PORT DOUGLAS, Australia -- Non-swimmers rejoice.
The Great Barrier Reef may sound intimidating to those who can't swim, but there are ways for people to enjoy one of the seven wonders of the natural world without getting wet.
As a person who never really got the hang of the breaststroke or being comfortable in water, I was surprised it wasn't an issue heading to the reef.
Quicksilver Cruises operates a daily two-hour, 72-km excursion from Port Douglas to Agincourt Reef. The catamaran takes several hundred passengers to the destination, flocked with reef sharks, colourful coral and breathtaking species of fish.
The catamaran docks at a platform at the reef, which contains change rooms and showers, a sundeck, a buffet station and different areas for various snorkelling and dive lessons.
For those who opt to stay dry, a semi-submersible makes a 15-minute trek around the reef, where you can spot schools of fish and coral. For an aerial view, a helicopter tour is brief, but provides stunning views of the radiant blue, green and turquoise hues of the coral.
But really, it's the helmet diving option -- where an oxygen tube pumps air to your helmet -- that is the coolest activity for swimming-phobes. The minimum helmet dive age is 12, but you have to be a certain height and pass a health test.
Completing that, you're then outfitted in a wetsuit and join five others at the helmet dive platform. One Quicksilver staff member places a weight belt on you for extra leverage and, as you walk down the platform, slowly lowers a 35-kilo helmet onto your shoulders.
During an excursion with Quicksilver Cruises, QMI Agency's Jenny Yuen gives helmet diving a spin on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Holding onto a railing, another diver helps you down a flight of steps before directing you to a spot on a platform 4 metres underwater.
"You can also wear your glasses and keep your hair dry or keep mascara from running," said Megan Bell, marketing manager for the Quicksilver Group.
"The beauty about it is even if you can swim and could do the introductory dive, a lot of people don't like putting a face mask on. This way, you're breathing normally. And it's a walking experience."
After the short jaunt to the platform, it turns into an interactive standing experience.
Gripping one hand onto a rail, divers will pass sea objects -- such as spongy red sea cucumbers -- to you in what feels like slow motion as it sails through the water to your hands.
Being dry and in a helmet that has oxygen pumping through a tube at the top does take some getting used to, especially if you are claustrophobic or don't enjoy gurgling sounds. But you soon pay no mind as distracting bright orange clownfish, crimson soldierfish and humphead maori wrasse fish race to get close and personal.
There are so many things to look at it can be a bit overwhelming. But make sure to say "Cheese" -- even though no one will hear -- to the diver taking video and pictures of you, so you can see how bizarre you look later on.
Quicksilver introduced helmet diving a decade ago to accommodate growing demand, and to compliment to the company's introductory diving course.
"The Great Barrier Reef can be experienced by everybody," Bell said. "Our whole platform in this boat is wheelchair accessible. We've had guide dogs on our boats. We make sure the reef is accessible to anyone who wants to access it."
And despite the current Australian government recently approving a coal port 50 km north of the Whitsunday Islands on the reef, Quicksilver Group tries to educate its tourists in reef protection.
"We're investing in our future," Bell said. "Our future is the reef. We employ 500 people in our company and those 500 people rely on us maintaining and managing the very asset that we showcase to our customers every day."
Qantas Airlines flies to Australia from Canada and the U.S., and has connecting flights to Cairns and other destinations across Australia. See qantas.com.au.
GREAT BARRIER REEF TOURS
Quicksilver Cruises, Marina Mirage, Wharf St., Port Douglas. Contact quicksilver-cruises.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information on travelling in Queensland, Australia's second largest state, contact destinationqueensland.com.