Monday, 28 March 2011

March 9th - Cairns (Day 2)

     Just got back from our scuba diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef. It was quite the experience. Both of us first time divers, so we were a little nervous but I found it easier, safer and much more fun than snorkelling.

     Ok, so at the start of the day, we had our first breakfast in this hotel, which I thought would be pretty grim, but it was fine. A selection of cereals, breads and drinks. Oh, and a collection of spreads too. I of course went for the Vegemite option! Oh yes!
     I made my cereals and put it outside on one of the tables on the balcony, then went back inside to fix myself a drink and some toast. At this point, Chigu came down stairs and I told her that I had put my breakfast outside on the balcony. She went outside and then came rushing back in with my bowl of cereals in my hand.
     "What's wrong," I asked.
     "Someone was eating them," is what I thought I heard her say, but she actually said "A sparrow was eating them."
     I had left them out only to have them pecked on and eaten by birds!
     After breakfast we made our way downstairs to wait for the bus that was scheduled to pick us up at 7:30 from outside of the hotel. Well, it got to 7:40 and it still hadn't arrived, so I went to go and ring the tour company from inside the hotel when the guy behind the desk pointed over to me and said to another man, "There he is now." And so, I met the bus driver.
    A quick bus ride to the wharf and we were quickly boarded onto our vessel. A large, two decked catamaran. There were only about 20 people on the tour though, so there was plenty of space. We were given a wetsuit, snorkel and mask set, a set of flippers and finally and most important, our safety number. 
     We headed in and got a table to sit at.
     On the way to the reef we were given a talk about safety onboard by a young surfer-type lad called Jed, who, while speaking about safety, made us all relaxed with his jokes and quips at the other staff members. Following this, we were treated to a presentation on the marine life that we would be seeing today (the discovery channel loving James York was impressed anyway). The marine biologist giving the presentation was a Brit named Matt and gave us a lot of details about the different types of coral, huge variety of fish,  and other creatures such as star fish and sea cucumbers. The presentation got me really excited, but got Chigu feeling nervous. Finally when we arrived at the reef site, the non-divers were allowed to snorkel, and us divers were given another talk about diving safety where we told two key things:
     1 how to empty our masks of water.
     2 how to empty water our of the respirator.
     After the talk we still had time to do some snorkelling before our dive because there were two groups diving, and we were in the second one. I got my fins (flippers) and mask on, and then made my way to the side of the boat ready to enter the sea. Chigu came up and put her gear on two. I also took a long foam buoyancy aid for her, too.
     I jumped in and had a bit of a swim around. There was nothing to see in the area where we gotten the water, so we had to swim around to the rear of the boat.  The wetsuits we were wearing acted like buoys, keeping us afloat, so it was really easy to swim around. Chigu wasn't too nervous and so we went out.
     At the back of the boat, the coral reef was really close to the surface so we went over the top and had a swim. There were soooooooooo many fish, it was a little off putting. Chigu was certainly perturbed. What I found out later on a mini snorkelling on my own though, is that the fish are more scared of us than we are of them. I saw a big blue coral eating fish going around munching all the coral, and when I went up towards him, he slowly swam nonchalantly into a cove out or my way. Then, when I went away, he would come out again.
     Anyway, onto the diving. We out weights around our waists and then the extremely heavy cylinder of air on our backs then made out way down to the rear of the ship, ready to head in. The guide was very professional and cautious leading us from practicing breathing through the mouthpiece out of the water first, then in the water and finally lowered us down giving us the OK hand symbol the whole time to check that we were indeed OK.
     I told the instructor that Chigu was feeling a bit nervous before we went into the water to make sure that he kept an extra eye out for her, which he did! He held her hand from the start to the end. The whole way round, Chigu had a personal tour!!
     Personally, I found the whole diving experience very relaxing (apart for the times when I seemed to sink because they hadn't put enough air in my suit to keep me buoyant!) and I found it fairly natural to be breathing underwater. The instructor had obviously taken another group around the same course before we did our tour underwater,so he pointed out a few of the highlights like a massive fish that fiercely protects its den, a huge clam, and a few other large fish. Then, out of the blue, a sea turtle swam up from just in front of us. It was so graceful as it glided up through the water to the surface. That made my dive. I was fairly pessimistic that we would actually get to see one, but we did! Yay!
     After the dive, we got back on the ship and chilled out. At this point, Chigu started to feel a little seasick, so I went to the bar to get her some tablets. They were 3 dollars each, and she had the last one! The bartender let me have it for free though. Another Yay! moment.
     She had the tablets and started to feel better just in time for lunch which consisted of Thai curry and rice with salad, potato salad, some cheese and... beetroot! Hell yeah! I had me some cheese and beetroot sandwich for lunch.
     After lunch we went to another location and the team came round asking who wanted to do another dive. I needed less than 2 milliseconds to decide. Chigu, too. Unfortunately, what we had decided was slightly different. I decided to go on another dive, Chigu decided not to. Additionally, the marine biologist was giving some snorkelling tours as well, so I decided to do that too. A busy afternoon awaited!

     We arrived at the second dive spot and with a lot less caution than the first dive, the instructor put our tanks on and got us to jump in. We were soon going down into the water, and it seemed a lot deeper this time. I had to equalise my ears a few times before I felt good. There were only four or us on this time and we had a little more freedom to move around, go up or down with the instructor keeping check on us every now and then.
     I saw a sea turtle on the last dive, and this time I was determined to find Nemo. Which I did! Although there was even more diversity this time: coral types, fish and other marine life, there was only one spot on the whole dice where I actually found a few clown fish hiding among some soft anemone. It was in a large cauliflower looking hard coral structure. Right in the middle was a pat h if soft coral with three orange and white clown fish looking up at me!
     The final thing I did on the tour was a guided snorkelling tour with the British marine biologist. It was only short at 20 minutes, but there was a lot to see and he was very knowledgeable. Highlights were seeing him out his hand in a  giant clam and seeing it close, holding a massive sea cucumber with water spraying out of it's arse (or mouth? Impossible to tell), and watching him touch various coral anemone and seeing their reactions. The tour was only short, so he let us all have it at half price: $10.
     After that, we returned our equipment and went back to cairns. Upon arrival, the whole crew formed a line by the side of the boat and high-fived or shook our hands as we left the boat.

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