Thursday, February 28, 2008

Day 11,12,13,14 - Cairns, Australia

February 29th (Leap Day!) – 8 AM – Cairns, Australia

Where do I begin? We left off on Monday evening after we checked into our Hotel in Cairns – The Rydges Hotel – it is very nice and clean and right on the water so I would recommend it to anyone who travels to Cairns. (One thing to do before you book would be to sign up for their “hotel points” club so you can get 10% off when you book your stay.)

Tuesday morning we left The Rydges Hotel around 7:30 AM for a 3 day/2 night stay on a Live Aboard 35 Meter Catamaran on the Great Barrier Reef, The Reef Encounter. (BTW – when we left for the boat we asked the hotel to keep two bags for us b/c we would only be gone for three days – when we got to the boat we still had WAY more luggage than everyone else – who would have guessed? I have promised Nathan that I will travel lighter next time – pinkie swear) So when we got to the marina we had to get on a day boat, The Compass, that would take us out 2 hours boating time to the great barrier reef. The Compass had customers that were just scuba or snorkeling for the day as well as the passengers that would transfer to the live aboard. The “transfer” is done at Hastings Reef about 50 km north off the coast of Cairns.

Once aboard The Reef Encounter we were assigned a room (which was pretty big I thought – possibly bigger than some cruise ship rooms we have stayed in), we explored the boat (there were 3 decks, a hot tub, and a “saloon” which housed couches, the bar, and the dining room) Below are some pictures so you can get the idea.

Right after we arrived we were served lunch and headed out for our first dive on The Reef. The thing I thought was a little odd when we went for our first scuba dive was that you literally just dive in – no dive master or guide that takes you around – WTF! There are sharks and killer jellyfish – aren’t they concerned for our lives?!!! They did have a “map” of what you are supposed to be looking for underwater (really detailed – with large circles that say “bomme” and turn right at the “gap” – RIIIGGHT!) Anyway, I started to freak out a little (just a little) until Nathan my very sensitive husband pulled out his famous line “Bone Up and jump in” He then went on to explain that he had his dad’s compass (thanks Gregg!) and that he could TOTALLY get us back to the boat no problem (although he had never used it before – but details again -right?) At this point the Dive Master (they do have one she doesn’t dive with you) explains that you can pay extra for a guide (only $10 which I thought was cheap enough to ensure coming back alive) – “phew” I thought and looked at Nathan – he was staring at me with a “don’t even think about it look” so I gave in against my better judgment and just jumped in! Obviously I am still alive b/c I am here to write this but it did get a little hairy – believe me! I wasn’t that comfortable the first dive as I hadn’t been since we dove Cabo in 2006, and I thought we were going to get left on the reef somewhere (it is always the Americans they leave behind). But we made it and I had a fabulous time (we over shot our mark a little but Nathan did a good job with his compass).

After this dive the boat traveled to another part of the reef, Saxon Reef. This dive was to get us ready for the night dive so we would be more comfortable in our surroundings. We saw beautiful coral and a few fish – but still no sharks or sea turtles – “no worries” they said –“you will be able to see those at night”! Funny thing is – everyone wants to swim with the sharks and there seems to be a bit of a competition to see who can get closest to a shark and how many you see in one dive. (You would think it would be scary but they say they won’t bother you so everyone just believes them – we also aren’t talking Great Whites either – we were swimming with white, black, and grey tip reef sharks.)

The night dive on the first night was amazing – it was pouring down rain and lightning – the boat was rocking really hard – but funny thing is once you get in the water it is so calm and peaceful. We did have a guide for the night dive (it is pitch black dark at 15 meters and all you have is a tiny flashlight). Also, the guides kind of know where all the cool things are – like where the turtles sleep, the sharks hang out, etc. Amazing! We saw a 6 foot white tip reef shark (about 6 feet from us – and talk about surreal – all you can see is glowing green eyes swimming towards you until they get close enough to see what is attached to them – however you know that glowing green eyes are predators and glowing pink eyes are crustaceans). We also saw a HUGE sea turtle sleeping under a rock – I bet it was about 1 meter long). That night we were in bed by 9 PM – diving wears you out and you get very dehydrated from all the underwater breathing.

The next day we were only allowed to dive 4 out of the 6 dives. So we snorkeled twice – which was really beautiful as well. The colors at 2 – 3 meters are much brighter that at 10 – 18 meters (you lose color every meter starting with Red then following the color spectrum – as in ROY G. BIV) The schedule was great – wake up at 6 AM and dive – this dive was great both mornings b/c this is when all the fish wake up and are hungry so you see lots of marine life. Then you come in take a shower, eat breakfast, dive again, take another shower. The boat moves back to Hastings Reef to pick up new people and drop off those unfortunate people who have to go home – 1 ½ hours later you dive again, shower again, eat lunch, dive again. The boat then moved to a third reef – Norman Reef – about 70 km from Cairns) This was my favorite location – I got to swim with a Sea Turtle – I even got to pet it – so cool – I swear they move just like in the movie Finding Nemo – they are so graceful! The coral was so beautiful as well – lots of bright colors – we saw a cauliflower looking coral that was twice as long as Nathan and the most brilliant yellow color. We also swam with a napoleon wrasse fish – you can see Nathan swimming with it below. And this wasn’t even the biggest fish we saw! The night dive hear was unbelievable as well – a shark swam past me about 3 feet from my back leg (I will have to say I was a little scared b/c it was night and you really can’t see much except for a shark swimming for your leg – nice!) That night we had a great time with the crew and other passengers. I swear this one guy was my dad’s twin – he got everyone together by pulling out some string and doing “tricks” as well as engaging everyone with riddles. The second morning we woke up for the 6 am dive at Norman Reef but we went to the “other side” – again fabulous – we did the same dive at 8:30 as well. Now I saw we did the same dive – but it is never the same twice – you see different animals – different corals – depending on your depth the “same dive” could be a completely different experience. After this we drove back to Hastings Reef so we could dive one more time before going home (so sad). This time we went to the “Wild Side” of Hasting Reef – the opposite side of the reef than the last time – here the current was REALLY strong and we ended up over shooting the boat TWICE – oops! Oh well that was the last dive and Nathan had practically mastered the compass by this last time – so I won’t fault him for the last dive – the current was ridiculous! From here we packed up our stuff and took the Compass back to Cairns. I was too tired to get in the water for boom netting but here is a picture – looks like a lot of fun – I won’t miss it next time for sure!!! Even though one girl lost her bathing suit and a couple people feel off in the middle of the ocean! SORRY THIS IS GETTING SO WORDY but it is four days in one! Last night we got back to the Rydges Hotel and went out to explore Cairns. This is a pretty happening city as it is where everyone comes to go out onto the Great Barrier Reef as well as it is a HUGE city for the back packers to visit. We visited the Night Markets (kind of lame but Nathan wanted a dive t-shirt which we couldn’t find – very strange) and we ate at Café Thailand – great Thai food – I definitely recommend it and it wasn’t too pricey). So that should catch you up. Today we leave for New Zealand – we are flying into Christ Church and driving to Queenstown – I will tell you how that goes tomorrow – hopefully we make it – we still haven’t found a good map!:) Love you all!


Julia Surace said...

Thank goodness we have heard from you we thought they might have lefted you in the ocean with the sharks. Glad you both had a great time, we have missed you both this week and can't wait to see you both next Friday, as we have planned a full day adventure to the Blue Mountains.
Love Julia, Boys and Carolyn

Tish said...

Dude, you are super brave! I would have FREAKED... :)

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