Great Barrier Disappointment

Trip Start Feb 23, 2006
Trip End Jun 24, 2009

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Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Thursday, June 12, 2008

I remember the first time I went to see the Great Wall of China and thinking to myself that it was a really good wall, but Great? I wasn't so sure. Now after taking a few trips out to see the Great Barrier Reef, I have to say that it's an OK barrier reef, but far from great. (I wonder what my impression would have been had I met Alexander) It is only the size of the reef that is impressive. I've been traveling north in Australia for a whole month and it has been my constant companion since Bundaberg (the place with the rum). I've been out on 3 different boats to the barrier reef in the Whitsundays, Cairns and now Port Douglas. All the trips were disappointing in one way or another. Whitsunday was because I didn't go diving because it was too expensive for the poor conditions and snorkeling was the better option. Reef Encounter sucked as I explained in my last post. Now here in Port Douglas on Haba, I am once again disappointed even though I somehow forgot to mention that I have asthma and got to do 3 dives. All I saw was either dead or lifeless bland hard corals and very few fish. On my first dive, I saw a couple spotted rays, a giant nudie branch 5 inches long and a few fish. My second dive ended up being the exact same site when Mia decided not to go the other direction on the reef so we just doubled back on the same heading again. It was only her second week working for Haba. That was sorta pointless. Although I was a little uncertain about the 10 minute surface interval, my dive computer didn't complain since the dives were only to 18 meters with an average depth of about 10-12M. My 3rd dive was mostly uneventful as well. There was a lot of dead coral and although the visibility was better than the first site, there was once again little to see. Haba uses the small tanks which has a max capacity of 200 BAR so my dives were about 35-40 minutes long instead of 50 minutes to an hour with larger tanks. I need to figure out how to be more efficient on my use of air down there. Mia would come up with 50 BAR more than me. I guess the best things about the trip was that I had my own personal Swedish dive master as I was the only certified diver on the boat and I got a nice picture petting William, the resident Maori Wrasse, for $10. I never touch anything while I'm diving on purpose, but this wrasse was very friendly and seemed to like being pet. His body was smooth and felt cool to the touch. I have a problem with the Dive Instructors in Australia. They do these half-assed introductory diving "courses" where they take a bunch of people with no experience except for the 20 minute safety briefing under water and hand them things to hold. Where do these people get their certifications, Japan? On all 3 boats, they did the same thing. Here, hold a starfish. Here, hold a sea cucumber. Now I pet the wrasse, but you could clearly tell he enjoyed the human contact, but how do you know the sea cucumber isn't traumatized by being lifted off the sea bottom and dragged to the surface so a newbie can pet them?

After my 3rd dive I went snorkeling and it was much better than diving. I saw a good sized sweet lips hiding just out of the current. The 15M visibility is not a problem when you are on the surface and the coral is almost too close for comfort. I saw a lot of people come up bloody from their too close encounters with the reef. There were 25 knot winds blowing that day and the waves were crashing all over the reef.

Diver's Tip: If your primary purpose is to go diving, choose a boat that doesn't have a lot of snorkelers. It's nice being the only diver on the boat, but that also means that the locations that you will visit are snorkeling sites and not dive sites. I heard it from a good source that SilverSonic out of Port Douglas goes to better dive sites on the Agincourt Reef near the continental shelf. But make sure they are going all the way out to the shelf before you book.
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