When we dived in Gili our dive master warned us not to dive the reefs closest to Cairns on a day trip as they've already been somewhat damaged by the volume of tourists snorkeling and diving the site - from where they've accidentally kicked the coral with their fins. In the end we settled on a two day/one night trip, living aboard a sailing boat and with five dives included in the price - so if I have any remaining fear of scuba diving, it's sure to be gone by the end of the trip!
The night before our diving trip, however, we ended up in the local Irish pub - which was both a blessing and a curse:
It was fortunate we spent the evening there as we realised our clocks were half an hour slow (due to there being a time difference between Darwin and Cairns that we didn't know about). It was as we queued at the bar to take advantage of the buy-one-get-one-free offer that the barmaids told us that happy hour was over. We checked the time and no, it was definitely still happy hour according to our watches, so we asked other patrons sat at the bar what time they made it - and then made fools of ourselves when we discovered that we were indeed wrong. Still, if we hadn't found out the correct time we would have missed the dive boat the following morning!
The downside however was the inevitable hangover that we accrued from socialising in the bar all evening. When you do your dive training you are told that alcohol is a BAD THING (this is however is a paradox as all the divers I've met love a good drink. In fact, after our first day's diving the Great Barrier Reef our dive master cracked open a can of beer and then started on a bottle of rum, which incidentally was half empty the following morning!)
Getting up at 6am to climb aboard a boat to embark upon a three hour journey and then do three dives certainly wasn't what we fancied doing when we awoke the following morning, but we threw ourselves into it, determined to enjoy ourselves. On board the boat we took to our bunks when the motion of the boat threatened to make us seasick. It was too late for poor Kev though, who was also still suffering from an upset stomach from a few days previously and who threw up before making it to the first dive site. We did manage to complete and enjoy the three dives though, so it all worked out ok in the end.
The diving conditions were not great, sadly. Day one was largely overcast and rainy - not necessarily a problem when you're underwater, but the visibility was also poor. Our dive master said it was the worst diving he's experienced on the Great Barrier Reef in all the years he's been doing his job - what a shame!
By our final dive of day one visibility was down to just five metres - the lack of sunshine didn't help, but this was mostly due to the coral 'spores' getting ready to 'reproduce' so the water was really murky. We saw some amazing coral though, along with a stingray, clown fish, giant clams and sea cucumbers (which our dive master picked up and gave to us to hold!) I can only imagine how amazing the reef would look with a bit of sunshine and 25m+ visibility!
We also hired a digital underwater camera to document some of our dives but the majority of the pictures we took look like the kind of photos you get when you give a five year old child it's first camera! The murky conditions didn't help much either but we did manage to get a few good shots of each other in the water - look out for them on the blog soon!
By day two Kev was fully recovered and up bright and early, ready for our pre-breakfast dive. Conditions had improved quite a bit since the previous day and visibility underwater was up to 20 metres, though it was still a bit murky.Back on board we enjoyed breakfast in the sunshine up on deck before taking the plunge one final time before the three hour journey back to Cairns.
I have to admit that in terms of marine fauna, we saw a lot more in Borneo, but the coral in the Great Barrier Reef is truely spectacular and like nothing I have seen before (albeit in my limit experience of diving). Some of the other guys on the boat reported having seen a reef shark but I'm not sure if I'm disappointed or glad we didn't encounter that under the water! We did, however, see an enormous trigger fish (which can be really territorial and agressive), so that was pretty exciting for us.
The next chapter of our trip begins with us picking up our camper van and starting our massive 2000 km drive from Cairns to Sydney. We have five weeks to do it in though so we can be really leisurely and do plenty of sightseeing along the way.
I'll blog again soon when there's more to report.
Sarah & Kev xx