The Outer Great Barrier Reef

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The very idea of the ‘Outer Great Barrier Reef’ stills fills me with excitement, fear and a little trepidation.

It’s where the very edge of the largest living organism in the world meets the open ocean, where the swells roll in after building for 14,000kms and where the depth drops away from a tame 40m to a vertigo-inducing 2000m!

The Outer Great Barrier Reef wall

In the last week of the Best Expedition in the World the crew and I have decided to head out to this part of the reef to see exactly what it’s like out there. To dive some of the cleanest and clearest waters in the world where impeccable conditions allow marine life from the calm Coral Seas and the rolling Open Ocean to live side-by-side.

Fringing reef and inner islands

Having been up and down the Great Barrier Reef over the last couple of years exploring the inside of the GBR I’ve become familiar with the fringing reefs that surround the 300 islands. They’re home to huge number of hard and soft corals, provide ideal nursery conditions for schooling fish and are perfect for a first-ever snorkel or dive.

Lady Musgrave Island

The Inner Reef

The next step out takes you to the inner reef with sections up to 10kms long, twisting in shape; some long and spindly, some expansively wide. Having protection from the open ocean and far enough from the land to not be affected by sediment and run-off from the rivers and creeks. They are beautiful swathes of coral thousands of years old interspersed with every single shade of turquoise you can imagine. If god was as artist he would have used up all his blue paint pot right here.

The large coral bommies that make up the lee-side of these reefs are dotted around like freckles on a face, each creating it’s own micro-environment reaching from sandy sea-bed to the rolling surf above thriving with life, both permanent and transient. As we cruise past them they show only their brown tops, hiding the menagerie of life below. It’s only when we don our snorkels and masks and dive into the clear blue beyond that we can see it up close in its true form. Beauty and majesty fail to describe the scene.

Inner Reef beauty

The Outer Reef

It’s rare that people get to where we’ve been today. Operators, day boats and live-aboards stick to the more sheltered waters of the inner reef choosing protection as the most important thing for their customers, and quite rightly so.

So when the option arises to sail beyond these limitations Skipper Paul, Sophee, Kayleen and I grab it. As we left Port Douglas the weather wasn’t exactly playing the game. To moor or anchor 40kms from the coast requires calm and light conditions for a comfy and stress-free night’s sleep for skipper and crew alike…we didn’t get that for the first three I can tell you!

Leaving Low Isles behind we tracked north to the relative shelter of Mackay Cay, a sand island on the north-west corner of Mackay Reef some 50kms from Port Douglas – still the inner reef though.

Map of route

Finally on the morning of the 6th September the wind has dropped off enough for us to head out to our destination – Agincourt Reef. A few months ago I read a report in one of the international newspapers stating it to be “The best coral reef system in the world” and I simply had to see for myself if that was true.

Agincourt is made up from four separate reefs all face out into the pounding waves of the South Pacific Ocean. The Outer Reefs are distinctive for their sheer scale of their walls, dropping from less than a metre deep at the top to over 1200m with a few hundred metres. This really is the edge of the abyss and reputedly where the big stuff lives – whales, sharks and huge schools of pelagic fish.

Outer Reef walls

We’ve visited three separate dive sites since arriving here and the range of geography and geology is remarkable. There are vast gullies on the outer wall lined with heavy-duty corals, rubble and sand. There’s also protected bays harbouring bright, colourful and fragile coral bommies offering protection to all manner of marine life. The clarity of the water and visibility are superb too, the ocean currents doing their part in washing and cleaning out the reefs making dive conditions just about perfect.

Agincourt reef really is one of the most enthrawling locations I’ve visited so far on the expedition and really lived up to all I was expecting – if you ever get a chance hook up with one of the operators who come as close as they can to here. Find out more here

Today I hit the water again in my kayak with a fairly long 52km leg to go from here at Agincourt 4 Reef through to Bloomfield Lodge – a luxurious stop-off for one night to recharge both mine and the laptop’s batteries.

Only a few days left now on the Best Expedition…

Yours ‘Expeditionally’

Ben :)