|Well it's been several days since my last blog entry ... apologies. A combination of events prevented my logging in to the internet, including: lack of time, lack of internet access, and a crashed computer. The latter was most worrisome because I'd been daily downloading photos to my PC and was very concerned that I'd lost them. To make that very long story short, when we got back to Sydney yesterday evening I managed to find a computer store where a technician was able to pull my hard drive out and using another device, copy the picture files onto another computer and then burn them onto a DVD. I spent the morning on the phone with HP trying to get a new hard drive arranged but they were useless. They wanted me in the same city for four days or more so that they could do what they wanted with the drive. But enough about that.
Cairns (pronounced "cans") was terrific. The flight was about 3 hours from Sydney, and we quickly discovered why they call it "rainforest" ... the monsoons arrived shortly after we checked in to the Hotel, and it rained at various intensities off and on for our complete stay. Now that sounds worse than it actually was. Although we did get wet on occasion, it seemed to rain the most when we were back in our hotel rooms, or in transit.
One of the highlights or this trip was, of course, the Great Barrier Reef. The morning after our arrival in Cairns we got on a bus for the 45-minute trip to Port Douglas. The entire day, including the buses, was organized by the Quicksilver group, and we were all impressed by their operations. They were extremely well-organized. Once we arrived at their base, we transferred to Quicksilver, a large catamaran with three passenger decks and accommodation for at least 200 people. We got underway pretty quickly for the 60km trip to the outer reef. There Quicksilver has a permanently moored platform they call The Pontoon which has all the stuff needed for a day of play on the water: snorkelling gear, glass bottomed boats, submarines, and even a small pool for those that wanted to get an orientation scuba dive in. And of course a complete restaurant serving a buffet style seafood lunch to all the guests.
Of the hundreds of passengers, there were only 6 of us that had signed up for diving, and we were brought to the "divers' lounge" on board Quicksilver not long after we left Port Douglas to complete the paperwork, provide our dive logs, and to get briefed on what we'd be doing for the day. By the time we docked at The Pontoon, we were suited up and ready to board the dive boat, which was already loaded with our air tanks, etc. Within minutes of tying up to The Pontoon Jim, Karen, Gary and I were off on the next journey which took us a couple of kilometers away to our first dive site. Once there we quickly donned our gear, and within minutes we were in the water.
Spectacular! Fish everywhere! I brought my new underwater camera with me, but was so caught up with taking in all the sights I'm afraid my photographic skills were not very much in evidence. But I was so focused on getting stuff on camera that I found out later I missed a white tipped shark, and a sting ray that had come over to check us out!
Between dives we raced back to The Pontoon for a quick bio break. The dive boat is basically floating platform with seats and a roof bolted to the deck. It's open-sided to allow easy exit with all your gear on, and it moves FAST. On the way back we were hitting the waves at the perfect angle so that Gary and I, who were strapped in facing forward, caught a steady hard spray of water full on. Gary wound up putting his snorkel and face mask back on, while I took what shelter I could by pulling my lycra hood down over my face while look down. Karen said she wished she had my camera, but unfortunately it was out of reach and nobody was prepared to get up to get it for fear of being knocked down or ever worse: overboard! In fact we found out later that one of the dive crew had lost his gear bag over the side somewhere on that first return trip.
Our second dive took place at a large column of coral that was about 20 feet wide and 35-40 ft. high. They call it the Nursery because of the number of fish that make their homes there. We went straight to the bottom, then swam in a continuous spiral as we slowly made our way up and then to the surface. It was great!
Once we got back to the Pontoon, everyone was herded back aboard Quicksilver for the trip back to Port Douglas. We changed and packed up our gear, then claimed our lunches (which had been put aside for the divers) and then back to the divers' lounge to watch the raw footage our videographer developed from the dive. Gary and Barb decided to purchase it, so they then edited it, added a musical soundtrack and some stock footage they have of the area. I'll have the chance to borrow when we get home.
The trip back to Port Douglas, was a bit rougher than the trip out, so they were handing out ginger tablets (which apparently mitigates against seasickness), cold towels, and seasickness bags to anyone who needed it (nobody in our group fortunately). When we docked all the crew disembarked and lined both sides of the pier to say thanks and wish us well for the rest of our stay ... very classy!