One last dive in the Great Barrier Reef

The next morning, we woke up bright and returned to the lovely town of Port Douglas to do our last of three dives (this time we would be leaving from Port Douglas as opposed to Cairns).  I was really getting hooked on diving.  I loved the thrill, the adventure and the insanely surreal scenery below the water.  I could hardly contain my excitement!

Here is a view of the gorgeous coastline.

The pretty marina in Port Douglas where we would be meeting our dive boat.

A younger me (8 years ago!) in front of our ride, the Quicksilver.

En route, elated to be doing my third dive of the trip to 30 feet, in the Great Barrier Reef.

This time we went to the Agrinaut reef.  The boat was a bit smaller than the Osprey that we took out of Cairns for our first two dives.  It only held about 55 people which was great.  It was also a nicer boat and offered a more relaxed atmosphere compared with the fun-loving, crowded party boat in Cairns.

It took an hour and a half to get out to the reef where we would do our dive.  I stood outside, watching the beautiful coastline and enjoying the breath-taking surroundings.  About a half an hour before reaching the reef, we had a very informative instructional meeting on our dive.  I learned that the reason why my ears were hurting so bad and still plugged was due to not properly clearning my ears. I would have to be a bit more careful since we were going even deeper than before.

We arrived at the sight and my dad, me and a father and son pair were the first group to go.  Our instructor was a guy from England who was extremely funny as well as very knowledgable about the reef.  I felt safe in his hands despite the fact that I was a little nervous about the upcoming dive.

The reef was much deeper and darker than the last two I had been to.  It was also not as clear which caused some concern (i.e.  sharks!).  For some reason, I was way more anxious this time.  Perhaps it was fear or else my poor painful ears.  We descended holding onto a rope through the deep, dark water.  I had a hard time relaxing and breathing.  I was scared.  We went about 15 feet down and my ears began to feel an enormous, painful pressure.  They were driving me mad but I tried to ignore it and concentrate on breathing.

We had three safety activities to do:  Mask clear, take the regulator out of your mouth and clear, and do a regulator switch.  I successfully did the first two but for some reason I freaked out on the last one.  When I switched the regulator back, my mask filled up with water and I swallowed some ocean. I panicked and before I know it, I was up at the top gasping for air!   My instructor was of course right there by my side, telling me not to worry and trying to calm me down.  I know that what I did was a big mistake.  You are not supposed to just take off like that.  But I was afraid and I panicked.

I had to try to relax and pass the third test or I would not be able to dive.  So I held back all my fear and went back down once again to give the “regulator switch” another try.  I couldn’t believe how frightening it was to take be without oxygen 15 feet below the surface.  But it was.  I knew my dad was right there by my side so I held back my fear and knew what I had to do.  Before I knew it, it was done.  I didn’t drown.  I made it through and it felt good to overcome my fears.

We descended slowly so my ears would adjust and met up with the others who were waiting.  I was unexpectedly calmer perhaps because I was trying so hard to relax.  After five minutes of going down, we were finally on the bottom of the reef and kneeled down to have another nature lesson on giant clams and sea cucumbers.   I tried not to look up….it seemed so impossibly far and felt like being trapped inside a glass coffin.  It was frightening to me despite my enthusiasm and euphoria from seeing all the fish and corals below.

We swam over to the corals to explore their incredibly brilliant colors.  It was surrounded with life and vibrant colored fish.  I forgot about my fear and embraced in the sensational beauty of the reef.  The corals and fish at this site were by far the most brilliant and magical I’d seen.  If I close my eyes even today, I still can picture the swirling tentacles swaying back and forth of the soft corals.  They were so alive.  It was phenomenal.  I wish I had an underwater camera to capture it all but even so, there really is no way in my opinion to see it except for yourself.

After thirty minutes we surface and I couldn’t believe how pumped with energy and excitement I was.  What an incredible high!  Unfortunately my ears were very plugged and at this point, I could not really hear a thing.  I had to pass on the next dive at site two because I couldn’t risk further damaging my ears.  We were off to Melbourne the next day and the thought of flying made my ears hurt even more.

