Great Barrier Reef
All the literature in Cairns estolls the virtues of the Great Barrier Reef and there are hundreds of signs and brochures beckoning with cheap day trips, introductory dives, snorkelling, live aboard trips, dive courses and on and on. Having never dived before but being sure that once bitten I would be certain to pursue it I opted for a 5 day Open Water Dive course with one of the bigger companies in town, Pro-Dive.
The first day arrived and I was duly picked up at the appointed time by a smartly turned out instructor and along with a crew of prospective dive-wannabees bused over to the training facility. 2 days of instruction, classroom time, pool time, videos, quizzes and even an exam and we were ready for the best part 3 days on a live aboard boat out on the reef itself.
An early morning pick up and we were out of Cairns harbour by 8 am bound for the reef. We were treated to a sighting of two humpback whales on the way out, an auspicious omen.
Soon we were moored at the first dive site and were briefed on handling our gear for the duration of the trip before suiting up and getting in the water for our first open water training dive. If you haven't ever dived before there are some exercises which give you a bit to think about like removing and replacing your mask underwater and doing a C.E.S.A. (controlled emergency surface ascent) but none of it is too scary and you realize that you're very unlikely to ever need most of the emergency procedures if you dive carefully and stay well within your limits.
After the first dive I knew I was hooked! There is just so much to see and I was unbelievably lucky to find a used underwater housing for my little digital camera at a more than affordable price so my dream of exploring underwater photography was about to be realized.
Somewhere on the second day we finished the last of our 'training dives' and now as certified Open Water Divers were free to dive unaccompanied by an instructor. That was a cool feeling. Of course no business would be worth its salt if once having trapped and seduced its customers it didn't offer more and I duly went for the next option taking three more training dives. In fact by the time it was all over I had left my original boat, shelled out of an additional 5 dives, an extra night out and came away from it with my Advanced Open Water cert.
Some of the things we saw included: turtles, reef sharks, crayfish, clown-fish (Nemo and cousins), one guy even saw a hammerhead shark!
And everywhere there was colour, brightly coloured fish and coral, intricate micro-ecosystems within the coral, it just went on and on... coral caves, chasms, shallow coral ampitheatres, deep walls, sting rays gliding over the sandy bottom. Total eye candy.
Photography underwater is certainly a challenge. The colour gets sapped out by the water and of course most of the fish are moving around, as are you. But by getting super close and taking macro shots you can preserve colour and I found some tweaking in PhotoShop afterwards can inject extra life into pictures that at first seem a bit flat.
The diving was exceptional and certainly the highlight of my time in Australia but along with it was the great people I shared the experience with. Everyone to a person on the boat had enthusiasm and an obvious love of what we were all doing. It was infectious.
Next - Cape Tribulation.