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British kayaker conquers the Reef

September 19th, 2011
Ben kayaks into Cooktown

Ben kayaks into Cooktown, completing his epic reef adventure. © Tourism Queensland


A British adventurer has completed a four-month kayak expedition along the length of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef.

Remember back in 2009, when the world’s travel media was in a frenzy over Tourism Queensland‘s search for an ‘ambassador’ for the Best Job in the World? They ran a competition to find an adventurous soul who would spend six months living on a tropical Australian island and get paid handsomely for the task of reporting his or her experiences back to the rest of us.

Needless to say we all applied quick as you like… but there could only be one winner, and it was the lucky Ben Southall from Hampshire, who went on to spend his six months in the paradise of Hamilton Island, Queensland, and had a brilliant time (apart from getting stung by a deadly Irukandji jellyfish right at the end).

Since the island gig ended, Ben’s been continuing to hang out in Queensland, and has just completed an epic 1600km kayak safari along the length of the Great Barrier Reef. On 15 September he glided into Cooktown and received a warm welcome from the assembled press, local dignitaries and the traditional owners of the land.

The paddle-powered trip took Ben a whopping four months. He set off on 21 May during the Cook Festival in the town of 1770 and went on to spend 100 days in the water, visiting 22 islands and 36 dive sites and posting more than 40 videos and 2500 photos of the experience.

He also spent time with the various guardians of the reef: the Marine Parks and Wildlife Services, eco community groups, indigenous peoples and research stations. He visited coastal communities hit by Tropical Cyclone Yasi and took journalists and filmmakers from the international media out on sections of his adventure. As an ambassador for Queensland, we’d say he did a pretty good job.

His route followed that of fellow British seafarer Captain Cook - but what with a kayak being a bit more portable than Cook’s whopping transcontinental tallship Endeavour, he got to see a lot more of the coastline than the Captain ever did.

A kayak can get you into places other vessels can’t reach: onto beaches, up creeks, through mangroves and over the shallowest parts of the reef (on which Cook eventually came a-cropper and almost sank the ship).

Cook relied on stargazing and baffling navigational instruments, and was totally incommunicado for the duration. The Captain’s relatives had no idea if he was alive or dead – but Ben’s parents followed him along the coast in a campervan so they were able to meet him at the finishing point.

Ben also had the benefit of waterproof GPS, cameras and a laptop on board his little kayak, so he could stay safe as well as tweet, post videos and photos and generally share the experience with the entire world along his journey.

So while our only records of Captain Cook’s adventures are his ship’s logs, we can all share Ben’s even more thorough reef experience via multimedia from the comfort of our armchairs.

The result is his blog, Best Expedition in the World, which includes a GPS tracker of his movements up the north Queensland coast.

Ben reports, “In my original application for the Best Job in the World I said I wanted to learn everything I could about the Great Barrier Reef, and now I can confidently say I’ve fulfilled that dream.”

“Swimming through vast coral canyons, past towering bommies, alongside fish as big as smart cars, with the whale’s song sounding in the background – these experiences are priceless.”


If Ben’s adventure sounds right up your creek, the Great Barrier Reef offers plenty of opportunities to kayak and camp along his route. A full day guided kayak starts at A$125pp, while a six-day expedition starts at A$1490 per adult. Visit for more info.

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