Our first (and lasting) impression of Cairns was it was an odd kind of place. The most glaring thing was that their actually were aboriginal people in Cairns, in fact they seemed to outnumber the white Australians in the morning and evening. We had realised already that we had seen almost no native Australians on our journey up the east coast, mainly because they were driven out of the most populous areas decades ago
. To be honest the atmosphere in Cairns was very uncomfortable. There was almost zero integration between white and aborigines in the city, and the aborigines were very visibly poorer, and made up almost none of the workers we saw. Our feeling was deepened when I went to get my hair cut in the morning and we were forced to speak to a very racist old man for 20 minutes. It made us realise that, despite the problems we have, the UK is very tolerant on the whole, and in a much better state than Australia is. The city itself was also not what we expected. Its promenade and swimming lagoon were both very nice, and there were plenty of shops, but I thought you could probably find more to do in Basingstoke. On the bright side it did have an excellent art gallery, and when the torrential rain stopped for more than an hour we were able to do some shopping. There was also a Games Workshop, which made me very happy (sorry Annabel)! We had planned to go to the cinema in the evening but we were shattered and called it off. Anyway we had an early start in the morning to go scuba diving!!
We woke up and walked to the marina to catch our boat, run by the Deep Sea Divers Den company, which turned up to be excellent. We got on the boat (which had a lot of people doing everything from just snorkelling all the way up to independent dives, and enough staff to cover all this) and did all the health a safety forms
. Just before the boat started to leave we asked to hire a waterproof camera, as this was something they offered. You see, unfortunately after Whitsundays Annabel’s second waterproof camera had broken due to water damage. Given that she had really only bought the things for the barrier reef we wanted to hire something to stand in! We asked the boats crew and they told us that…they had run out of hire cameras! The next 5 minutes involved me dashing of the boat, spiriting to the nearby marina, going through a hire contract in about 20 seconds and then dashing back to catch the boat before it left! Luckily though it was all sorted and we got our camera.
We had an hour long journey to the reef, during which time we had a brief by Harry, our instructor. I’ll admit I was a little apprehensive about diving. I’m not a big fan of being underwater and there was an awful lot to remember, for example how to get water out of your mask whilst underwater (which made no sense to me at the time!) so I was sure to pay a lot of attention. We had some time to sit on the sun deck of the boat, and then we arrived at the reef. The reef was really clear under the sea, a long greenish strip of coral. You could even see the fish from the top deck. Before we went out to dive we had a chance to snorkel. I’ve got to honest, this was not very encouraging! After snorkelling in the calm waters of the Whitsundays, the waves out at the reef made it really difficult to do or see anything
. In addition we were given flippers, which are quite hard to get a hang of when you first use them. However what I did see of the reef was sweet and made me very excited (if still nervous) for the scuba dive! Before long we were back on the boat and being loaded up in our kit. Weight belt first, then the vest with our tank and respirator. We sat on the edge of boat, were told to fall forward, and we were off…
Annabel: We were a little bit gutted that for the first dive we were not allowed to take a camera down with us, especially as Conor had run all the way back to get one and they crew hadn’t told us this little fact! It was ok though because I had already decided that unless I really hated the first dive, I would definitely be doing a second as this was an option for the afternoon. To be fair, for the first time underwater I can see why they wouldn’t want people to have cameras as there was a lot to think about. However when we got on to the seabed we found out the other reason why you weren’t allowed to take a camera, and that was because they had an official camera man who took photos of you which you could buy! For the first part of the dive we had to hold onto a bar at the bottom of the boat and show we could perform the skills we had learnt on the boat (Conor:
Typically I had to go first at showing everything, but luckily I didn’t drown!)
. After we had all passed the test we headed down to the seabed where we got to stroke a Wrassle fish and swim over to a clown fish in an anemone where the photographer took photos of us all individually, very clever set up (Conor:
The clown fish was also awesome)! After that we got to do some proper swimming around under the sea, and it was great. There was quite a lot to think about with the steady breathing, equalising your ears and I was quite uncomfortable as there was a bit on my mask which dug in on my forehead, but apparently this was true of all the masks! If 'm being honest, although I really loved the experience, I can’t say I was 100% sold on the activity on that first dive, even so we were definitely set on doing the second. And it turned out to be one of the best decisions of the trip.
After lunch, an exceptionally nice salad buffet, we got kitted up again and headed into the sea for take two. In our group only Conor and I had opted for the second dive, so it was just the two of us and Harry, our instructor, who would be diving which was great. I cannot really express just how much better this dive was that the first, it was absolutely incredible. I have no idea how long we were actually under the water, I would guess about 30 minutes, but it felt like ages. It was so calming and relaxing, just really slowly swimming around with the fishes, looking at all the corals
. The water wasn’t quite as clear as I thought it would be and there weren’t as many different exotic fish as I’d have hoped, especially after how brilliant the snorkelling was in the Whitsundays, but to just be underneath the water like that was amazing. We did see quite a lot of things like sea cucumbers, a really cool coral gorge/cavern thing, a turtle in the distance and a pretty cool quite big red fish (no idea what it was called!) When we surfaced and got back onto the boat I couldn’t get over how amazing the experience was. I’m hooked, and can’t wait to go again when I next can!
That evening, as we were a bit more awake than the evening before, we went to the cinema to see Sherlock Holmes. It was ok, but nothing to shout about. It was then off the bed as we had to be up and wide awake in the morning ready to drive to Cape Tribulation!
I hate greyhound night buses. That's all I will say of the quality of our sleep between Airlie Beach and Cairns. We arrived at 6am in a gloomy Cairns and made our way to our hostel. It didn’t open until 8.30 so we had to sit on bags and wait outside. I had some breakfast in a tupperware box we had, and we took it in turns to use the public toilet. When we eventually got into the hostel we almost gave up and went to bed, but we thought we should try to make a day of it and see what we could.