Tuesday, 4 March 2008

This morning we did some school before heading to the airport. We are school maniacs, now that the number of lessons remaining is in the single digits, we’re all excited about finishing up and sending those big heavy books home. We drove half an hour to the airport and boarded a helicopter around 1pm for a thirty minute flight to Heron Island. There are no day-trips to Heron Island, and only one resort, I looked forward to this secluded environment. We’ve heard it’s one of the best places to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef, you can walk right off the beach and start snorkeling on the coral, and it is the season when turtle hatchlings make their way to the ocean across the beach after dark. Clay was dismayed to find out the battery on the camera had gone dead, and we couldn’t find the extra one in the backpack so we had to make the flight with no pictures. I think he squeezed one out of the last remaining juice.

We each wore headsets with little microphones so we could all hear each other and the pilot could talk to us about what we were seeing. Benji kept saying stuff to Nate, or Nate to Benji, that all the rest of us could hear clear as day in our headsets. Things like, “Hey Nate, can you hear me?” and then Nate would reply “Yeah, I can hear you, can you hear me?” and Benji would say, “What?” and Nate would say, “I said, can you hear me,” . . . those kinds of conversations, interspersed with information the pilot would share. I wondered how many times the person who wore my headset before me sneezed, coughed, and licked my microphone. The pilot instructed us to keep these microphones close to our lips or they wouldn’t work. I just didn’t talk.

We saw some amazing things from the air, the coral reef is marked by bright, turquoise water, and sometimes by islands. Flying low over the coral reefs, we saw giant tortoises swimming, paddling with their big flippers. The water was so clear, it was hard to tell if the sand we were seeing was actually covered with water or exposed. Too soon, we arrived on our tiny island, our little home for the next four nights. I read before we arrived that we could walk around the entire island in thirty minutes. I couldn’t wait to try.

After touching down we took off the lifejackets we had been required to wear and checked into the hotel. We noticed lots of little black birds with white heads, they are called black noddies. There were hundreds of them, all roosting in the trees. The island was chock full of lush green trees. Some of the most interesting were the one with exposed roots that looked like stilts. As we walked to the main office, I kept expecting to be hit by bird poo. Those white heads on the birds, they were just camouflage to conceal the poop they’d gotten on each other as they dodged around. The air was raucous with their cries, accompanied by sea gulls and others. Our hostess informed us we had arrived during the peak bird season on Heron Island, we’d find ear plugs in our rooms if it just got to be too much for us. She also warned us about the mutton bird that might be heard at night, sounding just like a baby’s cry.

We had two rooms, and enjoyed spreading out and claiming our own spaces for the next few days. We marveled at the bathrooms in our rooms, it’s funny how soon you become used to something. Community bathrooms seem like the norm these days after staying in all those campervan parks, and bathrooms in our rooms seemed like a real luxury. The resort is “key-free”, there are no keys to rooms. There is also no air-conditioning, just windows that open to the ocean and ceiling fans. This works just fine, it is very comfortable and there don’t seem to be any bugs. Maybe the birds eat them all. There sure are a lot of birds. I found the ear plugs, just in case we wanted them for later.

We tried to get some lunch in the restaurant, but apparently 2:30 is too late for lunch. We settled for some ice cream, the kids were thrilled. After picking up some flippers at the marine center, we headed to the beach. We were told the best snorkeling wouldn’t happen until 5pm, high tide, so we decided to walk around the beach and see what we could see. The sand was hard on the feet, consisting of broken bits of coral and shell, but up higher on the beach it was like sugar, ground fine and powdery. We walked out into the water and stood very still, watching tiny white fish dart around our toes. It was still too shallow for snorkeling, so we wandered some more, finally completing a circle around the island.

We pulled on our snorkels and fins around 5 and headed into the water for our first attempt at snorkeling with the kids. This was a complicated affair, it took a while to get everyone’s fins on and their masks to stop leaking. It reminded me of the first time we went snow skiing with the kids, with all the poles and skis and hats and masks, and one person falling down while the rest were ready to plunge ahead.