We arrived at the second site and were surprised to be greeted by a school of baby reef tip sharks swimming near the boat.  Although they were only three feet long, the thought of jumping in the water and swimming side by side the sharks made my skin crawl.  I have a deep-seated paranoia of sharks!   Eventually I did get in the water to go snorkeling and see the “Barracuda Pass”, a pinnacle of coral that was surrounded by sharp-toothed scary looking barracuda.  There were tons of different kinds of fish in all shapes and colors.   Some were so huge it was mind-boggling.

We boarded back on the boat and went to site number three where I did a “snorkeling safari” with a group of thirty others and a guide.  It was fun if you didn’t mind getting accidentally kicked by a fellow swimmer.

By the time we boarded the boat and headed back to Port Douglas, I was completely exhausted and famished.  It was my last dive of the trip for we were leaving tomorrow to Melbourne.  Yet I hope it is not my last dive ever!  I dream of someday going back and showing my children this unbelievably magical, alive underwater playground.  Let’s hope it is still around to show them. 

Stay tuned…next post is on lively, playful Melbourne. 

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Golf, Rainforests and Didgeridoos in Port Douglas, Australia

For our last two days in Cairns, we decided to rent a car and head north to check out the lovely coastal town of Port Douglas for some golf, hiking and my third dive.  The tiny fishing village of Port Douglas is the only place in the world where two completely different World Heritage Sites lie side by side:  The Great Barrier Reef and The Daintree National Park.

We woke up after finally sleeping in (something I rarely do on an active vacation) and hit the road for the scenic one drive north to Port Douglas.  The first thing on the agenda was a round of golf at the beautiful, tropical links course in town.  Being an avid golfer, my dad desperately wanted to play some golf in Australia.  I am not that good of a golfer yet agreed to partake in a few rounds of golf for fun and frustration.  Golf has always been a family affair as I come from a family of golfers and even had the pleasure of playing several times with my father and ninety-year-old grandfather.

Although I hadn’t played for a long time and was extremely bad, I still enjoyed the gorgeous views of the sensational golf course in Port Douglas.  The course was full of exotic flowers and birds singing joyfully.  We were surprised to find no one else out on the course.  After a few holes in the hot, unbearably humid weather, we understood why:  Only the crazy people like us would play in this kind of weather!

Here is the entrance to the club:

Beware!  There are live crocodiles lurking in the pond!  I wouldn’t want my ball to veer that way.  But the flowering lily pads were sure pretty. 

Since we were located right near a tropical rainforest, it was sweltering hot and humid.  I found it quite uncomfortable and definitely preferred the water activities in the area as opposed to sweaty golf.

After golf, we got on the road again and headed further north to the Daintree National Forest.

The World Heritage Daintree rain forest is one of those unique parks that has remained relatively unchanged for the past 110 million years.  Per Frommers (2004), “it is now home to rare plants that provide key links in the evolution story.  In the 56,000-hectare park you will find cycads, dinosaur trees, fan palms, giant strangler figs, and epiphytes like the basket fern, staghorn, and elkhorn”.   You can even take night-time croc-spotting tours and see the sensational park via 4WD.  Unfortunately our time was short.  We only had an hour to explore it. But it was definitely worth the trip!

Here are some pictures from the park:

Hiking through the hot, humid and wet tropical rainforest ending up being short-lived.  It was too insanely hot to walk much but I’m still smiling!

I loved all the gorgeous ferns and foliage.

It was eerily quiet inside.  All we could hear were the sounds of the forest.  Yes, it is indeed daytime in this picture!  We were surrounded by a huge canopy of tropical forest!

Unfortunately it was way too miserably hot and uncomfortable to venture far.  After thirty minutes we turned around and headed back.  Oh well at least we tried!

