A Travellerspoint blog

May 2013

Diving the Great Barrier Reef!

Whatever our (fairly neutral) feelings about Australia as a whole, it must be said that we ended our 8-week trip on a high. The Great Barrier Reef is more than deserving of its place as one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and for me it was the site of several diving firsts; my first reef dive, first dive without a guide and first shark sighting.

Although initially worried by the large number of people on the boat, it soon came to light that most were aboard just for snorkelling, and in fact only about ten people were fellow divers. I must admit I've never been more grateful for my dive license; as the snorkellers splashed about on the surface fighting for space, John and I jumped into the water with a guide and one other girl and sank into the quiet tranquility of the reef.

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Our first dive at Hasting's Reef was led by a divemaster, who led us around the reef pointing out coral and marine life as we went. We passed a reef plant covered with closed buds that opened when you ran a hand over them, and soon spotted some clown fish (aka 'nemo fish'). Our divemaster also handed us some lumps of rubbery matter with a spongy, slimy feel, that turned out to be sea slugs.

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After a buffet lunch we moved to our second location, Saxon's Reef. and decided to attempt our second dive without guidance. After a quick briefing on navigating around the reef, we jumped in and began our solo adventure. We quickly encountered a large fish hiding under the boat, but soon left it in the company of snorkellers and descended deeper into the ocean. We were intrigued by a venus-fly-trap-style plant that almost closed on my fingers as I waved a hand near it.

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However, our most exciting discovery was yet to come. We had been told that sharks were present in the area, but we hardly dared hope to find one until we rounded a cluster of coral and spotted one just below us on the sea bed! John is notoriously terrified of sharks, and initially seemed to fight the urge to swim for the surface, but as we swam closer it was clear the reef shark had no interest in us. At around 1.5m it was fairly small in size, but we rose to the surface at the end of our dive with exhilaration still coursing through our veins. Fantastic!

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Posted by kate1401 15:57 Archived in Australia Tagged diving shark great_barrier_reef coral Comments (0)

Queensland: Ending the East Coast With a Bang...

After the tranquility of Byron Bay, we ventured north into the brash glitz of Queensland, our first major stop being Brisbane. Brisbane is probably the least sensational of Australia's eastern cities; Melbourne has the architecture, Sydney has the Opera House and Cairns has the Reef, while Brisbane seems to fall short somewhat. Its sprinkling of attractive buildings is for the most part smothered by a forest of skyscrapers and, being slightly inland, lacks that which is the centre of most Australian towns; the beach. We were, however, slightly impressed by what Brisbane has built to compensate. Street Beach is a man-made swimming pool surrounded by sand that, judging by the crowds, the locals have embraced as an alternative to the real beach, and offers spectacular views of the city skyline across the river.

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From Brisbane we continued on to Noosa for a two-day canoeing trip along its rivers and lakes, with accommodation at a bush camp in the forest. On our first day we teamed up in groups of three, were given our route, and set off on a gruelling 14km return trip against the current. We made a slow and wobbly start, but were soon skimming down the river under the direction of our third team member, a Swedish guy who led our outing as if it was a military manoeuvre. We stopped at a creek for a swim in water that made your skin seem red, had lunch at a beach further down the river, then headed back, our arms aching and our fingers blistering, but with a great sense of achievement.

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Our second day saw us rewarded for the first with an easier route; 2km each way with the current in our favour. We spent the day at a beach before returning to camp and going for a swim in a nearby quarry flooded with water that looked bright blue.

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The next morning, after saying goodbye to some new friends, we returned to central Noosa for a day of walking in the National Park and enjoyed some stunning views over the ocean before heading north once again for our trip to the famous Fraser Island. Despite having to get up at 6am to catch the ferry to the island, Fraser was my undisputed highlight of our time in Australia. Fraser Island is the biggest sand island in the world, suitable only for 4WD vehicles, and as the tour was 'self-drive' we were offered the chance to drive the vehicles ourselves, with only the leading car in the control of a guide.

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Over the three days we spent on the island we visited Lake Mckenzie, Lake Wabby and the Champagne Pools; swimming opportunities that doubled as our only chances to wash, as our camp was not equipped with showers. We also enjoyed floating down the strong current of Eli Creek, and saw the Maheno, an old shipwreck that is slowly sinking below the sand.

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Our nights were spent at camp getting drunk, scaring off dingos and peeing on the beach in the dark, and we had the time of our lives. We met some awesome people and made lasting friends who were to become our regular companions for the rest of our journey.

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Our next stop was Airlie Beach to experience the beautiful Whitsunday Islands. Although our budget had not allowed us to do a three-day live aboard tour that most backpackers opt for, we were able to visit the highlights on a one-day tour. We were taken first to Whitsunday Island where we walked up to a lookout point over Whitehaven Beach, then went to the beach itself for lunch and swimming in the clear water. We then continued our day in the waters around Hook Island, where we went snorkelling and saw some huge fish and even a turtle!

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The snorkelling was a great warm-up act for the main event; our scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns. A post and heaps of photos coming soon...

Posted by kate1401 16:29 Archived in Australia Tagged snorkelling fraser_island queensland brisbane noosa whitsundays airlie_beach Comments (1)

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