We decided Clay would go out with Alayna and Nate and I would stick by Benji. Benji was a little nervous about going very far from the beach, and he stayed close to my side. We had noodles to float on so we wouldn’t have to keep putting our feet down on the reef, and Benji was so close our noodles kept hitting each other. His little mouth could hardly hold the big Thomas the Tank Engine rubber snorkel we bought at Target. Of course he doesn’t know it’s Thomas the Tank Engine, we removed all evidence before showing it to him. Thomas is for babies. His mask leaked quite a bit as well. He loved watching the fish when everything was working right, but he soon got tired. It was getting windy, the waves were getting rougher, and he was cold. We went in before seeing anything very spectacular. I’m hoping he’ll get a little braver as the days go by for his sake, we’ve really built up snorkeling on the reef to the kids, telling them it’s like swimming in an aquarium.

Benji and I ducked into the room, which was maybe twenty steps from our spot on the beach, to take a warm shower, while Clay and the other two stayed out a while longer. When they came back about a half hour later, Nate was yelling about the sharks they’d seen! Sure enough, they’d seen two sharks. A grey reef shark and a black tipped reef shark. Alayna wasn’t quite as excited about the sharks, Clay said she got pretty scared when they saw them, and sidled right up beside him. She did tell me all about the school of fish they’d seen, with fish each the length of her arm and lots of colorful tropical fish. I was glad they’d had a good first experience.

We had a dinner that I didn’t cook in the campervan, but it was still pretty good. As the sun went down, we headed to the beach to see if we’d spy any little hatchlings making their way to the ocean. I’d read all about the process, how a clutch can hold up to 120 eggs, that the temperature of the sand determines the sex of the babies, that they would emerge around dusk when the sand cooled off, their signal that night had arrived and they would be safer from their predators as they made the scary journey across the sand. I’d read how they’d all make a break for it at once, all 120 racing across the sand at the same time. They might be hard to see if it was fully dark outside, and we weren’t allowed to use flashlights or take flash photography since the lights mixed the babies up and they wouldn’t make it to the ocean.

We began to walk, the sun had just set and the horizon was orange behind us. Stars began to come out as we walked, keeping our eyes peeled. We saw, in the distance, a flash bulb. Someone was taking pictures. Of what? We hurried to their spot, in time to see a mother turtle dragging herself up the beach and into the vegetation. I don’t know if she was laying eggs, or just bedding down for the night. Heron Island harbors many resident turtles, as well as the migrants that just come here to the lay their eggs. We marveled at her size for a while, until it got too dark to really see her anymore. There are pictures in the office and restaurant of Heron Island back in the 50’s, when it was a big resort and people would come over and get their picture taken on the back of one of these huge tortoises. It’s no longer allowed. We wandered some more, but no luck this night. No little hatchlings. But we still have three more nights to try, and it’s always nice to walk on the beach at night, turtle or not. There are very few lights on the island, since they confuse the turtles, and the stars were brilliant and plentiful in the clear night sky.

As we were reading to the kids in bed later, an eerie cry came from the windows. It was the mutton bird, and it really did sound like a baby. It was a creepy sound, Benji asked if I would sleep with him awhile. We all said our goodnights, and I laid my head next to Benji’s on his pillow. I fell asleep listening to all those birds, but woke up minutes later to go back to my own room. We have no internet access. Clay’s blackberry gets no coverage. No TV. No telephone. Just birds and stars and the ocean outside to keep us entertained. This is my kind of place.


Wednesday, 5 March 2008

We woke up this morning to the sound of the crying baby bird, interspersed with squawking, tweeting, cawing and general bird merriment. They were up much too early, but there was no falling back asleep so we greeted the day and went to breakfast. Alayna told us about her shark dream. She said she woke up and thought her bed was the sea, the pillows were coral, she was thrashing and feeling her way around, terrified. Poor girl, I guess we can’t blame her for being a little concerned about being in the water with sharks.

 Clay was able to go on the first dive, which left at 9. He was very lucky, there are people that have been here for four days and haven’t gone on a dive yet. The resort offers three dives a day, but if the weather isn’t good, including too windy, they call them off. It’s been sunny and warm for days, but too windy to dive. I felt terrible for the people who had traveled to Heron Island to dive on the Great Barrier Reef, that hadn’t had the chance to try. Clay had a great dive, his first real dive since he got certified in Austin. He saw sharks and lots of tropical fish and colorful coral. He went down 58 feet, was under the water for 41 minutes. There were no real mishaps, other than he attached his regulator to an oxygen tank that was still bungeed to the boat. Minutes before they were all supposed to dive off, he realized his error and had to undo everything. No big deal, he was able to join the others and used his air wisely so he could stay down the entire dive. As a new diver, he thought he might use up his air too fast and not be able to make it to the end.

