Last weekend was a big weekend for me. I finally got to check something off my bucket list that has been on there for more than 20 years: I got to dive the Great Barrier Reef!
Friday ended up being a work/lazy day. It turns out that it was a public holiday so everyone could go to the Cairns Show. As far as we can tell, the Show is basically the Fair but kids get out of school for one day of it and businesses close. So we spent the morning getting work done and the afternoon at the pool. The highlight of the day was trying a Jaffle- their version of a grilled cheese. It’s made on a special Jaffle press. We got them full of cheese and bacon and egg for breakfast. They were delicious.
The Great Barrier Reef
It was nice to have a lazy day as Saturday was the main event. We got up early and headed down to the Reef Terminal to get our tickets to the Great Barrier Reef. We went out with a company called SilverSwift. It was a nice sized boat with 60 people on it. We made friends with some ladies from Australia and France while we were waiting in line to board. It was surprising how many people in Australia have never traveled far from home. Several people during our trip told us this was their first time exploring their own country.
Once we were on the boat, we used the table philosophy to make more friends. We had a couple from New Zealand sit with us for the dive briefing. Although this time it wasn’t my table they wanted, it was my phone charger. So, we settled into our table with tea, muffins, and focaccia with cheese and garlic on it. Emily also settled in with some Dramamine- they tried to push that pretty hard as it was pretty choppy on the way out to the reef. I was a little worried because it was overcast and gloomy on shore.
Thankfully, it got clearer the further we got from shore. By the time we got to the first site, it was sunny but the water was still pretty choppy. They divided people up into dive groups based on the number of dives they had. I got to go into the advanced group and was paired with a lovely girl named Mieke. It was so exciting to finally be here as I have been wanting to dive the Great Barrier Reef for 20 years. I couldn’t believe it was finally time. Emily got to snorkel with our new friends from Australia/France.
The first reef we stopped at was called Pellowe Reef. At the first site, we saw mostly fish and a lot of huge sea cucumbers. Emily noticed the water was still really choppy, as she was getting knocked around by waves, which may have made it harder to see things. I’m excited to see what all she caught on her GoPro. I decided not to take a camera down with me and just enjoy the experience. But that didn’t stop me from pointing things out to people with cameras to see if they’d share some with me. On this dive, among other things, we saw a stingray and a giant clam.
The second location was Flynn’s Reef at Gordons. The tide was going out as we got there which made for an interesting dive. Emily had lunch first while the divers went down. On this run, I saw a shark, a moray eel, and came face to face with a hawksbill sea turtle. Everyone had gone to the right of this big coral head so I decided to go left. He was so close I could have kissed him. However, I had to chase everyone down and bring them back so they could see him instead. I didn’t want to get left behind because I was playing with a turtle.
There was one obnoxious guy from Europe who kept getting in everyone’s way to take photos. When he saw the turtle, he flicked the turtle’s shell a couple times to see how hard it was and then put his hand on it and pushed. Tom, our dive master, made him stop but it was too late and the turtle swam off. This guy kept touching corals to get photos and was super problematic. I was a little grumpy about it.
On this dive, I found a couple cone snails but I didn’t touch them. Some have a neurotoxin that can kill you so I kept my hands to myself. Tom, our dive instructor found a giant triton snail that was eating some coral. He also found a clownfish for us. It was a pink anemone fish so it didn’t look like Nemo, but they’re related. We also saw some unicornfish and copper banded butterflyfish.
Emily had an amazing second snorkel too. She saw a shark, sea cucumbers, a green sea turtle, and lots of fish. Her videos from this snorkel are awesome.
Credit: @Emily Cayton
Lunch was stir fried chicken, ratatouille, rice, sushi, prawns, fruit and potato and pasta salads. There was a lot of food. I took mine to the front of the boat to get some sun and watch the tide go out. It was amazing how much of the coral was exposed by the time the tide was out.
The final site was Thetford Reef. Emily and I agreed this sight wasn’t as good as the others. It was murky and the visibility wasn’t as good. I also didn’t get up close and personal with a sea turtle so that makes it hard to beat the second dive. However, I found a giant blue sea star, got to see a giant clam, and found a dogfaced pufferfish. So it was still pretty amazing. We also saw a white tipped shark, a stingray, a bird wrasse, lizardfish, a flowery cod (a grouper), batfish, a harlequin sweetlip, and lots of parrotfish.
When I finished this dive I hopped back in with my camera to get a few shots of the corals and smaller fish. It was a nice way to end the day.
From the third dive site we motored back to shore. The islands we passed were beautiful with sandy beaches surrounded by rainforest. It would have been nice to enjoy some time out there as well. However, I had us booked pretty full on this trip. So we went back to Gilligan’s and cleaned up. We met with our friends from the waterfalls tour for one last dinner. We headed out for the rainforest the next morning and they were heading off on a bus trip down the east coast.
What’s on your bucket list that you’ve been waiting for years to check off?
Hopefully, I’ll have some photos to share from someone else’s camera soon but until then, check out this small selection.