Cairns and Great Barrier Reef - Jan 30-Feb 4
Feb 4, 2010
|January 30, 2010
Another one of those pesky early flights today which meant leaving the hostel just before 7am but thankfully at that time of a Saturday morning the traffic was light and we were at the airport, checked in and baggage out of sight in no time at all. After grabbing a quick, horrible, fast-food breakfast, we just headed to the gate and took some time to relax. Whilst on the flight, I managed to finish the book I was currently reading – Treasure Island, which Elizabeth told me I had to read as we are going to Samoa soon!
The flight was just over 3 hours and with the 1 hour time difference, we were at our hotel in Cairns by just after lunchtime. I’m not sure why there was a 1 hour time difference as Queensland is directly above Victoria but for some reason one state has daylight savings and the other doesn’t. I suspect it is due to Queensland being mostly tropical and not really needing a clock shift twice a year. But then really, does anyone need it nowadays?
We arrived in Cairns to heavy rain, the remnants of a nearby cyclone (Cyclone Olga inland and I believe one further out to sea, too), and this continued most of the afternoon. We eventually managed to get out for just long enough to hire a car for tomorrow, get our grocery shopping done for the next day and a bit and make a quick visit to the dive company we were using to do our advanced diving course from Monday. There they gave us our text books and showed us a few things we needed to do before the fun begins! I’d hoped we’d get away without any studying but I guess I can waste a couple of hours doing that – which is exactly how I spent the rest of the afternoon, reading about peak performance buoyancy and deep diving. Thrilling!
After a tasty salad for dinner including some yummy potatoes, corn, veggies, chillies and beans, we sat down to watch the final of the tennis, both wanting Henin to beat Serena… which she didn’t, of course!
January 31, 2010
We drove north today out of Cairns and headed for the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. The first part of the drive up to the Daintree River winds around a lovely scenic road, much of it hugging the coastline and providing some amazing views. Once at Daintree River, we crossed via the small ferry and continued north towards Cape Tribulation and this is where the fun started.
The back end of the cyclone and heavy rain over the past few days had caused a number of trees to fall into the road and much of it hadn’t been cleared. There was enough space to get through on one side of the road or other but we had to make quite a few stops to get branches out which were lodged under the car. At one point, we had to drive through a section of road which was flooded and the water level read 0.4m above the road level. It didn’t seem that high but we weren’t sure so we let the car behind us go through first. As it was the same make and model as ours and he made it, we followed! Not long after that, there was a large tree which had fallen right across the road but was suspended just high enough for cars to get through. This was good as it meant most of the tourist coaches couldn’t get through! It was a great little drive and quite good fun although I think Elizabeth was relieved when we had got back across the flooded road!
On the way we also saw a cassowary in the wild. It was just strolling around the roadside and I saw it in plenty of time to be able to slow down and stop right next to it and get some photos. Once at Cape Trib, we had a walk around and saw a large monitor lizard taking up the whole pathway. Having seen a few of these now and knowing they aren’t dangerous, I moved towards it and got some good pictures while he scuttled away from me, eventually heading off into the bushes. We got down to the beach and were going to walk further until we saw the sign saying crocs inhabited the area. A croc infested area plus high rainfall does not equal fun walking conditions! On the walk back, our monitor lizard friend was on the walkway, this time scaring a couple who didn’t know where to move! I told them he wasn’t dangerous but I don’t think they believed me!
The drive back was equally testing but the latter part had begun to be cleared by the time we reached the river for the ferry crossing.
From there, we headed into Port Douglas to have a walk around. I was a bit disappointed here as when I visited before there were lots of really cool little art galleries but now it was all cafes and clothes shops. It was quite sad especially as I loved coming here the first time around and this time it seemed a bit, well, crappy.
In the evening we finished off the rest of our salad with a nuclear lasagna and a bottle of wine, before packing our bags and watching Murray lose the tennis. Bugger! I didn’t have much luck with who I wanted to win the tennis in either the men’s or the women’s but at least they were fun to watch and it was great to be in Australia during the tournament.
February 1, 2010 to February 3, 2010
We had booked to do some diving whilst in Queensland and were to be doing our advanced diving course over the space of three days. We were picked up at 7.45am and taken onto the first of the two boats we were staying on.
After an hour and a half on the boat, we reached the dive site for the first two dives, both of which were just fun dives to get us warmed up for the training. On the first dive we used a guide to get to know the area but on the second we joined another couple of divers and went off in our own group. The first two dives were OK and we saw a variety of clownfish, large parrotfish, triggerfish, plenty of angelfish, wrasse, groupers and plenty much as well. The water here was not full of the large schools I had imagined but there were a much larger variety of fish than I think I had seen elsewhere.
After a pretty impressive lunch, we transferred onto the boat where we were to be spending the next two nights. This boat was bigger than the first and quite impressive, especially for budget travelers like us!
The next of our dives was the first of 5 we had to complete for our diving course. This one was Peak Performance Buoyancy and involved having to hover without moving, swimming through a hula-hoop without touching it and silly stuff like that. It was quite straight-forward but the Koreans and Japanese in our group seemed to find it quite tough keeping their positions – but more about that on the next dive!
The next dive was the second of the 5 and was a Night Dive, the first either of us had ever done. It was quite a weird feeling being underwater with only your torch to guide you. We were trying to follow our instructor but it was so difficult as the Asians just could not stay still, one of them smacking Elizabeth in the head not once, not twice, but THREE times with his tank. Now, considering you’re supposed to be flat and your tank above you, it is quite a feat of idiocy to be up the wrong way three times in about 5 minutes. He also managed to hit me as well and at the end of the dive we were both annoyed that they had now ruined two dives because of their poor buoyancy. We complained to our tour organizer but there wasn’t much he could do apart from split us up from them but we’d have to wait until day 3 to continue our training. We decided to stick with the uncoordinated retards and push on regardless.