While Clay went on his dive, I attempted to take the kids snorkeling. Big mistake. After slathering everyone with sunscreen, a chore in itself, we began the process. The gear is ridiculous. Each of us had two rubber fins, a mask and snorkel, a towel, and a noodle to float on, in addition to the shoes everyone wanted to remove once we reached the beach. “We should have left those behind, guys,” I moaned, as we tried to pick our way across the high tide beach, which left us very little room to walk between the water and the thick vegetation. Clay had met someone earlier in the morning who told him about the best place to snorkel, we made our way as far as we could toward this wonder spot and dropped everything. As we stumbled along, we noticed lots of little clear jellyfish deposited on the beach. Lovely.

Where we dropped our stuff, there was a long line of black rocks in the water, but I figured we could just plop down on our tummies and scoot right over them, or just flipper our way across them and then begin our snorkel. It was a chore, getting everyone’s mask to fit right again, they had all shifted during the night and nothing fit anymore. I sent Nate and Alayna out to wait for us in the water, while I wrestled with Benji’s mask and snorkel. Benji was having a hard time getting the large snorkel mouthpiece to fit in his mouth, his snaggle kept getting snagged and his lips just weren’t big enough to hold it in. Alayna and Nate started complaining that the waves were buffeting them too much, the rocks were scraping them up, it was cold, there were jellyfish everywhere.

So, we packed it all up and moved a few feet down the beach to where there was a little channel to swim through the rocks out into deeper water. We tried again, but alas, that rubber piece just wouldn’t stay in Benji’s mouth. He would get it in there, and then it would just pop right out of his lips. Our precious mid-tide-perfect-snorkeling time was escaping us. I gave up. We gathered all our stuff, dropped it off on the back porch of the kid’s room, and headed to the marine center to buy Benji a better snorkel. I found one that seemed like it would work, it was not a Thomas the Tank Engine and cost resort prices, but it was the just the right price for snorkeling hassle free. I would have been willing to pay three times as much to get Benji out into that turquoise blue, aquarium ocean.

We stopped on the deck of the bar, where lounge chairs and a giant chess set were calling our name. While the kids played chess, I lingered at the rail and watched the clear water below me. I saw a shark, then another, go swimming stealthily by. I began to feel really sorry for myself. Then I realized, I have a twelve year old daughter who can watch the boys. Lots of people were snorkeling out in front of where we were, it was the place the woman had told Clay about. I discovered a staircase that led right to the ocean, no hiking down the high tide beach. I asked, no, I told Alayna, to watch the boys for a little bit. I was going snorkeling.

I hopped down the steps, got my snorkel on first try, slipped on my flippers without complaining when they pinched my toes, and made my awkward way into the ocean. As I waded out, someone up above who could see from a better perspective, told me where to swim to find a turtle. I plopped on my tummy and kicked my fins hard. I found it. A big, beautiful brown turtle with patterns on her back was eating moss off a rock, tearing it off with her teeth. She paid me no attention, flapping her flippers and finding the best grazing. I saw dozens of colorful fish, darting in and out of the incredible coral, and I saw a shark. I was in snorkeling hog heaven. I popped my head up every few minutes, I had told Nate when he finished his chess game I would take him out with me. Benji wanted to try out his new snorkel, too, but I learned my lesson. One kid at a time. Alayna had no interest in snorkeling with sharks again, she passed.

When I saw Nate I swam in, helped him get situated, and we headed out together, side by side. We saw amazing fish and some more sharks. I never thought I would be saying I went swimming with sharks without panicking, but it wasn’t scary like I thought. The sharks would glide in and out of our field of vision, hazy and gray and stealthy-looking, but not aggressive. Most of them were about three to four feet long, big but not too big. Surely all those other snorkelers wouldn’t be out there if the sharks were dangerous. It’s okay if everyone else is doing, that’s what we always say. Kidding. But the sharks didn’t bother me, I hoped Alayna would get over her phobia before our trip was up.

We snorkeled for another twenty minutes or so, then we were both tired and ready for a break. Clay came back from his dive, and he got suited up with Benji to try out the new snorkel. By this time the tide was really low, Benji stuck his head in the water while Clay just waded around pulling the noodle that Benji was hugging.  They didn’t see much, but we confirmed that Benji’s snorkel now stayed in his snaggly mouth. Next time would be better.

