Kayaking The Great Barrier Reef
Ben Southall, the 36-year-old Englishman with a ginger mop, big smile and boundless enthusiasm, has taken off on a new adventure to tell the world what we Australians always knew: the Great Barrier Reef, off the Queensland coast, is a great place to visit.
A former charity events manager and fundraiser in Britain, Ben became a household name in 2009 when he beat 34,000 other applicants to take on Tourism Queensland's "The Best Job in the World" and spend six busy months as caretaker on Queensland's Whitsunday island of Hamilton to promote the reef.
The Best Job in the World was a global success as a promotion and since it finished in December 2009, Ben has travelled the world to continue promoting Queensland.
Now he has surrendered his caretaker keys to take up a paddle to kayak 1,600kms up the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest reef system, from the Town of 1770 to Cooktown, in the Tropical North.
The reef is composed of more than 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands and coral cays stretching 2,300kms. Its area is about the size of 70 million football fields and is home to 30 species of whales and dolphins, 1,625 species of fish, nearly 600 species of coral, 3,000 species of molluscs and millions of nesting birds.
The Best Expedition in the World is Ben's idea and he set off as part of the Captain Cook 1770 Festival in the early hours of May 22 from the Town of 1770, between Bundaberg and Gladstone, to paddle, peddle and sail a kayak to Cooktown, which will take nearly four months to cover the distance. On his first day - one of the hardest he expects - he covered more than 70kms of open water to Lady Elliot Island.
Using daily blogs, photo diaries, video updates and media interviews Ben is on a mission to tell the world that, despite cyclones and other natural calamities, the reef - and Queensland - is open for tourist business. He will go skydiving, rafting, bushwalking, snorkelling, diving and fishing. He will meet with researchers, tourism operators, expedition partners and, above all, the people of the region.
Ben is making his way up Queensland's coast in a five-metre Hobie Tandem Adventure Island kayak. He is following roughly the same course that Captain James Cook took more than 240 years ago. His equipment includes a GPS and iPad and he is following a nutritionist's eating plan of just 3,000 calories a day. Ben sleeps aboard an accompanying support vessel, a 13-metre catamaran, Sunshine, supplied by Sunsail Australia.
Sunshine is carrying his support team and spare equipment and will be Ben's home for the four-month trip.
Ben describes himself as adventurous, crazy and energetic, but above all passionate about challenging himself and making a difference. He has climbed five mountains in Africa and run five marathons.
He said he had fallen in love with Queensland - and Australia - during his Hamilton Island job. The expedition was one way, he said, to draw world attention to its unique coastline.
"I'm not trying to set any records for endurance, distance or speed but instead to use the journey to tell the stories of one of the natural wonders of the world," Ben said.
"The journey will be one of adventure and discovery and will highlight quintessential Queensland experiences: islands and beaches, natural wildlife encounters, adventure and Queensland's enviable lifestyle.
"It will showcase why the Great Barrier Reef is the greatest reef on Earth and that it is alive and well.
"Nowhere else in the world can visitors have such high quality experiences on a coral reef. I'll be bringing these experiences to life and hope to take the whole world along for the ride," he said. "I want to inspire people to realise they, too, can explore this great natural asset either by jumping in a kayak, or going for a dive or sailing between Queensland's islands."
From time to time Ben will have the company in his kayak of personalities - such as young round-the-world yachtswoman Jessica Watson who will join him in July.
While Ben is on the water, his parents Margaret and Duncan Southall have come out from their Hampshire home in England to shadow him on land in an Apollo motorhome.
They are discovering the beauty of Queensland landscapes and national parks, exploring tourist attractions and meeting local Aussie characters and adding their Queensland Road Trip notes daily to Ben's blogs.
Does Ben have any fears about the adventure? "The greatest challenges will be the winds. There will be times when I am worried but that's the adventure. I also have a concern a whale might pop up under me," said Ben.
The writer was a guest of Discovery Coast Tourism Queensland in the Town of 1770.
Ben is posting blogs about his experiences on his website www.bestexpeditionintheworld.com
Ben's itinerary includes Elliott Island, Lady Musgrave Island, Heron Island (arriving May 31), One Tree Island (June 5), Keppel islands (June 11), Mackay (June 23), Whitsunday region (June 27), Townsville (July 20), Magnetic Island (July 23), Orpheus Island (July 28), Hinchinbrook Island (August 2), Cairns (August 12), Port Douglas (August 30), Low Isles (September 1), Cape Tribulation (September 7), Endeavour Reef (September 9) and Cooktown (September 12).
Discovery Coast: Agnes Water - Town of 1770