“Guess who’s back, back again?” To celebrate New Years, we head out to Cairns for the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Our friend, Zhi, who we visited while in Sydney, joins us.
There is not much charm to downtown Cairns with a few bars and restaurants. After setting our resolutions for 2011 over dinner, we join the crowd in the Esplanade for fireworks. At the stroke of midnight, we cheer with our Champagne-filled McDonald’s paper cups and end the night with a group hug.
Early next morning, we board The Encounter for a 2-day/1-night trip to explore the Outer GBR. We are told that the deadly jellyfishes are mating so it is best to wear a wetsuit. Zhi tries diving for the first time and loves it. MuiMui sticks to snorkeling and I decide to do an advanced diving course.
On the first day, we visit Norman Fingers and Norman Playground. Snorkeling is pretty awesome as we are right above the colorful coral reef. But diving is even better. During my deep dive, I see a family of 7 lionfishes and a sting ray over 3 meters wide.
On the second day, while diving at Saxon Turtle Bombie, I observe a baby shark, sea turtles, and barracudas. MuiMui has a blast chasing a turtle and it doesn’t mind as she touches its shell. Zhi accidently touches a poisonous soft coral and as he comes out of the water, it looks like a sea monster attacked his knee.
At nightfall, the divers onboard start getting excited for their next dive while someone outside on the boat screams “Shark!” A few black-tipped sharks are hanging around the boat because the light helps them hunt easier. I start to feel a chill in my body, but it is quickly overpowered by the excitement. We are given flashlights and a short briefing: Large Trevally fishes are going to follow you because your light makes it easy for them to spot small fishes. We know it is fun to see them hunt, but please try not to get more than two fishes killed.
I am the first one to jump in the water and there are about 10 or more sharks less than one meter away from me. The fear gets to me again so I shine the flashlight on me to make sure the sharks don’t mistake me for a turtle or a big tuna fish. When I reach the bottom of the ocean and look back up, I can see all the sharks circling the boat.
While back on the boat and telling the non-divers about my night dive, we suddenly see a flying fish jumping out of the water and then 50 sharks rushing in its direction. If one shark had mistaken me for a fish, it would have been the end for me.
After a total of 6 dives, I am exhausted and join MuiMui for one last snorkel. While trying to get a good picture of a Nemo (Anemone fish), MuiMui points between my legs. A leopard shark swims right by us and it looks mean.
While our boat trip was pretty pricey, it was totally worth it. We learn there is an option where you can work onboard (cleaning, etc) in trade for free diving, lodging, and food. This is a great option for backpackers or anyone on a tight budget but eager to see the GBR.
For our last day, we rent a car to visit Port Douglas. It is a small little beach town, but we can only swim in one area with nets because of the deadly jellyfishes and the salt caimans. During our drive back, we spot a few Wallabies in an open grass field so we pull over to take photos. There are hundreds of them hanging out, eating grass, or boxing each other.
Thanks again Zhi for joining us; we had a memorable start for the New Year. You will now be known for surviving a sea monster attack.
|What We Paid:||AUD||USD||Euro|
|– Virgin Blue Flight From Brisbane To Cairns||234/pp||234.50||173|
|– 2 day/1 night onboard the Encounter for a trip out to the Outer GBR||300/snorkeling 410/diving||301 / 411||222 / 304|
|– Private room with own bath at the Best Western in Cairns [AC, clean, up to 3 ppl per room, pool, 10-15 min walk to Esplanade, book online for better rate and when they say they’re full]||89/room||89||66|
|– Private double with shared bath at NJoy Hostel in Cairns [fan, basic, pool, 10-15 min walk to Esplanade, free early morning transfer to airport, recommend only if on tight budget or if everything else is sold out]||50/room||50||37|
|– Underwater camera rental||33/day||33||24.50|
|– Average Breakfast||7.50/pp||7.50||5.50|
|– Average Lunch||15/pp||15||11|
|– Average Dinner||25/pp||25||18.50|