In the afternoon we hung out in the room, I was taking a cat nap on the couch while the kids read and played legos, when all of a sudden everyone was up and out the door. “Baby turtles!” I heard Clay shout through my dream state. I jumped off the couch and was out the door in two seconds, running down the beach after the kids, headed to where a group of people were gathered. There are strict rules on Heron Island, you are not to interfere with nature. You can’t help a baby turtle that is struggling to get out to sea. It is a nature sin. Just as I arrived, a grown man who must have known better picked up the baby turtle that was stuck behind a bank of black rocks (the same rocks that had given us trouble earlier that morning), and gently placed it in the ocean on the other side. The little guy paddled quickly out to sea, his flippers fiercely propelling him.

A woman was standing above the nest, keeping watch for any more heads poking up from the sand. It was an unusual time of day for the hatchlings to appear, they usually come out after dark. Clay had come out a few minutes earlier to check the tide levels and sounded the baby turtle alarm. He ran up with his camera, and captured another baby turtle as it struggled across the sand towards the ocean. We witnessed two more baby turtles poke their head out of the sand, rest a while, then heave their bodies up and over the beach, which must have looked like an enormous desert. They knew exactly where they were going, they all headed straight to the water. Because the tide was still out, the rocks were exposed and they couldn’t easily plop themselves into the water. I could understand why the man had helped the baby turtle over the obstacle. I could also understand why Clay leaped in front of an attacking sea gull as one of the turtles struggled across the sand. Nature’s way or not, you can’t stand by and watch those little guys get eaten when you can help! A woman actually told Clay that it was ok to surround the hatchlings to shield them from the birds, but he shouldn’t wave his arms to scare the birds away. There was a lot of arm waving going on.

Our audience contained about fifteen people, including two other boys about Benji’s age, and a couple of toddlers whose parents had to be extra vigilant to keep them from touching the enticing new playmates. The kids decided to build a ramp that went all the way from the nest, over the rocks, and into the ocean, then waited to see if the newest hatchling would use it. By the time the next one emerged, the ramp wasn’t needed. The tide was high enough it could just thread its way through the rocks in the water, narrowly escaping a big crab, buffeted by the little waves, but eventually finding itself at sea. While the kids waited the long minutes it took for a hatchling to actually emerge, they buried Nate in the sand. Alayna decided to make him look like an Egyptian pharaoh, she even made a staff and flail for him to hold. His entire body was covered except a small bit of his face. When they were done he busted out, shaking the sand out of his ears. His back was covered with the gritty stuff, he looked like he had rolled in sesame seeds.

Clay got some great video of the baby turtles, we saw a total of four make it from nest to surf. He kept saying, “This is so incredible. We’ll never see anything like this ever again. Benji, are you remembering this? Remember this, Benji.” It is so sad, the things he will forget.

We got to dinner a little late, then headed back to the room for a little Gidget before bed. Yes, we can run Gidget off Clay’s computer, so we aren’t entirely technology-free. I fell asleep with a sense of accomplishment. Snorkel. Check. See a shark. Check. See baby turtle hatchlings. Check. We still have two more days here, two more days to see more fish and play in more sand and see more amazing things.


Thursday, 6 March 2008

This morning Clay’s dive was cancelled. In fact, all three dives for the day were cancelled, due to the wind and “high seas”. The water did look choppy, I worried our snorkeling might be messed up as well. After breakfast we gathered all our things and headed to The Gantry, the place I had snorkeled yesterday afternoon. It is a haven for rays, sharks, and lots of colorful fish and coral. It was a little rough, getting us all out in the water. The tide was high, and the wind was pushing waves into the stairs we used to get down into the water. Fins were flying and masks were leaking, but we got it all sorted out. Clay headed out with the big kids, I stayed with Benji.

It was awesome, Benji got to see all sorts of cool fish for the first time. He kept pointing and looking at me, his little mouth around that big snorkel, his eyes wide, his hair waving in the water like blonde seaweed. After a while, he came up and said, “I hurt, I want to go back.” I tried to get him to tell me where he hurt. I wanted to stay out, someone said sharks and rays were in a different spot, I tried to convince Benji to stay a little longer, but he wasn’t buying it. “I hurt,” was all he could tell me. Once we got out of the water he tried to explain it, “It felt like electricity in my body.”

We walked over to where Clay was with the other two kids, and they came up saying they were getting stung by the little jellyfish that were floating around. I had seen these little clear bubbles, but they seemed harmless, I hadn’t been stung. Alayna and Nate were both ready to come in, they’d seen plenty of fish and several sharks, that was enough. Nate’s stings formed little bumps across his wrist and arm, Alayna’s stung but didn’t react. I figure that’s what happened to Benji, too.

