CAIRNS, Australia —
UTSA Assistant Athletics Director and men's
basketball SID Kyle Stephens will be writing a journal during the
Roadrunners' nine-day trip to Australia. Check back with goUTSA.com
throughout the trip for updates to his chronicles and photo galleries.
Just a reminder that UTSA will play five games against the Gold Coast
Blaze (Saturday. Aug. 13), Brisbane Spartans (Sunday, Aug. 14), Cairns
Taipans (Wednesday, Aug. 17), Maitland Mustangs (Friday, Aug. 19) and
Hornsby Spiders (Saturday, Aug. 20) during the exhibition tour of the
Land Down Under.
Tuesday, Aug. 16 — "The Reef"
Today, arguably, was the day most of the UTSA travel party were looking forward to and it did not disappoint.
Breakfast came early and much cheaper (free for all hotel guests) this morning. After filling up on a huge spread of eggs, bacon (Australians like it much rarer than Americans), hash browns, Danishes, croissants (a huge hit among the players) and waffles, the group made the short trek from the Shangri-La Hotel to the marina to catch our boat out to the Great Barrier Reef.
There were probably seven or eight large ocean cruisers docked at the pier, all awaiting passengers headed for the reef. When we found our vessel, we all had to stop and pose for a quick photo with the Ocean Spirit's symbolic life ring. After a short delay while waiting on a delayed tour bus to drop off some of our boat's manifest, we were on our way out of Trinity Bay in Cairns and into the Coral Sea.
If I had to guess, I'd say there were about 100-125 passengers and crew on our boat. The staff knew exactly how many, because we had to sit still while two different workers walked by with clickers for a headcount. I wondered what they do if they don't get the same headcount when we are set to leave the reef. I got my answer later.
The ride out to the reef was fabulous. It was a little windy, but the water was not very choppy and the group of us taking in the sights from the front deck were only splashed a few times. Local expert Jeromie Hill informed us (remember, he did work on one of these boats before) that it would take about two hours to get out to our destination, that it would be on us before we knew it and it would be full of birds. He was right on all accounts.
Our destination was Michaelmas Cay, which is located 40 kilometers (about 24 miles) east-northeast of Cairns. It is actually a reef sand island surrounded by coral gardens, which is evident upon arrival. Besides the deep blue and aqua waters, the first thing we noticed was the thousands of birds on the island. Turns out the cay is a protected sanctuary that hosts more than 20,000 migratory seabirds, and if any of us were to dare step past the roped-off section of beach, we would be subject to a $20,000 (AUD) fine. That would be quite an expensive trip to the reef.
Turns out our trip, which has a going rate of $195 per adult, was covered by the Basketball Travelers group that arranged our Australian tour. Our guide, Stephen Blackley, has been an outstanding host. He has coordinated nearly every part of the trip and no one has been disappointed so far. It's actually been quite the opposite … amazing, in fact, and we're only halfway through!
On the boat ride over, each passenger was allowed to fit themselves with snorkel gear (fins, a mask and the actual snorkel itself) for free. Other options during our stay out at the cay included a semi-submersible tour and SCUBA lessons and diving.
Our boat was anchored about 200 yards from the cay and the passengers then had to take turns boarding a smaller boat to get to the beach. Proving the locals know all the insider information, Hill and a group of players following his lead were on the first boat of about 40 passengers over to the cay.
Please allow me one last science lesson of the day.
The Great Barrier Reef is the largest reef system in the world, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, can be seen from outer space and is the world's biggest single structure made by living organisms, as it is composed of billions of tiny organisms called coral polyps. It's also a huge tourist attraction, which translates to more than $1 billion for the local economy.
Not to worry, all members of our group eventually made it over to the island and we all took turns snorkeling in the shallow waters. I won't attempt to describe how amazing the underwater scene is, with the colorful fish swimming around the coral reef, so please take a moment to flip through the photo gallery. Every single person in our group had a blast in the water and would go back tomorrow if Basketball Travelers could swing another trip. Oh wait, there's a game tomorrow night against the Cairns Taipans. Maybe Thursday will work.
After snorkeling and the submersible tour, it was time for our headcount before we could head back to port. The headcount was a little more difficult for the workers this time around. It had nothing to do with possibly leaving someone astray on the cay, but more to do with the two workers not coming up with the same number. I think the sun or the bobbing of the water got to them. Regardless, the count finally was correct and we began our journey back to the marina.
Photos are a must on a trip such as this and one of the options is to buy or rent an underwater camera. Seniors Alex Vouyoukas and Mike White rented and it was well worth their money, as you will see from some of the photos in the gallery. Our group, thanks to longtime UTSA alum and supporter Pat Clynes' bargaining expertise, was able to swing a deal with the onboard photographer and we came away with more than 30 photos he took of our group during the reef visit.
Back in Cairns by 5:30 p.m., the drain of a day spent on the open sea began to take its toll on all of us. Most headed back to their rooms to shower and rest. If there was a survey taken at this point of who enjoyed the trip, I would be shocked if anyone said they didn't. It truly was an amazing day, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and something these players will talk about for the rest of their lives.
If you'd like to see some aerial photos of Michaelmas Cay and find out more information on the tour we took, click here
for a link to Ocean Spirit's website.
Wednesday's schedule includes a visit to the highly-acclaimed Cairns Tropical Zoo in the morning and a 7 p.m. (4 a.m. CT) contest against the Cairns Taipans of the NBL. Stay tuned for more photos of crocs and hoops as we continue our journey Down Under.