Under the Sea: The Great Barrier Reef

Press play and read on.

Two days ago, I dove The Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. I saved the best for last on my vacation (and am choosing to write about this first since it was the most incredible experience). It was probably one of the key reasons I didn’t want to leave Australia, but I’ll leave my fangirling over Aussie everything until later.

Diving The Great Barrier Reef: Cairns, AUS
Diving The Great Barrier Reef: Cairns, AUS

Prior to diving, I had thrown myself off platforms, raced around narrow tracks, stuck my head in a blowhole, and hiked a glacier (to name a few). While it seemed to be the most relaxing activity of the bunch, I was honestly the most nervous for diving.

Pre-dive jitters & tea
Pre-dive jitters & tea

A little history on my past (practically nonexistent) dive experience: I received my Open Water Diver PADI certification last year (literally, almost a year ago) and had done no other diving since then. Heck, my main goal in getting certified was to dive The Great Barrier Reef in the first place. However, based on my past track record of getting extremely seasick, drowsy, headachy, or a combination of all three together, I felt sick to my stomach even while waiting to board the vessel.

I hoped, prayed, and wished to every God possible that I wouldn’t get sick while out at sea this time – because who wants to be sick in THE GREAT BARRIER REEF?!

My wishes were thankfully granted (well, for the most part).

Based on another friend’s recommendation, I did the TUSA Dive. I was able to get three certified dives for the price of two based on their special at the time (woohoo for free stuff). Without a doubt, the three dives were worth every AUD paid, if not more. It was the experience of a lifetime.

TUSA

Despite the vessel getting a slow start (we were interrupted with crackly messages of, “Ladies and gentleman, please sit tight, we are currently working on an engine trouble and should get going shortly,” a few times throughout the ride), we still spent the allotted 4.5-ish hours on the reef. Quite honestly, I understand why people stay overnight or do 3-day tours, since three dives jam-packed into only a cramped time period was actually a bit much. Yet, when you’re on a budget and/or schedule, a day dive will do.

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It took a little less than two hours to reach Hastings Reef. We were supposed to dive Flynn Reef, but the recent cyclone had caused the weather to get all temperamental. There’s always a next time…

Hastings Reef

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There were roughly 50 snorkelers, 18 certified divers and 12 intro divers on the boat. Thankfully, I was paired with a lovely girl from the UK as my dive buddy, who had also only done three dives (the ones that got us certified in the first place). We were split into two guided groups of 8-9 divers each, which made my first dive outside America more challenging, as I was used to only diving with two others in my private classes. Eventually, I just got used to seeing divers right above or below me; the key to diving is to keep yourself calm at all times (or else you panic and pretty much forget everything about underwater safety).

Ah, but speaking of keeping calm. The last time I donned diving gear was May 2013. We were briefly (and I mean briefly – we’re talking less than 5 min.) shown the quick steps for turning on your air tank, putting on your BCD, and water entry/exit. I still felt extremely unprepared to dive into one of the most (if not THE most) beautiful diving locations in the world after this hot second refresher, but I bit my tongue and told my inner paranoia to STFU.

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A few minutes later, we were given our skinner suits (basically a Lyrca bodysuit – far better and easier than wetsuits), booties and snorkel masks. I realized that no one was even using the attached hoods, nor did we need gloves. Oh, the perks of diving near the Equator (all humidity aside)! Instead of weights, we used weight belts (far easier than guestimating how many weights we needed per person). Instead of a compass, each of us had large red inflatable distress sticks in our BCDs in case we got lost and needed help. I know what you’re thinking: Aussies are just so much more simple than Americans. Why complicate things, right?

After all of us jumped in, there was no waiting around – that was only in California, I guess. 😉 We descended about 12m (there was a boy in our group only certified to 12m deep) and started exploring immediately. Visibility ranged from crystal clear to murky at various times, just depending on location and how much sand was being churned.

Bloop bloop.
Bloop bloop.

The coral is probably what GBR is most known for. OH, the beauty. Purples, greens, blues, yellows, oranges, all pastel hues… I can’t imagine how sad it would be for a colorblind diver! The coral alone is worth seeing, even if it’s just through snorkeling (the coral is visible from the surface, since we were in pretty shallow waters). It really did feel like a scene from The Little Mermaid, getting to see all these treasure troves in reality.

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Sidenote: On the other hand, my GoPro video footage sounds like a horror film – my regulator sounds like a gas mask and the audio of the water is just plain eerie.

We unfortunately didn’t see any manta rays, sharks, giant clams, or major marine creatures as promised (thanks to the weather and lack of sunshine). However, we saw an array of beautiful fish (my favorites were these rainbow ones – no idea what type, since I’m the worst at classification), sea slugs and large Maori fish that didn’t budge even when you swam inches from them. There was apparently a resident turtle in the Fish Bowl area we dove in as well. The majority of fish we saw were clownfish (Nemo and friends) and bright yellow and blue fish. We saw schools of them, swimming together in clumps but never darting away as we came near them. So amazing – I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many different fish up close in such a small period of time.

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But now for the side effects: when I surfaced from my third and final dive, I was honestly relieved to have survived. After each dive (especially the last), I dealt with killer headaches and slight nausea (despite three seasick pills beforehand). If there was a helicopter option to the GBR rather than a 2-hour boat ride back and forth, I’d definitely pay for that rather than brave the choppy waters (never have been, and probably never will be, a boat girl). And being the noob diver I am, most of my GoPro footage is of other divers (rather than the coral) or my fins since I was so focused on staying with the group and not caring about what was being recorded. Hopefully my GoPro skills will improve the next time I dive, since I can’t even watch my own videos all the way through without feeling sick.

The worst and only selfie taken that day...
The worst and only selfie taken that day…

Oh yeah, and I still have slight Swimmer’s Ear. The cool part of me is attempting to boast that it means some of the ocean water from the GBR is trapped inside my ear forever.

Regardless, this definitely won’t be the last time I get out to the GBR, especially since there is SO much more to see along that coast. This was just an introduction on how Australia stole my heart (again, more on that later)…

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The GBR is probably one of the most surreal and mind-blowingly-beautiful places in the world…. maybe moreso than Hawaii (come on, Dad. Take that as your cue to get out here). Thanks for the incredible adventure under the sea, TUSA!

6 thoughts on “Under the Sea: The Great Barrier Reef

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