I got all the kids situated, took advantage of Alayna’s age status (she keeps reminding us she’s now legally old enough to babysit), and joined Clay for some snorkeling. We had a blast, pointing out cool fish to each other, spotting sharks, taking underwater pictures of amazing fish with blue lips and purple eyes. I hope they turn out. Clay followed one shark for a long time, until he began to feel like he was irritating it. I don’t like following sharks, I like them to appear and then quickly disappear from my field of vision. Like a dream. Like, did I really see that?

The boys played in the pool awhile, hitting each other with their swim noodles, great fun. They’d smack each other and the boys they had made friends with, chasing each other all over the pool. As I watched them playing, hovering to make sure they didn’t inadvertently drown each other, I noticed Nate’s straight, white teeth. That’s when I remembered Nate’s retainer, he had wrapped it in a napkin at breakfast and I suddenly realized we’d forgotten to take it off the table. I ran to the dining room, where they were setting up lunch, and asking if they had seen a retainer. I figured it had been thrown away with the napkin, and sure enough, there was no retainer lying around. We’ve had that thing for the last seven months, we’re hoping Nate’s teeth are in place well enough to stay put a few months until we get home again.

After lunch, we did some school (yes, even in Heron Island, there’s school). Clay and I went for a run around the island. It was tough, in the beginning we had the wind in our faces and sand pelted our legs and arms. Then we hit the soft sand, our feet sank with each step and my calves burned and cried, “Stop!” I told them to stop whining. Then we hit some hard sand, before we had to negotiate the rocks, watching our every step to make sure we didn’t twist an ankle or fall. It was a good, hard run. When we got back, I sat on the kid’s back porch and read them a book. As I read, a little boy from the family next door slowly approached, coming up behind us so he could see the pictures, too. We met Reuben, his brother Lucas, and their adorable two year old sister Jillian. They all enjoyed playing with our kids, making some lego creations and jumping on the couches a while. The two boys were 5 and 7, perfect Benji playmates.

It was good timing, Nate was on the last fifty pages of the last Harry Potter book, and his eyes weren’t moving from the page, Benji was lonely. When he finished, he came dancing into our room. “Nate’s graduated from Hogwarts,” Clay declared. “I have my brother back,” sang Benji, and they did their secret brother handshake. Alayna was excited because now she doesn’t have to share it with Nate, she has been re-reading it. The first time she was half asleep for most of the book. She got it at midnight last summer when it first came out, and stayed up almost all night reading it.

While the boys played, I went for a short hike on the forested part of the island. I never saw another person, just some dead birds on the path, heaps of live birds, and some spooky paths. It would have been a great opening for a horror movie. Sweaty girl in running clothes goes creeping through the shadows of a dense forest. Birds call a warning all around her, but she pays no heed. She goes deeper, vines grab at her feet, it begins to rain. Still, she presses onwards. Only I turned around before I got to the beach that the trail promised I would eventually find, it was raining too hard and I was creeping myself out. The rain ended as quickly as it started and the rest of the day was dry.

Clay and I visited with the parents of the kids from next door, they are a Swiss family currently living in Sydney. We talked about school in Australia, how to raise kids who speak both English and German, and what we’d experienced on Heron. They were a nice couple, the wife cracked me up when she was hurrying her kids to get ready for dinner and she said, “Shnell, Shnell!” That is this archetypal German word for “hurry” in my head, I must have heard it in a movie or something.

We ate dinner, ate too much dessert off the buffet, tucked the kids into bed, and tucked ourselves into bed. The birds’ singing is beginning to turn into “normal”, I hardly notice it anymore. I have a strange urge to drop to my knees and sweep the sand on our floor into a little pile, but there is no broom in our room. I pat my stomach, remembering the dessert we had for dinner, and lunch, but then remembering that really hard run. No worries.


Friday, 7 March 2008

We were woken once again by the crying baby birds at 5am, I’m beginning to think there are entirely too many birds on this island. At breakfast this morning, a gigantic grasshopper, maybe three inches long, landed on Benji’s shirt. Then it flew over and landed on me while I was holding Benji’s breakfast plate. I flung a sausage on the floor, trying to get it off me, and Benji was squealing. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, holding a plate of food and having a large insect land on you.