The next stop was the mountain town of Kuranda, a rainforest village located 21 miles (34 km) west of Cairns near the Barron Gorge National Park.  It is a touristy, trendy village town located up in the mist covered rainforest that is awash with local shops where you can buy leather goods, Australian wool, pals, crafts, aboriginal art and if you desire, the infamous didgeridoo.  We were excited for the cool, fresh mountain air that greeted us and enjoyed the afternoon in this quaint mountain village town.

Lovely Kuranda a nice break from the tropical heat.

Besides shops, the town also had an area for animal preservation where you could get up close and personal with some of Australia’s famous critters.  Here are the bats.

Beautiful tropical flowers surround you….

A cute, cuddly (wait not so close….aren’t they mean?) koala bear.

Finally, after all this time I see my first wallaby (looks like a mini Kangeroo).  But unfortunately it isn’t in the wild.  Oh well…it still was cute!

We shopped around, visiting the local leather shop and then finding this treasure:  An aboriginal art store which sold gorgeous aboriginal art and even the much loved didgeridoo, a musical instrument and a work of art.  Here is the shop owner giving us a demonstration.  It is not easy to play!  Believe me, I tried and was unsuccessful at producing the faintest sound besides a load of gurgling saliva!

This is one of the longest didgs ever made.  It’s sound was haunting. 

Of course, being an art lover, my dad could not resist.  He had to have one.  So he purchased a beautiful didgeridoo for their home in Tucson, Arizona.  It is stil there, laying against the wall and is a gorgeous work out art….yet not a single soul in our family can play it!

Here it is….our own family didgeridoo!  Too bad no one can play it…

Stay tuned….next post will describe my third and last dive in the Great Barrier Reef. Then it is off to Melbourne!

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Searching for Sharks in the Great Barrier Reef

We woke up the next day excited about our adventure once again on the Great Barrier Reef.  Throughout the night I had strange, colorful dreams of the exotic fish and spectrum of magnificent colors I saw in this underwater playground.  It was so unbelievable that I could hardly wait to get back out there.

We took the same company Quicksilver out to the reef, and arrived an hour and a half later.  The main highlight at the reef was a fish called “Wally”;  a giant, four-foot long Napoleon Maori Wrasse who you could pet like a dog.

Wally first swam up to the dive boat as if coming over to meet good friends. He was not the least bit shy. In fact, he was playful, fun-loving and seemed to truly love people!

As soon as our boat appeared, so did Wally, a giant dog-like fish who loved to be pet and fed. 

We pet him from the dive boat, then loaded on our gear and jumped in the refreshingly warm tropical waters. There, Wally awaited our arrival and followed us along our dive. He was the biggest fish I’d ever seen and it was an unbelievable experience. It was like having a dog along on a walk except this was a giant, over-sized tropical fish lovingly named Wally by the crew.

Apparently Wally is famous. I did a search on goggle and found this cute link of a local Aussie girl who frequently visits Wally the fish. Here is the link that I could on the Cairns, Australia online journal (article written in 2008).

After we jumped into the water, next on the agenda after ogling over Wally was to do a few safety tests such as the awful mask clear and even worse, the regulator clear (this one freaked me out because you had to take your mouth away from the oxygen supply).  Then we descended slowly, going down down down and having my ears pop and clog like crazy.  I couldn’t believe the terrible pressure on my ears.  It drove me mad yet the sight of our gigantic, loveable Wally the fish made me forget about my discomforts and embrace in the moment.

I had never swam with a large fish before.  I must say that it was the wildest experience I’ve ever had.  I felt like Wally the fish was my pet dog, following us around, playing, hanging out and having fun.  It was so strange.  He was so unbelievable.  I wonder if he is still alive today, greeting the multitude of divers and snorkelers like he did eight years before.  I hope so.

Taken once inside the water. Up close and personal with Wally the fish!  Just look at those enormous lips!  Doesn’t he look like he’s hiding a smile?

