The Great Barrier Reef

Trip Start Jan 03, 2012
Trip End May 02, 2013

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Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Saturday, June 23, 2012

Our overnight flights from Bali to Darwin and Darwin to Cairns were two and a half hours each and separated by a three hour stopover; so much for getting a proper rest. We arrived in warm sunny weather feeling dazed and confused.  The extended free breakfast hours at our hostel helped to ease the pain.

The agenda for the day included researching SCUBA diving options and changing our rental car reservation.  We found a suitable outfit but unexpectedly needed medical clearance to dive so we proceeded down to the walk-in clinic and paid AUD$55 for a quick assessment and rubber stamp.  Then we signed up for a 3-day, 2-night live-aboard trip with Pro Dive Cairns for AUD$600 each to complete the course we'd had to cut short in Thailand, plus the opportunity to do lots more diving.  Our hostel gave us vouchers for free backpacker meals at a place in town so we went over and upsized our macaroni bolognese plates to large.

Jason was apprehensive about the diving trip but on the first day it was Sylvia who had a few issues.  It started with a bit of seasickness on the boat ride out.  Then she had a foot cramp on the first dive and buoyancy issues on the first two, requiring her to surface early.  Perseverance paid off as we successfully completed all the requirements to officially become certified Open Water Divers.  Another one of Sylvia's dreams had come true.  Jason enjoyed stretching out in the afternoon sun.

Our first dive without an instructor didn't go so well.  We used our compasses to find our way to The Whale reef and swam around one side of it just fine, about 11 metres underwater.  Then we decided to try swimming through the coral a little closer to the surface.  We both made it through the channel but by the end of it Jason couldn't stay down and he slowly rose all the way to the surface.  Sylvia was still far below and although Jason was waving and banging his tank, she couldn't find him.  She swam part way back and forth through the channel, then surfaced and saw Jason there.  In an area of rough water, we descended to complete our safety stop, then snorkelled back to the boat.  Despite the mishap, we were pleased that we had successfully resolved the situation on our own.

The food on the boat was very good thanks to chef Bertram.  We savoured curry chicken with rice, raita, mango chutney and papadums for dinner while sharing travel stories and photos with our fellow divers over red wine in teacups.  The gentle sway of the ocean rocked us off to sleep.

An early rise and pep talk got us motivated to jump in the 23 degrees Celsius water again.  We stuck by another couple for a little while and felt better about our buoyancy.  More interesting marine life appeared, including several large bumphead parrotfish, two stingrays and hundred-strong schools of smaller fish.  We went down a little too deep, bottoming out at 20 metres, then returned to more comfortable depths before completing our safety stop and swimming back to the boat.  Another 26 minutes of underwater time went into the log books.

Our second dive of the day was very rewarding, both in terms of using our skills and seeing marine life.  Before jumping in we saw a huge napoleon wrasse and watched it a little longer while snorkelling.  Then we descended and spotted a large turtle feeding on the bottom 13 metres down.

We rounded a corner floating over the colourful coral, then Jason looked right and a huge purplish blue clam came into view.  We lingered just above it and could see right inside to the glowing white interior.  Pufferfish, angelfish and many others in a myriad of colours surrounded us on the way back.   Other than Sylvia's mask occasionally flooding, we had no major complications so we were able to do our safety stop and ascend close to the boat.

Lunch and lounging in the sun on the top deck occupied the first half of our afternoon.  The impressive scenes of turquoise water breaking over the reef were endless.  Beyond the few other boats close by, there was nothing on the horizon.

Dive three was fraught with problems from the beginning.  Sylvia's mask kept flooding and Jason had buoyancy issues.  Both resulted in frequent surfacing, but we worked through them and still managed to see a stingray and several colourful fish and corals.

The previous poor dive made us a little more anxious about the next one... our first night dive!  Going down with only a flashlight to illuminate the underwater world was a whole new experience.  A gargantuan turtle slept peacefully under a coral shelf while a miniscule cleaner shrimp was busy doing housework.  Attracted by the lights, lots of large fish swam around and under the boat.  Aside from bumping into the other divers in our group a few times and one communication issue we had a very good dive.

We polished off a bottle of red wine and lazily planned a few segments of our impending journey south.  Too tired to concentrate any longer, we hit the bunks.

In favour of a better rest, we skipped the early dive the following morning.  Over breakfast skipper Gary issued a weather warning including high winds, rough seas and possible rain for the return trip to Cairns.

Our dive count entered double digits on the next entry.  The waves were splashing over our snorkels so we descended quickly.  A stingray immediately revealed itself flapping away on the sandy bottom.  Jason's mask flooded repeatedly, but we still had a decent dive with plenty of brightly coloured fish and coral.

The eleventh and final dive was delightful.  In the choppy water we wasted no time getting down to where the current was weaker.  Scores of fish swam all around and some lay still on the sand or coral.  We saw several we hadn't seen before, but finding them all on the creature cards afterward proved difficult.  Having completed nine dives in three days, six of which were on our own, we were quite proud of ourselves.

Lunch was served and eaten quickly in preparation for the long rough ride back to the mainland.  We took dimenhydrinate for seasickness prophylaxis.  Sylvia sat outside on the back deck and stared at the horizon while Jason chatted and blogged from inside.  Kitchen items banged and clashed against each other, some falling onto the floor and everyone struggled to keep their drinks from similar fates.  The sea surged harder, tossing the boat like a cork in a filling bathtub.  Everyone either napped or fell silent, bracing themselves against the not so gentle sway.  Jason joined Sylvia and Heike, our instructor, on the back deck and when the sea calmed closer to home we went upstairs for a little more sun.  The ocean road in was lined with port and starboard towers like lightposts on a highway.  We packed up and soon set foot on dry land again.

Back at the dive shop we paid $60 each in reef tax, something the manager / booking agent at our hostel told us was already included.  When we arrived back at the hostel Sylvia addressed this issue with him and he refunded us the $120, citing a miscommunication between himself and the shop staff.  Also, the double room we had prebooked was no longer available so we had to get by with twin beds.  Of course we complained about this additional poor business practice and mandated that the price be reduced, which they agreed to.  We rushed through laundry, another free dinner and grocery shopping before finally taking time out to relax.
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Steph Y. on

Congrats on becoming certified Open Water Divers!

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