Clay went on a dive at 9, and when he got back we all went snorkeling. Benji finally saw his shark and rays, he was spluttering as Clay helped him up from the beach, trying to tell us all about what he’d seen. The boys played wild in the resort pool awhile when we were done snorkeling, while Alayna read the Harry Potter. They flailed each other, and those around them, with their swim noodles until I made them stop. I spoil all the fun. Then they rode them around like sea horses in the pool, creating a complicated game with a never-ending plot. Clay and I lounged on deck chairs and stared out at the ocean. We saw some epaulet sharks swim near to shore. We saw a group of rays and Clay hurried to pull on his fins and mask and snorkel after them. He got a good, long look at a big eagle ray.

It was a lazy afternoon, we ate a late lunch, then decided to do a reef walk with one of the guides on the island. We were joined by at least twenty others, the afternoon dive had been cancelled so there were lots of takers. After donning our close-toed shoes so we wouldn’t scrape up our feet on the coral, and grabbing a “sea scope”, we had science on the Great Barrier Reef. A sea scope looks like a cheerleader’s megaphone with a plastic shield over the wide end, and can be thrust under the water to get a closer look at coral beneath the ripples of the water. Nate enjoyed shoving his underwater and filling it with water, then slowly pulling it up from the narrow end and watching a giant air bubble rise towards the plastic shield. It made a satisfying shloop sound that made people turn and stare, one of Nate’s favorite things to do.

 We learned all about the coral and creatures just off the shore. It was fun to actually touch things, after reading so many things that say “don’t touch” and “don’t disturb the natural habitat”. If you come across a baby turtle in peril, leave it alone. Don’t touch the coral, it could scrape you up, and you could kill it. The guide picked up big, black sea cucumbers, which we’d noticed before but refrained from touching. They looked like big, black worms. I never knew there were so many varieties of sea cucumbers. Several of them secreted different colored inks, turning those who touched it pink or black for a while. One actually shot out its innards in sticky ropes, intended to ensnare an attacking fish. It coated our guide’s hand with these sticky threads, and she kindly offered to let anyone who wanted to touch them. It looked like she had blown her nose all over her hand, I passed.

We saw a small epaulet shark glide over the top of the coral. We learned that clams don’t actually open and close their shells, that the animal inside just moves in or out depending on how safe it feels. We saw a coral that had its polyps out feeding (most coral doesn’t feed until night), and when we touched them they all sucked back in. The guide fished a little green sea crab out of a tuft of green waving on the coral and passed it around for everyone to admire. She cautioned that it was very territorial, and must be put back in the same patch of green. If it wasn’t, it might encounter another territorial green crab and be challenged and possibly killed. We picked up starfish and touched their hard backs, watching the tiny little suckers on the bottom side (which is actually the top side because that’s where the mouth is) come in and out.

The boys started looking red in the shoulders so we cut our two hour reef walk short, but we learned plenty. I hope I can keep it all in my memory bank, it was fascinating. We sloshed our way back through the shallow water to shore, getting distracted by all sorts of interesting things on the way back in. A big fat sea cucumber that Nate wanted to pick up, some more coral polyps to touch, a bright orange coral to investigate. We were able to get everyone in before they burned, it was another good day.


Saturday, 8 March 2008

I think we’ve taken our snorkeling experiences for granted. The crystal clear waters in the late morning sunshine, spotting sharks from thirty feet away. All the colors of the rainbow, yellows and blues and oranges and purples, swimming around the coral. This morning, Clay and I tried to snorkel one last time before we had to pack up the room and leave. It was high tide, and the water was so murky we couldn’t see a thing. The sand was all stirred up, the water was really cold next to the shore, we went to our shark and ray spotting place and saw only swirling sand underwater. We tried the coral and found the same, lumpy gray figures that must have been coral below us, and occasionally a shadow of a fish. We were so fortunate to have so many amazing experiences snorkeling, and for Clay, diving.

We had to be out of our room by 10, but the helicopter that would take us back to Gladstone and our campervan wouldn’t be there until 1. We hung out in the lounge, did homework with the kids, hung our wet swimsuits on a deck chair to dry in the sun, and watched the first half of Finding Nemo with other people waiting to leave the island. The ride back to the shore was beautiful, the waters near the coral reefs became light blue and turquoise, we passed one reef that was actually a lagoon with an amazingly light blue center. We saw rays and turtles from the sky, and imagined what it must be like to see a whale spouting. It’s not whale season, but it must be spectacular. Our time on Heron Island was beautiful, and seeing it from the sky, a tiny little island in that great big ocean, made me miss it already. Maybe someday we’ll come back . . .