I think I left you when I first arriving in Canberra. Canberra is the capital city of Australia, not Sydney as most believe. Canberra is much like Ottawa; it was full of amazing sights but most of them are boring. We went to the War Memorial: very immense and definitely the best war museum I have ever been to. I learned a lot about the Australian’s involvement in WWI and WWII. We then proceeded to the Parliament Hill, toured the building and promptly got lost. Canberra is made up of a bunch of semi-circular roads that get very confusing on foot. Looking at a map they are all pretty and well organized but in person they are difficult to navigate and the distances between attractions were huge.
After we left Canberra, we headed straight for Sydney. I am usually not too excited to return to Sydney, having spent way (way…) too much time there previously, but this time was different: we were taking a plane ride to Cairns! Cairns is probably the biggest tourist town in Australia, and for good reason. Sure, you cannot swim in the ocean, or most other water systems within 1000 km of Cairns, but it is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. The reason you cannot swim in the ocean is because it is currently Jellyfish season, the box jellyfish and the archangie (sp?) jelly fish. The scary part about the archangie jellyfish is that it is only about the size of your thumbnail but its toxins are potent enough to kill you. The box jellyfish is also very dangerous; though a little bigger, about the size of my fist, the box jellyfish has tentacles that can grow to be 3 metres (or more) long! Also, to top that off, all the water systems are infested with salt-water-crocs, the biggest crocodiles in the world. They can and will eat you. Needless to say that I will not be caught dead in or around most water sources near Cairns.
HOWEVER, there is a bright side. Both the crocs and the Jellyfish are limited to the coastal regions, so that means that you can go swimming further out off the coast. This is a good thing considering I paid $700 to get certified to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef. That $700 went towards 2 days of in-class/pool lessons on the technicalities of scuba diving. They were two long days consisting of over 6 hours in the pool and about 5 hours in class, including a final exam. I breezed my way through the course, getting 100% on the final exam (the only one in the class, I might add). However, the classroom lessons (and pool) are only part of the requirements for becoming a certified “Open Water Diver”. PADI, the regulatory body for certification, says that every diver must complete certain tasks, spread out over four dives, in the open ocean. The rest of the $700 paid for a 3 day/2 night cruise of the Great Barrier Reef including 9 dives.
On day 1 we left Cairns port at about 8:00AM and headed for the open ocean. We reached our destination about 3 hours later through turbulent water. Oh yea, did I mention that Australia was being hit by a somewhat large hurricane at the time? Well, lucky for us, it really did not affect us that much. Sure the water was quite choppy and there was very little sunshine, but we hardly got any rain. Even if it did rain, I was covered in water half the time, it didn’t really matter. We found out after returning to Cairns that Cairns had received HUGE amounts of rain and wind, but we missed it all!
Later that day, we did our fist open water dive. At first, it was a little scary, but it soon got fairly comfortable. They made us do many things while on the surface and on the bottom of the ocean (up to 18 metres [60 feet] deep) including taking off our mask and clearing it underwater, throwing away our breather and retrieving it, taking off all our equipment and remounting, etc. It was pretty stressful but it prepares you for the worse while underwater. After 3 more dives, we were fully certified! The remaining 5 dives were completely “fun” dives that we could do whatever we wanted. We saw many, many, many and many more kinds of fish! I am sure that you have all seen pictures of the GBR, but none of them give you a sense of what it is really like. EVERYTHING is alive. Even the rock (coral) is a living organism. I saw many special things too: White Tip Reef Shark, Black Tip Reef Shark, Blue Spotted Stingray, Mouri Wrasse, Anemone Fish (Think Nemo), and many more. Best of all I got to swim with Sea turtles! In one of the last days, I managed to find a sea turtle and I actually got to swim right next to it.
Definitely the best dive that we did was on Day 2 at about 8PM. Yes, at night. You might be thinking: “But how did you see anything”. The best part was that you saw the most at night time. We all carried flashlights and perused the sea floor. We met Brian, a female Sea turtle that has a shell the size of my dining room table and we saw lobsters, crabs, shrimp, and lots more. The best part was on our way up. What happens is the dive boat turns huge underwater lights on so that you can find you way back to the boat. But what you cannot see from above water is that there are many sharks patrolling the darkness around the lighted area. On the night dive alone I saw at least 6 sharks, all circling us at about 5 metres underwater. VERY COOL! Let me just add something here…I do not usually want to see sharks when I am in the water, but these particular kinds of shark are no threat to humans, they are relatively small and only eat the dead, wounded or weird (Eric)…so I was safe.
After the 9th dive, we headed home.
We spent the rest of that day and most of the next relaxing and recovering from the intense diving trip. Believe it or not, diving really takes a lot out of you. Today we took a day tour up to the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. Unlike the, previously visited, Dorrigo rainforest, the Daintree is a tropical rainforest. It was quite amazing, tones of plant and animal life but it is very hard to explain in words. We also took a river cruise up the Daintree river and spotted a few crocs relaxing in the sun. Then they cooked us an AMAZING lunch. Complete with huge steaks, sausages and a variety of salads, we were definitely impressed. After lunch we headed to a nearby river where we went for a swim and ate some tropical fruits, locally grown. Yes, I did say that we went for a swim. This was one of the very few places in the nearby region that you can swim with little worry about a croc eating you for dinner. It was a fresh-water river that was too shallow for even small crocs. We tried many different tropical fruits including: The Custard Fruit, Passion fruit, Guava, Banana, “Rich Mans Avocado”, Chocolate Pudding Fruit and a few more. My favorite was definitely the custard fruit but the “Rich Mans Avocado” was also very nice.
After the swim we headed home, making a stop at Cape Tribulation. Cape Trib. is where “the rainforest meets the reef”. It was absolutely stunning but unfortunately we could not swim there (crocs, jellyfish, etc).
Anyway, I am out of time and patience. Sorry for the very brief update, but I will try and update you again, soon. Tomorrow we are heading to Kuranda via the scenic railway and then we fly back to Sydney and then to New Zealand! I only have like 2 and a half more weeks left here and I better make the best of it!
See you all soon!