Thursday, 11 May 2017

TRAVEL THURSDAY: The Great Reef of Australia

It's time for AJ to tell you about another one of his wonderful adventures. After visiting the stinky heights of Rotorua last week, this week he's sailing across the deep blue sea...
Rotorua wasn't the first tourist venue I visited. Late last year I enjoyed a trip across the Tasman Sea to Cairns, a Queenstown city closer to the Solomon Islands than to the state capital, Brisbane. Surrounded by jungle views and beautiful shimmering water, Cairns is the only place in the world where two UNESCO World Heritage sites are found side by side and - while I sadly missed out on a chance to stand between Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef - I did get to visit the latter. 
I woke early in the morning and waited for a lift from my hostel, which would take me to the docks at Cairns. There, me and sixty other people boarded a Tusa Diving boat.
Some of me fellow passengers, taken on the brand new GoPro I purchased exclusively for this trip
As I was travelling alone I felt inclined to mingle as we headed to the reef; make friends with strangers and get to learn the stories of others. There was an old Californian couple who had recently retired and wanted to get away from the States for a bit (at least until the whole "Donald Trump" thing subsided), a stocky German lad named Paul, an English couple who were more than happy to discuss football, and two gorgeous Canadian girls - Emily and Lanette - who were in Australia for a work holiday. My experience with Cairns, having lived near there previously, is that the locals rarely visit the reef unless it's literally their job, and this seemed to be backed up with not a single Australian on-board. 
As we were approaching Hastings Reef, our dive spot of the day, I was pulled aside with Paul and another man, and we were given a crash course on diving. I had never done it before, and I figured I might as well lose my virginity at the world's most famous reef, right? 
The view as we approached Hastings Reef
However, I am a naturally anxious person, so in hindsight diving was probably not a good investment. The instructor took us down 20 meters below water, and already I was starting to feel incredibly claustrophobic and trapped. All my instincts were telling me to float to the top, but with the extra weights they'd put on me I couldn't. I started freaking out. Anxiety attacks are bad enough when they happen above water: that far underwater they are potentially lethal. Desperately I pointed up and my instructor inflated the emergency floater bags on my diving suit, and in no time at all I was back in the open. I gasped for air and got out of the water, shaking and breathing jagged. Diving was no longer as exciting as I thought it would be. 
Sadly this is a fact with anxiety. Sometimes it tampers with beautiful experiences. I wasn't going to let it suck my fun away, though. I grabbed a snorkel and joined the members of my travel team who had decided not to dive, and I just swam. I'd never been snorkeling before either, and it took awhile for me to get past my natural instinct of bobbing my head out of the water every second stroke. Once I conquered that, it was absolutely beautiful. 
Hastings Reef is one of the most pristine parts of the Great Barrier Reef system, and it shows. My eyes were treated to a beautiful array of colours in the coral, with schools of clown fish bobbing up every so often. Not only did I find Nemo, I also found sea turtles, parrot fish and a gorgeously yellow butterfly fish. I even got up close to a shark (albeit a harmless reef shark!). I got lost in this new world I was discovering, and just as I was getting into it we had to leave. 
The way home was the most fun I've ever had on a boat. I sat at the front of the boat, outside, with the English couple and the Canadians, and the conversations we were having about the reef, what we saw and how we need to help save it were compelling. While we were snorkeling the wind had picked up significantly, meaning that the waves were way choppier than they were coming in. After twenty minutes, once we hit speed, we started to feel the effects of that. The boat was getting some good air every 20 seconds, like being on your own rollercoaster. Our conversation stopped and we focused on the upcoming waves as we got good air between our buttocks and the seats every time we hit a massive one. The g-force and general excitement of what was happening was incredibly fun and exhilarating - not least because Emily decided to cling to me, as I was the closest thing to grab on to! After some time it became too dangerous to stay outside and the weather started to look upsetting, so we adjourned back inside and played a round of cards while we waited to arrive in Cairns. 
All credit to Tusa Dives, they were more than happy to refund me for not doing a dive and they were fantastic assistance through my anxiety attack. My decision not to go head with the dive is not one I regret. I still got to see a beautiful wonder of the world without spending an insubordinate amount of funds, and I've got stories to tell. As we arrived in Cairns we heard the news of two people suffering heart attacks while diving at another reef just moments before, so perhaps I felt a little less guilty about pulling out at that point. While I do hold some regret for not getting past my fears on that day, I am incredibly pleased with what I did do. Perhaps one day in the future, now that I know what to expect, I will return to the reef and dive properly. I just hope the conservation efforts work, and this beautiful world can survive. 
Donate here to help save the Great Barrier Reef. 
This is the best picture you get of the reef: the GoPro died before I went in the water! 
A big thank you to AJ, for sharing another of his travel stories with us. I've always wanted to visit the Great Barrier Reef, so I'm definitely going to donate to the conservation efforts.

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