the Whitsundays' two airports. Brisbane offers the best range of connecting flights into the region. Emirates offer daily flights between Malta and Birsbane. Flights departing from Malta on 6 October and returning on 20 October were priced at €1627including airport taxes at the time of going to print. The Great Barrier Reef – an underwater treasure

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