After four dives on the first day, we were really tired and hit the sack pretty early.
Our first dive on day two was the third of 5 and was our deep dive which was conducted at the stupidly early time of 6.30am! However, even at this time the water was lovely and warm and watching the sun rise was lovely. I had also hired a camera for the day so I could try out photography underwater and hopefully when I see the pics I have some good ones!
The deep dive went well despite one of the Japanese guys trying to sit on my back at one point. Thankfully, the instructor saw him do it and told him to keep back but it was a futile attempt, really. It all goes back to something I might have mentioned during our Japan stop – Japanese people there are so nice and accommodating; why then are they so rude and spatially unaware anywhere else in the world?! Anyway, that was three dives done and just two to go.
After a nice fried breakfast, we did the fourth dive which was a Navigational dive which was a piece of cake, just following a compass and returning on the same line, swimming in a square, etc. This is amazingly easy when the water is clear and you can see the target you are swimming towards anyway!
The fifth and final dive was a Fish ID dive. This was great for me as it meant I could get in nice and close and take some pictures. After the dive, we sat down with one of the instructors and used the book to identify some of the fish we had seen. This was a really cool way of learning about the fish a bit more and makes me want to do more photography underwater, much to Elizabeth’s non-surprise! The best part of all was seeing three turtles during the course of the dive with all three of them almost close enough to touch. I only wish I was more proficient with the camera and could get some better pictures. The guide we had, a Japanese woman called Nobby was great at finding stuff and getting me in close to photograph them. We saw Oriental sweetlips, more brightly coloured parrotfish, honeycomb groupers, bream, six-banded angelfish and pink anemone fish. See, now I’ve done my fish ID I actually know the species and type of fish I saw!
Needless to say, none of the dives were very testing and we easily passed, the most difficult part being the avoidance of Asians underwater!
The rest of our dives after that were for fun and we did most of them with a Dutch couple called Sheila and Dennis. We did two more dives on the second day, including another night dive where we saw some huge trevally fish hunting as well as a couple of turtles and a white-tipped reef shark off in the murky, dark open water! We also saw a large lobster on the afternoon dive and an impressive clam.
The third and final day we did three more dives giving us a total of 12 dives in 3 days which seems pretty crazy! I hired the camera again and we saw a variety of groupers, wrasses and cods including a Barramundi and plenty of other pretty large varieties! I also got to see some nudi-branchs and as we ascended on the second dive there were two large batfish right near the mooring line.
The final dive was probably the best one we did. We had dived the same reef on the dive before by I decided I wanted to head the opposite direction and try to find the lionfish which was supposed to inhabit the area. Unfortunately, the lionfish was nowhere to be found but about 5 minutes into the dive Dennis spotted a turtle sat on the reef. I quickly swam over to get some pictures and everyone followed me there, making the most of the docile creature swimming slowly around to get some cool pictures. Before long, the turtle swam away and surfaced so we stopped following but a couple of minutes later I saw him descending again and swam over to get some more pictures. I eventually managed to get in front of the turtle and got a great picture of him looking straight at me before he swam underneath me. It was so cool to see and when I checked my air I realized I had used about a quarter of my tank in 5 minutes just chasing this amazing creature around! This wasn’t much of an issue as I knew I could stay down for about 40-45 minutes on the tank but as we started to head back, the strong current and swimming on top of the reef at just 2 metres below the surface made it pretty hard work. Our group had an amazing dive with an amazing experience and we have the pictures to prove it and once we had surfaced we were all really pleased, despite the tough swim back to the boat!
That was our final dive and whilst it was good to get a nice long shower and into clean, normal clothes, it felt like a shame we were to be leaving and heading back to shore today. For me, each dive I did was a little better than the last and I didn’t want to stop. I still didn’t get to see and photograph the lionfish but I’ll find one again soon! The trouble is now that I want to buy an underwater camera and I know Elizabeth’s thoughts on that idea! I’ll have to be extra good over the next few days!
In the evening, back on dry land, we headed to a bar called the Woolshed where we met up with some of the dive group, including Sheila and Dennis, a Canadian called Nicole who was great fun and had just spent 5 days on the boat as well as an English couple and a guy from Sweden with his Taiwanese wife. It was a fun evening chatting about all the stuff we’d seen and done and we even had time to partake in the quiz, finishing a creditable 5th but winning a prize for the funniest team name! After one too many beers, we headed back to the hostel and made some quick phone calls to catch up with everyone before getting some well earned and much needed rest in a bed that wasn’t rocking with the waves!
February 4, 2010
Our final day in Cairns and we did a whole load of nothing, I’m afraid to say. In fact, I’m not really as the combination of my mild hangover, a cold and tiredness meant neither of us felt much like moving far. We walked into the town to have lunch before walking straight back again and then a few hours later we repeated the journey to have dinner, in between doing a load of laundry before all our smelly diving clothes started really ponging!
Other than that – nothing!
Tomorrow we fly to Sydney. Cairns has been fun but without the diving I struggle to see how I managed to spend 4 or 5 days here when I came on 2003. It isn’t the most thrilling of regions but the drive north through the rainforest was great fun and the amazing time we had diving doesn’t require further explanation. I would happily come back here again and it would be a similar trip, I’d imagine, with the majority of time spent on the water and on the reef. However, there are so many cool places to dive around the world who knows where we’ll go in the future. I can tell you now though, I can’t wait to get to Samoa and dive there in about 2 weeks time!