Newsport’s Jereme Lane took advantage of perfect long weekend weather conditions to explore Mackay Coral Cay with Sailaway.

I was recently invited to Mackay Coral Cay by Sailaway, to check out their full day reef tour (currently on special for locals at 2-for-1 pricing). I’d been looking for an excuse to take advantage of Port’s recent postcard-glamour days – and get out on the water.

I booked in for Saturday, hoping the forecasted flat-calm, crystal clear waters wouldn’t disappoint.

As we headed out of Dickson Inlet and turned north, everybody on board could sense how lucky we were to be off for a day of adventure. The conditions were nothing short of spectacular and everybody chatted excitedly as we sailed north on the 25m catamaran. By the time we reached Snapper Island, the ocean had turned the deep cobalt blue of seawater unblemished by rain, wind or swell.

There was clearly a solid local turnout for the day with many familiar faces onboard; both crew and passengers mingled effortlessly, like it was Friday afternoon at the beach. There were a few holidaymakers from the Gold Coast, who quickly became bonafide locals for the day, as they embraced the relaxed vibe.

Just as marine biologist Zach finished giving us the marine biology rundown, we cruised up to the magnificent Mackay Cay, one of only 300 sand islands in the 3800 reefs and islands that make up the Great Barrier Reef. It was a majestic sight, the bright white of the sandy island contrasting with varying shades of pristine ocean blues and turquoises. We weren’t the only ones indulging either: we were greeted by a mixed crowd of families and fishermen who had pulled up to the island in trailerboats, or anchored just off the cay in yachts, all enjoying a cracking day out on the water.

There was no time wasted once we moored up, with everyone jumping straight in for a snorkel. The conditions were sublime with 15-20 metres of visibility. The shallow coral beds and bommies made for an incredible up-close experience snorkeling at the surface. There were turtles, blue spot sting rays, the giant clams for which Mackay Cay is famous, and countless fish species – including some very large sweetlip, schools of barracuda and various types of emperor.

After everyone was finished snorkeling and exploring the sand cay, lunch was served. Zach had promised everyone a big lunch and he wasn’t lying! The buffet was a solid spread, with fresh seafood, deli meats and hearty salads.

It was then that a big decision had to be made… Whether to go snorkeling again or find a lounge and take a nap! Guests were dropping like flies as the call of the post-feast nap took over and placed many into a food coma. Against every instinct, I donned the snorkeling gear and slid into the water like an overfed sea lion.

I was very pleased I made the effort. The second dive location was also spectacular and rewarded those that did make the effort with some amazing fish-life. Location two had deeper water, for those wanting to dive down with titan triggerfish, infiltrate a school of barracuda, or observe a giant bull ray hoovering the seafloor for tasty morsels – while a school of spangled emperor trailed closeby, ready to snatch up any scraps the big ray missed.

The end of the second snorkeling session was celebrated with the opening of the bar and everyone raced over to Zach, Chad and Kelly for a cold drink. At the bar, I ran into Bryan Hedges (which is where you will usually find him), a Port Douglas local and lover of all things ocean. Bryan is a die-hard yachty who lives on his boat in Dickson Inlet. As such, I was curious why Bryan was out with Sailaway, when he could be out on his own boat.

“I’ve never been to Mackay before and it’s two for the price of one, so there’s no better time!” Bryan said.

“In all seriousness, it’s a great time to be supporting local businesses, everyone is doing it tough at the moment. Plus, I can have a couple of beers without worrying and I don’t need to clean the boat after, so it’s perfect!” he added.

Well said Bryan.

We cruised home with a gentle first northerly breeze of the season and enjoyed the lack of salt spray that the glassy conditions afforded. Everyone was relaxed, sipping beverages and sharing stories from above and below the surface. We arrived back at Crystalbrook Marina and, as Brian said, it was pleasant indeed to walk off without having to clean the boat (the part of the day every boatie dreads!).

As I reflected on the day, the old cliche that we often overlook what’s right in our backyard rang true: it had been almost a year since I’d ventured to the reef – and we often forget just how lucky we are to have the Great Barrier Reef on our doorstep. It’s up to us to get out and experience it.

Thanks very much to the Captain, Ces, and the entire crew for a wonderful day out.

The locals special, 2-for-1, is available until 30 November 2021 for residents from Port Douglas, Cairns, Tablelands and surrounds, on all Sailaway tours. Call 4099 4200 or head to the Sailaway website to find out more.

The long weekend may be over, but it appears the perfect weather is here for the rest of the week – just in time to grab a deal and explore more of our beautiful backyard with Sailaway.