The Bloody Fantastic Barrier Reef

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Cape Tribulation back to Cairns was done in record time. I sorted out lunch and some last minute details, and decided to rent an underwater camera for what would probably be the biggest diving experience of my life. I had sworn after the Mexican incident that I would never do a boat dive again, and here I was, about to board a five day trek to the more remote stretches of the Great Barrier Reef, and then leave its protection in a small boat for the Coral Sea and Osprey Reef. I stocked up on seasickness pills and definitely avoided alcohol in all its forms and boarded the ship at about 5 PM. The conditions were great for our first night, almost no wind and no problems making our way up to the reef overnight. We started with a great dinner, and the cooks did a great job throughout the dive keeping us fed in style. But enough on the general details. From the title, you've already guessed that I loved the trip.

Day one. As I said, we got on at 5PM. First order of business was picking our beds in the dorms. I was in a room with Sebastian (from Germany, he wound up being my dive buddy, good guy and hilarious) and Ken (from Taiwan, nice guy, fellow magician, terrific photographer). Then we claimed and set up our gear, did some paperwork, met everyone else, and had a great dinner. Brad, our dive planner and consumate host was a pretty funny guy, too, and reminded me a bit of Desmond from Lost. Which I've quite gotten into over here, incidentally. The next morning at 6:50 AM, Brad awoke us and brekky was served. A beautiful sunrise, a beautiful morning, perfect water conditions, great visibility, and the promise of an excellent day. Then, a dive brief and our first dive of the trip. Challenge Bay. We suited up and had a great dive. Some beautiful fish and amazing coral here to see. Sebastian and I consume air at about the same rate, too, which is handy. One of us isn't being pulled up by the other. I've heard from many people that the Great Barrier Reef isn't as great as they expected. I don't think they've been to the right places. I should mention my camera flooded somewhat though I was able to save it, and so I didn't get to take any more photos of the reef. Thankfully, everyone shared and I was able to get my money back for the camera rental since the case was defective.

Our next stop was probably the best dive I've ever done - Lighthouse Bommie. An absolute treasure trove of things to see. There was a turtle just hanging out on the reef completely unbothered by our presence. The reef itself was full of life and crazy fish, I found my first nudi branch, which are really cool little organisms that I'd never heard of before until diving here. In fact, I found two of them, a scorpion fish, two lion fish, a star fish, and some clown fish, not to mention plenty of others. I also got some great underwater photos (not an easy thing to do), and was bursting when I got out of the water finally. Only to find out that some minke whales were in the area! One of the reasons I chose this particular boat is that they are one of the few operators with a permit to allow people to be in the water with these whales. So on with the snorkel and out behind the boat we watched as the minkes slowly circled us, getting closer and closer as they got more confident. Not that they needed to, they're just so big that being far away they still felt close. It was magnificent to be in the water with these giant creatures. Just before we got out of the water one passed within 5m of me and looked at me with his giant eye. Amazing! How this could be topped was unclear, but regardless, it was incredible.

The next big dive was the Cod Hole. Basically, we got in the water and formed a circle in a little clearing between the reefs of sand. Then a massive potato cod came in and fed. It wasn't all that amazing because there was only one there eating, but the fish itself was massive. Bigger than a person. There were also lots of what I think were red bass in the area poaching whatever they could. They look like viscious little fish with their fangs and everything and they certainly did their best to be the focus of the feed. We did a few buoyancy skills for our Advanced course as well, I did just fine. Following that dive, which was a unique experience regardless, was my first ever night dive. That was really cool. We went under just after sunset and it got continually darker as we explored with our torches and looked at all the nightlife that wasn't around during the day. There are some interesting challenges in the night and it is almost a bit helpful to focus your attention to the thin bit of light rather than everything, but at the same time, you probably miss some things that you would otherwise see. Still, it was amazing how much the coral comes to life after dark. A great day of diving, and then a long steam overnight to the northernmost reef in the Coral Sea, the Osprey reef. We were lucky to have good weather, but I still got sick twice. Apparently I was the only one. Once I was in bed with my eyes closed, I was fine though.

The next day was a big day in the Coral Sea. We explored The Wall (I believe that's what it was called) and on the one side, coral and lots of fish. And on the other side of the wall, open sea, crawling, absolutely crawling, with sharks. Very very cool. Below, empty blue stretching down a full kilometre. Bottomless for our purposes. We descended to almost 30m which made it the deepest dive I'd done at this point. Some more exploration, a surface interval, and then back down for another trip highlight - a shark feeding. We all sat in a circle around the reef and watched as Brad lowered a garbage bin full of tuna heads into the ocean. There were suddenly a lot more sharks swimming around in the area, but more calmly than I expected. Then he opened the lid and all hell broke loose. The sharks were tearing at it and each other to get a bit of tuna for themselves. Cod and some other fish would sneak in here and there as well, but the power and visciousness of the sharks, which are just white-tipped reef sharks, was amazing. I can't imagine a great white feeding, but I have a feeling I don't ever want to. The rest of the dives today were likewise beautiful, the reef here is so vibrant, it's great to be somewhere so untouched. I felt like I was on safari in a strange and unknown land (well, water) because there was so much fascinating life.

A rough overnight trip back to the Great Barrier Reef had everyone sick. Everyone, that is, except the crew. And myself. I took a couple tablets at dinner and was well prepared, and they worked well. I was even able to finish all my homework for my Advanced course as the chip rolled and plunged through the swells. It was a great feeling. I slept fine, too, and woke up back on the Great Barrier Reef once more and in calm waters. That morning, two dives of Steve's Bommie, a really beautiful section of reef named in honour of a diver who always visited here. The life, again, was amazing, and hence the second dive. So much to see, it was impossible to do so on one tank. We got another visit from a minke whale as we swam back to the boat which was pretty great too. They're inquisitive little (well, okay, massive) guys. Oh, and we did our deep water dive here, and did a little test for nitrogen narcosis - basically, being drunk off nitrogen in the blood as a result of breathing compressed air. We had to point out the numbers 1-10 and tap four shapes and our noses. Easy and I was pretty fast I thought. No narc for me. We later did the same tests on the boat and I saw that my speed was double on the boat what it was 30m deep. Wow. Then, apparently, we had to leave the protection of the Great Barrier reef, which I managed to survive by laying in bed with my eyes closed. Brad hadn't warned us, and I hadn't taken enough Travacalm.

We did a second night dive unguided, and Sebastian and I saw THREE massive turtles. Like, their shells were 2m long give or take. We saw one swimming for air and two more sleeping in little sheltered parts of the reef. Really cool creatures. We also ventured outside the range of the shiplights, which was pretty spooky as it was just the two of us out there, but we weren't lost at all, so there wasn't too much anxiety. Then, overnight, we had to leave the protection of the reef and head in towards Cairns some more. And so I got sick again. Four times in total on this whole trip, which is better than I did in Mexico (12 times on a day dive, including once under water). There was a sunrise dive which was cold and pretty lifeless. Maybe because it's so close to Cairns. The visibility also wasn't too hot. Quite a few of us opted to skip dive 2 and stay warm. Three days straight of dive-eat-dive-sleep was enough. The ride into Cairns was bumpy and I had my final sickness and it slowly got calmer as we got closer. We said our goodbyes, went out for dinner and drinks at the Green Ant, and I'm going to be heading to Atherton Highlands for the next few days (after doing some laundry and internet stuff today) with Anni from the trip.
Great Barrier Reef Photos

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