A fish called Wanda

Trip Start Jan 16, 2007
Trip End Aug 20, 2007

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Flag of Australia  ,
Tuesday, March 13, 2007

If anyone has never tried Scuba diving in somewhere like the Great Barrier Reef, or anywhere with warm water for that matter, you're missing out. Whilst you may be able to see quite a bit snorkelling, the felling of being weightless, as well as gliding over coral, around sharks, rays and fish, is quite incredible. Couple this with water that is between 27 and 30 degrees warm, and a sea that is flat calm, and it is hard to beat it.

We did a three day, two night live-aboard with a company called Pro-Dive. Their organisation, boats, crew, and general care of everyone was top notch - if you ever get over to the reef, look them up and use them. Their vessels puts everyone elses to shame, and they have exclusive access to numerous reefs, meaning you're normally the only people there, able to discover it on your own. We visited four reefs in total, with six different sites amongst them. In every case the water has at least a ten metre visibility, though in some exceptionally clear cases, it was more like twenty. As the sea was like a mill-pond (itself pretty rare at this time of year up here) we were able to go to a reef that they only really get to go to a few times each year - Pellowe Reef.

At each site, the scale of the coral formations were quite astounding. There were either walls of coral that ran around the entire site, or huge 'bommies', giant mounds of coral that rise like sky-scrapers from the ocean floor. On these, the most life is within the first 8 metres, but as you go down the corals become larger, more primitive, and the acquatic life changes. It is deeper down that you are likely to find sharks and rays, resting on the bottom - we managed to see quite a good number of sharks. They were only white tipped reef sharks though, so nothing deadly. Mike was my 'buddy' for all of the trips (you have to dive at least pairs for safety), and we had a couple of close encounters with the sharks. Some were really quite inquisitive, and swam right up to us, trying to suss out what type of fish we were and what we were up to, before swimming off when they saw the bubbles coming out. The best part of our shark encounters was when we were doing our second night dive. With only a torch to see with, it is quite a different experience when you see a shark swimming either across or down your beam. In one instance, we were swimming through a canyon in the coral at around 8 metres, and a shark swam right past me and started swimming beside Mike. He didn't notice this, and by the time he turned around it was on its way off. On this dive we were also exceptionally lucky - we saw a shovel-nose ray. These rays do not really look like normal rays, but more like an exceedingly big shark. Somewhere between eight to nine foot long, we saw this huge creature swimming right down our beams not long after the white-tip reef shark encounter. From the start we knew it was something different, due to the triangular shovel-style head it had, but it was only when we got back to the boat and showed the pictures we had of it that we realised it was not some new type of shark, but a ray. The ray hung around for a lot longer than the shark, and played around us for a good 15 seconds, before we turned the lights on ourselves (ie so no light came out) when it started to get that little bit too friendly. When you're at around 10-11 metres down, you don't expecially want something that looks as though it could cause some damage getting to be your new best friend. Especially when you don't know what it is.

You can't really go through a dive trip on the barrier reef without seeing clown fish, the area's signature fish (especially after the film Finding Nemo came out). These fish are pretty easy to find, living in anemones, and on one occasion we saw a colony of between 10-15 pairs of these fish. The other types of fish, and the sheer number of them, was quite spectacular as well, expecially when coupled with the intricate coral. What there were also varying amounts of were giant clams. These were far more abundant than in the Whitsundays, and on one dive we saw at least eight of these monsters, all at least three feet across.

Though our boat was at capacity (32) there was still loads of space on it, and there was a good mix of people. Following my string of co-incidental meetings, one of the people there, just a bit older than me, had done all their dive training at the same place I had, with some of the same people. Needless to say, when I mentioned I'd had to do my qualifying open water dives at a place called Wraysbury (cold, murky gravel pit by Heathrow), she could appreciate what I was on about. let's just say the water in Australia is a good 20 degrees warmer than London in December, and you can see more than the end of your arm.

Though I wasn't too sure before I started how much more diving I'd do after the trip, I'm now going to take it further and do more (though preferably in warm water). I've now managed to get how to equalise my ears, mask, etc without even having to use my hands (a quick swallow for the ears and blow into the mask for the eyes does the trick), and as I'm going to Fiji in May, I'm going to do my Advanced Open Water there - basically gets me down to 30 metres (though nearly touched 21 on this trip, without really realising it) as well as some more skills. After that, who knows - maybe Rescue Diver or something else.

As you're not allowed to fly (unless you want to have a burst ear drum) for at least 24 hrs after diving, we've been hanging around in Cairns for the last couple of days, doing things that have needed to be done for a while, going to the cinema, etc. Nothing exciting. Cairns is basically a bigger version of Airlie Beach - its main raison d'etre being a starting point for getting to the reef. Tomorrow we fly from Cairns to Alice Springs - it's gonna be hot!
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