Great Barrier Reef dive overdrive!

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Flag of Australia  ,
Wednesday, October 5, 2005

On Thursday 29 September, at about 10pm, we checked in for our second attempt at flying from Denpasar to Oz - there was no ways we'd miss the plane this time! The flight was packed with exhausted Aussies who'd like they'd been partying and shopping way too hard. Due to our unplanned bonus time in Bali, we decided not to stop off in Darwin and continue straight on to Cairns - a real shame as we would have liked to visit Kakadu National Park. But... you can't do it all! The Great Barrier Reef was our greatest priority.

However, we still flew via Darwin, and found ourselves queuing for ages in a jam-packed immigration hall at 4am in the morning. Our flight landed at the same time as a flight from France, and the small airport was in chaos. The immigrations and customs staff simply couldn't process people fast enough. We ended up rushing to get onto the connecting Cairns flight... so much for first-world efficiency!

Arrived in Cairns at about 9am, found ourselves a cosy room in a hostel on the Esplanade and went exploring. Gosh, the reverse culture shock of being surrounded by English speakers, not having to fend off mobs of street sellers, and being able to cross the street without having to dodge streams of motorcycles! To our Asian-attuned senses, it was all so clean, so organised, so utterly civilised... Ah!

Cairns itself is a pleasant little city. Its main drawcard is the wonderful waterfront prominade and park, with huge public swimming pool. We did a bit of essential shopping, including buying an Oz & NZ Lonely Planet, and found ourselves a shady spot on the lawn. In the late afternoon, after a swim in the pool at the hostel, we wandered down to the yacht club for a drink or two, with the view to scoping out some crewing opportunities for the next day. Unfortunately, none presented themselves - maybe we were staring too deeply into our glasses of cool, crisp Sauvignon Blanc....mmmm, good wine! What a treat after four months of nothing but beer. We continued the theme of re-acquainting ourselves with our favourite foods, and went for a pizza (finally, some cheese!) and a nice bottle of red.

On Saturday, we investigated Great Barrier Reef dive options. The number of operators is simply staggering! We managed to book standby places with ProDive (who had been recommended to us) for a three day, two night liveaboard, leaving the following day (Sunday). Sorted! We concluded that we would probably not have time to make it down to the Whitsundays as well, so booked a hire car for the three days after the dive trip, before our flight to Sydney on Friday 7th. We'd go and explore Daintree.

The rest of Saturday was spent in a pleasant, relaxing daze of strolling through Rusty's, a fabulous fresh produce market, eating our picnic of... yes, cheese, and parking off on the waterfront lawns. ProDive had given us free tickets to a audio-visual presentation called ReefTeach, which basically consisted of a madcap Irishman showing slides and talking about the critters of the Reef, with plenty of exaggerated body movements. Hilarious and rather informative.

On the Sunday at 7am we boarded ScubaPro III, a plush, purpose-built vessel barely a year old. The living quarters, diving deck and sun deck were spacious, and the quality of the dive equipment excellent. There were 32 of us on board - roughly half were doing Open Water and Advanced courses, the rest, like us, were simply fun diving.

Over the three days we did a total of 11 dives - three dives a day plus a night dive on the Sunday and Monday evenings. Phew, pretty intensive! In between dives we relaxed on the sun deck and were fed delicious meals - there wasn't much time for anything else. The trip took us to three reefs on the outer GBR - Thetford, Milln and Flynn. The dives were all self-guided, which meant that we were not accompanied by a divemaster or guide. Before diving a particular site, we'd be given a briefing, including a short description of the underwater terrain, highlights to look for and compass bearings. We would then set off with our buddy or in small groups. Sometimes we'd get a little lost (a couple of times Rich and I surfaced quite a distance away from the boat!) but it also meant that you could leave the crowds behind a little and discover interesting little things all for yourself.

We were simply bowled over by the underwater scenery of the Reef - the dramatic landscapes created by massive 'bommies' (coral clusters or colonies) interspersed with patches of sandy bottom. The corals were not quite as spectacularly colourful as those we had seen in Malaysia, for instance, but the overall effect of the underwater scenery was breathtaking. Here and there, giant clams as big as tables were fanning their blue fleshy bits in the current. And then there's the fish... not as high a density of reef fish as we had seen in Bali, but a wonderful variety, and many of them simply HUGE! The maori wrasse, bumphead parrotfish, giant trevally and spotted puffers were some of the biggest boys on the reef. A number of times we found ourselves surrounded by vast schools of feeding parrotfish or surgeonfish; there was the odd turtle and white tipped reef shark too. Oh, how it hurt to be without a camera!

And then there were the night dives. I'm not really a fan of night diving - being surrounded by a vast, dark ocean with only a single beam of light to find your way by is not my idea of fun - but the second evening, in particular, was pretty special. In a small cave we found a hoard of lobsters, all twitching feelers, with a massive maori wrasse sleeping soundly in the back corner. He was wedged in there, sitting dead-still (eyes open, of course, as fish have no eyelids), so we could look closely at the big green bulk of his body. Amazing!

So we spent a magical three days totally immersed in the subaqua world and all its wonders. Being the most intensive diving we have done, the trip has cemented our skills and given us the chance to navigate ourselves. When we stepped off the boat on Tuesday afternoon, it felt as if we'd been away for ages!
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