Under the Sea – Great Barrier Reef!

Australia, RTW: 2007-2008, Scuba Diving — By on June 10, 2008 7:30 AM

Monday, June 9, 2008: 16˚ South Latitude, aboard Haba Tour’s high speed catamaran“Eclipse”
Sea Conditions: Rough/Harsh
Water Temperature: 26˚C/79˚F
Departure Time: 8:30 AM
Destination: Great Barrier Reef (Outer Reef – Opal Reef)

SUMMARY: Scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef is by far one of the best experiences I have had on this trip so far. AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING!!! It is as if you are in a completely different world!

Stacy and I were picked up early at our accommodation in the beautiful harbor town of Port Douglas, located in far north tropical Queensland, and we were dropped off at the Marina. Our tour included a high speed ride out to the Reef, snorkeling tours, two – 25 minutes dives (the 2nd was free!), a marine biologist talk about reef ecosystems, morning and afternoon tea, and a buffet lunch.

The sea was so so choppy and it was a very rough 1.5 hour ride to Opal Reef. I have never been one to get sea sick, but Stacy and I both found ourselves outside on the back of the boat trying hard not to puke up the muffin we both should not have eaten! There were about 20 others on the back of the boat, puking into barf bags, which didn’t help in our efforts to keep from hurling! We found if we focused on a mountain out at sea, it helped to ease the uncomfortable feeling.

Everyone was happy when the boat finally docked at Opal Reef, and we felt much better. We were immediately called to the stern dive platform, where we received our scuba gear, jumped into wetsuits, and lined up for the dive. Christian, our dive master, went through the procedures and signals with us again, and Stacy was first in the water, followed by myself and then two others. I had a flashback to my first scuba dive experience a few months earlier in the Whitsunday Islands. I felt butterflies in my stomach as I remembered how I freaked out and hyperventilated and had to come up for air. There is an overwhelming feeling of anxiety as you go under and begin to breathe in the most unnatural of ways, in the most unnatural of places. Christian ran us through the basic procedures of clearing our regulators and evacuating water filled masks under the water. We also practiced the simple communications signals of “I’m OK, go up, go down, ear pressure problem, mask problem, etc.” I was having a mask problem as it continued to fill with water despite my efforts to clear the mask. Christian took me up and made me switch to a kids mask, which fit my tiny head much better and solved the problem! Holding on to the boat’s mooring line, I slowly began a relaxed breathing rhythm, which allowed me to be more calm, and begin to try to concentrate on the overwhelming visuals that the Reef presents all around you! We slowly descended, a few centimeters at a time, each time balancing our ear pressure by holding our noses and lightly blowing. I found this to be such a better way for a beginner to enter the water as my first time diving we literally dove right in which caused me to feel an overwhelming panic and ear pain. My initial anxiety went away quickly and I felt so calm and happy to be underwater! It was such a better experience than my first dive! Stacy soon found ourselves together on the ocean floor. Christian had us hold hands and wait for him to return with the other two divers.

Once we were all together at the bottom, we began to explore. The Reef is full of life and we did not realize that we were now 10 metres down, winding our way through channels and coral and azure blue colour, surrounded by a rich variety of fish and coral. We saw so much under the sea…turtles, stingrays, schools of fish, big parrot fishes, clown fishes (nemo), sea cucumbers, and so many others that we could not identify them all! We drifted together, up and down, stopping once for a “photo shoot” with the underwater photographer. Consider that you must follow the photographer’s instructions, given only in hand signals, and once ready for the shot, you must not smile or breath or risk losing your regulator and making bubbles.

This different world is so foreign to beginner divers. You are constantly trying to keep breathing and at the same time soak in the visual sights around you. The time flew by and it hardly felt like we had been underwater for 25 minutes! We quickly removed scuba gear and hopped back in the water to snorkel over the same areas where we had just been. The Reef is quite different from above than from below, each point of view having advantages over the other, and providing varied perspectives.

It was while snorkeling together that Stacy and I saw a SHARK!!! I was right behind Stacy when I heard her scream and I saw the shark swim away. It was so close to Stacy that she actually saw the sharks gills moving as it breathed and noted the white tip on the top of the fin which was the sign that it was a white tip reef shark. Ever since we saw the documentary, “Shark Waters”, we have both not been as scared of sharks. Stacy asked for the camera so she could try to go find the shark and take a picture! We rented an underwater camera after my “waterproof” Olympus camera malfunctioned in the first 2 minutes under water! My old waterproof Olympus worked fine under water (Stylus 790) but I recently upgraded to the Stylus 1030 as it is waterproof up to 33 feet (instead of 10 feet) and I could take it diving. Unfortunately, I must have got a faulty camera and it is currently in route back to the states for repair! I was so so glad we could rent an underwater camera and our pictures turned out so good!

After two dive sessions and two snorkeling sessions we began to tire. We relaxed and reflected with a warm cup of tea and cookies on the ride back to beautiful Port Douglas. This was by far one of my favorite days spent in Australia!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008: aboard Ocean Freedom
Sea Conditions: Calm, light wind
Water Temperature: 27˚C/80˚F
Departure Time: 7:30 AM
Destination: Great Barrier Reef (Inner Reef and Upolu Cay)

Stacy and I went out to sea another day from Cairns on the Freedom boat, which took us to the inner reef. The water was very calm this day and we each ate four pastries in an attempt to get our moneys worth! The boat was much smaller than the Haba boat, and there were only about 20 of us on board. We spent the morning snorkeling throughout the reef. This was the day my camera broke, so I was pretty bummed about it but still very happy to be playing at the Great Barrier Reef! We participated in a guided snorkel, where we learned more about what we were seeing under water.

We were served a yummy buffet lunch and then taken out on a glass bottom boat to Upolu Cay. The boat dropped us all off at Upolu Cay where we had the choice of snorkeling more or relaxing on the beach. Upolu Cay is actually small island of sand formed on top of coral reefs. The “sand” of the cay is actually reef animal skeletons and other debris! Stacy and I were feeling the need for a nap after hours of snorkeling and not getting enough sleep the night before. We felt we were in heaven as we lounged on the sand surrounded by beautiful turquoise water and coral reefs! We both fell asleep for over an hour and had to be wakened to get back on the boat. Once on the boat we were given an assortment of cheese, crackers and fruit. It was an awesome experience and we were glad we saw two very different parts of the Great Barrier Reef during our stay in the area.

We spent a week between Cairns and Port Douglas and we both preferred Port Douglas as it is smaller, more layed back, and more beautiful. I found the outer reef to be more interesting and diverse than the inner reef.

We were both completely exhausted after each day out on the boats. We spent the boat ride back reflecting on our day as we returned to port. We realized that these are the experiences that you never forget for your whole life, and I was so glad to be able to share the experience with my good friend. I am looking forward to the possibility of getting certified and diving again soon in Thailand!

To see all of our photos from the Great Barrier Reef CLICK HERE!

I flew to Darwin today and I will be here for the next five days exploring Kakadu National Park!

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