Saturday, 1 December 2012

Diving the Great Barrier Reef

When planning this trip away, scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef was one of the "must do" things both Caroline and I agreed upon. Logistically, this really shouldn't have posed any problems as there are a huge number of dive outfits operating from Cairns. However, for the following reasons we stacked the odds against ourselves:

1. The Solar Eclipse
When we booked our flights to Cairns, 6 weeks before flying we noticed a massive difference in prices between Tuesday and Wednesday, so plumped for an extra day in Melbourne before flying to Queensland. Once we'd gotten to Australia we started to hear brief radio and press mention of the upcoming Eclipse. However, it wasn't until a few days before we flew that we got online and checked when exactly it was going to occur. Yep, you've guessed it, early Wednesday morning, right when we were scheduled to be airborne. Mild panic ensued when we heard that Cairns was getting so busy with tourists/astronomers that supermarkets were running low on essential supplies. This last story was actually a bit of a media exaggeration, as it turned out that only bottled water and potato chips (crisps to the British reader) were the main items lacking stock.

We used up half a day in Melbourne arranging accommodation in Cairns, settling for the only available cheap hotel, which failed to mention it's out of town location and the fact that the airport shuttle bus didn't go there.

Overall, the Eclipse meant that Cairns and the surrounds were super busy and all the dive operators fully booked until the day before we flew. This was no good as you're supposed to leave 24hrs between diving and flying, so we were left with just one boat that had availability on the Friday. Thus, we plumped for Hobson's choice and paid our $175 each to join them for a trip to Hastings reef and Breaking Patches.

What we missed - the front cover of the local newspaper the day after we arrived

2. Proving we were capable divers
This should have been easy; I'd remembered my PADI card, but had slight concern that it'd been 3 years since i last dived. This wasn't a problem and i was allowed to dive with no issues. Caroline's qualification couldn't be located before departure and here parents were tasked with finding the documentation and emailing it to us on the road. This they did with a few hours to spare, but the dive outfit hadn't heard of BSAC (British Sub-Aqua Club) and hence once again Caroline's parents had to find further documentation in the form of her logbook and scan in pages of this and send to us. Phew, all sorted and Caroline was diving despite the operator over looking the fact her last dive was 9 years previously....

3. Sea-sickness
I have been known to turn a pale shade of green on-board small boats, so I made sure i had a supply of motion-sickness pills for this trip. Boy was i glad of these; paying $175 to spend the day filling up little brown paper bags as one poor chap did would not have been fun! (You're not allowed to spew in the ocean and upset the local eco-system).

The diving itself was wonderful with a massive diversity of coral and fish; so much more than my last dive trip to Cambodia were the visibility was low and seeing a dozen fish was considered a good dive.

Highlights were seeing "Frank" the resident Maori Wrasse (nearly 2m long - a whole lotta fish) and "Nemo" (clown fish) at the first dive site, and a group of a dozen Humphead Parrot fish and a white tipped shark at the 2nd site. I doubted the effectiveness of my waterproof camera for "proper" diving so don't have any photos on these dives. This doubt was proven well founded when i took said camera snorkeling and it managed just 7 photos before dying. Thankfully the baking hot sun dried out the camera on the return journey to Cairns while at the same time baking Caroline and me a brilliant shade of lobster pink!
A Maori Wrasse - Frank looked a lot like this (image from )

Humphead Parrotfish - the same type as we saw on our 2nd dive at Breaking Patches (image pilfered from wikipedia )

Another type of Parrotfish - the big teeth allow them to bite off chunks of Coral which is their staple diet. The last photo before my camera temporarily died.
JAWS! aka Triaenodon obesus the Whitetip Reef Shark (image from wikipedia again)
A wave before we hit the waves...

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