He is gigantic and so adorable.  It is too bad I only had a cheap Kodak underwater disposable camera.  Imagine what the colors would be like if I had a real underwater camera!  Wally was beautiful with shades of pastel blue and pinks. 

Wally looking for some love and attention.

We swam for a while, going deeper into the waters, marveling at the insane display of colors which unfortunately there was no way to capture given my cheap camera.  Close your eyes and image corals as far as the eye can see in brilliant hues of reds, pinks, purples, yellows, oranges, golds, blues, reds and greens.  The vibrant colors blew me away.  So sad I could not have captured them on film!

I tried to adjust to life underwater.  I found it difficult and somewhat scary to breathe out of a regulator.  I had to really take deep, full breathes to get enough air.  If you panic, it is very bad and can be extremely dangerous.   So I tried my best to just relax and not freak out the further we went below the surface.  Fortunately you are not allowed to go much deeper than 20 feet without being certified.  But 20 feet felt frightening to me.  Like being trapped below a glass box.  I constantly looked upwards to make sure it was still there.  I had a hard time relaxing but once I was able to relax and let go of my fears, I found the experience to be sensational.

When we reached the lowest point we would go, twenty feet below the surface, our guide instructed us to kneel down on the sand for our “nature” presentation. He showed us a giant clam and we all got to hold a sea cucumber. It was fantastic!

I surfaced up and snapped this shot of our dive boat off in the distance.  We would swim to the boat and then move to another site for dive number 2. 

We did another dive, this time I was less fearful except for the thought of seeing a random shark in the reef.  I knew it was highly unlikely but the thought of seeing an enormous, hungry JAWS was lurking around my brain.

We swam with hundreds and hundreds of brilliantly colored fish, found an electric colored eel hiding in the corals and tried our best to take in all the wonders of this colorful underground world.  It is certainly a fascinating place.  I sure hope that Global Warming does not take it all away from future generations to see.  It would be a tragedy.

After a quick lunch, another amazing opportunity was presented to the guests.  The opportunity to see the reef from above.  Of course it was expensive but as my favorite motto goes When in Rome, we decided that we had to do it.  We had to take a ride in a helicopter above the reef.

We took a small boat over to the heli pad awaiting us not far from the dive boat. 

Me feeling out of my mind excited to board the helicopter for a ride of a lifetime.

We climbed on board and were off on our ten minute adventure flying over Australia’s world-famous Great Barrier Reef.  The views from the flight were out of sight.  I could not believe how enormous the reef is.  It stretches for over 1000 miles long and is the only living organism that can be seen from space.  It was ungodly beautiful from the air.  Almost (and I saw almost since under the waters it is so incredibly spectacular that nothing can top it) as beautiful above as it is below its waters.

From above, we could see sea turtles and all kinds of gorgeous corals lumped together in various shades of blues.  It was absolutely spectacular!  It also was quite thrilling to fly at such speed and angles.  At one point our pilot informed us that we were in search of the elusive sharks who swim across the borders of the reefs.  We flew in search of sharks hoping to catch one that we could trail.  Unfortunately none were to be found.

Below are some of the magnificent views of the Great Barrier Reef from the air.  Breath-taking, isn’t it? 

After a fabulous adventurous day, we were elated and celebrated with a bottle of ice-cold Australian Sav Blanc on the boat ride back. I sadly said goodbye to the amazing Great Barrier Reef, wondering what its future would be and hoping that it would not all disappear with the unstoppable global climate change our Earth is enduring. For wouldn’t it be an unbelievable tragedy if the reef was no longer there to inspire, amaze and mesmerize the world.  I hope it will still be alive and thriving for future generations.

To read more about the documented disappearing of the Great Barrier Reef:

“Ocean acidification, global warming, and the Great Barrier Reef”

“Great Barrier Reef to be decimated by 2050”

“Global Warming Threat to Great Barrier Reef ”

“Global Warming. What you need to know: The Great Barrier Reef”

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