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Our location as of 10/2/2012

Madison, WI, USA
Last updated 10/2/2012
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Diving the Great Barrier Reef

As some of you may know, I don’t always enjoy scuba diving. I tend to have problems equalizing my ears and I get sick of dealing with all the equipment: slowly pulling and yanking up a wetsuit, finding fins that fit nicely, figuring out the right weight and correctly arranging the weight blocks on a belt, struggling to keep your balance and walk with all the heavy gear on… It can all be a really big pain. I had almost decided to give up on diving all together, since none of the places I had seen really made up for all the hassle. But that was before I went to the Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier ReefAnd I’m so glad I decided to go on this three day, two night scuba trip, because it was incredible! Once you’re in the clear, warm water, gliding effortlessly among the colorful coral and thousands of stunning fish, you forget about how annoying the process of getting down there was. Instead you notice the beautiful details, like clownfish darting back into their coral homes and tiny crabs crawling along the bottom. We saw an alien-looking cuttlefish change colors right before our eyes. Brad saw a little sea turtle and I saw a huge fish eat a smaller one. We also saw stingrays, blue and purple giant clams, Moorish Idols, a huge Moray Eel, boxfish, ultraviolet-striped wrasses, barracuda, parrotfish, a hermit crab in a mansion of a shell, fish getting their morning baths by blue streak cleaner wrasse and a huge titan triggerfish trying to smash apart a shell. During our very last dive, we floated there and watched a sea turtle slowly swim towards the surface while an entire school of fish swam in perfect unison behind it. Absolutely amazing.

Our divemaster was Ben, a young German guy with shaggy brown hair and a spider web tattoo on his elbow. With his accent, it was like getting dive briefings and 5:00 AM wake-up calls from Arnold Schwartzengar. But he was very knowledgeable and absolutely hilarious. He had a solid deadpan delivery for all of the ridiculous things he said.

His best joke was right before our night dive. It was my first night dive and the crew did a great job pumping us up for it. They turned all the lights off and did the briefing with only flashlights. Then Ben handed out glowsticks and told us they were a special, heat-activated type, so to get them to turn on, we had to suck on them. So twenty of us are sitting there, sucking on these glowsticks for about five minutes before Ben finally says, “OK, I just wanted to see how far that trust thing went between us. Of course you snap the glowsticks to activate them!” Probably the best prank ever.

Great Barrier ReefDiving at night is a bit like playing ghost in the graveyard. During the day, you see all the cute, pretty creatures from Finding Nemo. At night, you see all the dark, twisty things that eat them. Pair that with the fact that sound is magnified underwater, but you can’t see anything in the dark, and you have a pretty creepy experience. Brad and I didn’t actually see a whole lot in the two night dives, though. We did see a sleeping lion fish, which was very cool. (Brad didn’t take the camera for the night dives, so we don’t have a picture of it.) And we could see sharks in the water before we got in, but by the time we got down there, they were gone.

We did have a few equipment mishaps as well. In the first dive, Brad’s BCD inflator hose fell off. He was going to ditch his weights and abort the dive, but a divemaster was with us and told him he could stay, so Brad was stuck crawling along the bottom or getting dragged by someone else. My O-Ring was worn out and started leaking on a different dive. Then during the second night dive, my flashlight battery started dying. At least the crew was very helpful and able to fix all our issues. And to top it off, at the very end, one of the other girls got bent. I don’t think it was too serious, but they did have her on oxygen and an ambulance picked her up right when we reached the port, just to be on the safe side.

I realize all of that makes it sound like the trip was a mess, but it actually went quite smoothly. I was really happy with how I’m progressing as a diver. I’ve got my buoyancy under control and I didn’t have any problems with my ears. Brad of course already loved diving, now I’m afraid he’s going to be obsessed with it. That’s okay, though, because I can’t wait for the next time we visit the underwater world.

The Whitsunday Islands

Today we went on a boat tour of the Whitsunday Islands. We went with a company called Ocean Rafting, which had really cheesy marketing photos, but a good reputation. Even though they use regular boats, they decorate them to look like rafts. I don’t really get it, but the tour was very good.

First we went snorkeling off of Border Island. The viz wasn’t really great (maybe about ten feet), but there was some nice coral and neon-colored fish. There were also tons of jellyfish! Luckily they were a harmless variety because we didn’t want to pay extra to wear stinger suits. We didn’t rent an underwater camera, either, because we’re diving in the Great Barrier Reef later this week and I think we’ll see more out there.

Whitehaven BeachAfter about an hour, we went over to Whitsunday Island and walked up to the Hill Inlet Lookout. The view was incredible! They say that Whitehaven Beach is the most photographed beach in the world. I’m not sure if that’s true, but after seeing it myself, it wouldn’t surprise me too much. The water was bright blue and the sand is so white, it almost hurts your eyes to look at it in the sunlight. It’s that bright because it’s 98% silica. From the lookout we could also see tons of stingrays swimming around.

Once we were done taking pictures, we went down to Whitehaven Beach to fight off the seagulls and have a picnic in the shade. After lunch we relaxed, swam, and went for a walk. The best part was the sand itself. As soon as we jumped off the boat, Brad and I both said something about how soft the sand is. It almost feels like powder. It really is a gorgeous beach. The only drawback is that Whitehaven is definitely not a deserted beach. I’d say there were over 150 other people there. They allow a small number of people to camp there each night, which is probably the only way to see it empty.

On the ride back, Brad sat on one of the edge seats up on the “raft” itself, where he had to hold on to a rope to stay in. The swells were huge and the boat was practically bouncing up off the water. I was afraid he was going to fall out, but he had a great time getting splashed and tossed around.

Anyway, definitely check out the pictures Brad took today, because they are awesome!