Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Great Barrier Reef

It's meee. Naandhean :D
Having lived in Queensland for a little over 3 years, and to say, I haven't been to the Great Barrier Reef is akin to living in Tirupathi and not trekking up to see Venky even once. I exaggerate, obviously :-) But you get my point. So last Friday, I landed at Cairns to spend the weekend Scuba Diving and Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef. It was arguably the best weekend of 2011.

I booked with these guys. Their rates are a tad expensive, but they had excellent reviews and my colleague - a certified Scuba diver, recommended them.

They took us to six coral reefs over the weekend. I scuba dived in four reefs and snorkeled the remaining.

On Saturday, we sailed into the Coral Sea from Port Douglas at 8AM to the location shown below.

On Saturday
On Sunday

The reef was ~50kms from the shore and it took 2.5 hours to get there. There were about 30 people onboard - an eclectic mix of Aussies and foreigners.

We visited three coral reefs (Nursery Bommie, Barracuda Bommie and Helm's Deep) on Saturday, spent roughly 2 hours diving or snorkeling at each reef. Each scuba dive lasted 30 to 40 minutes or as long it took to use up 80% of the air tank.

The first dive at the Nursery Bommie was an introductory dive where we were taught and told to demonstrate three important skills of scuba diving.
  1. To keep breathing through the mouth piece when under water. More importantly, to keep breathing and not hold the breath...even if those beautiful corals and colourful fishes are a breathtaking sight.
  2. To equalise the ears regularly by pinching and blowing the nose.
  3. To know how to use the emergency breathing apparatus.
I was in a group of four, which comprised of 3 divers and a diving instructor. I initially had difficulty equalising my ears as we went deeper, but I got it sorted soon, and rest of the dive went smooth. Usually in the first 5-10 minutes of the dive, if the instructor is happy with your basics, he/she lets you wander on your own as long you stay close to the dive group. About half way into my first dive, I was my own.

The stuff I saw in the dives will remain etched in my mind for a long time. Our earth is so bloody beautiful. At first, it felt like I was inside the world's most exquisitely decorated aquarium. I was surrounded by plethora of colours in the form of intricately shaped corals and thousands of fishes. Thinking about it now, I feel the fishes fascinated me more than the corals. The size of the fishes ranged from the length of the little finger to an arm's length. They moved around me, with me, in complete freedom, unrestricted, their world not constrained between glass walls, they swum around casually with such nonchalance that they didn't bother to give me a second look. It was as if the moment we plunged under water they accepted us as one of their own. It was their domain and it's a different world down there.

In all my dives we reached a maximum depth of 11 metres. The dives were done either late morning or early noon. Even at that depth - 11 meters in scuba diving isn't very deep anyway - still, there was a lot of light. To look at the sun from that depth, through the surface ripples, was a beautiful sight.

The dive at Helm's Deep was the most exciting dive. The reef teemed with marine life, way more compared to Nursery or Barracuda Bommie. I saw a Stingray for the first time. The Stingray was lying on the sea bed, well camouflaged. When I came near it, it quickly took off. Its amazing how fast and gracefully it can move without disturbing the sand under it. Its barb was about a meter long. For a second, I thought of Steve Irwin. This bastard killed him. Pch. We saw a big green sea turtle soon after.

The main highlight of the dive was the close encounter with the Reef Shark. Our instructor gave the shark signal (by placing his fingers vertical against his forehead) and signalled us to come close to him. In a few seconds, the reef shark, about 1.5m long, appeared just 6-7 metres from us. I've read the Reef sharks are harmless and normally don't attack divers unless provoked. But when you see the monster face to face, you forget all that. Oh. Ffff. I hope he doesn't go for us. The shark slowly glided past us. We stayed still. It was a thrilling experience to come so close to one of nature's greatest predators. Phew.

I am holding a Sea cucumber. And it is not a vegetable.

In my fourth dive on Sunday, we forayed over the amazing coral gardens and almost went to the edge of the reef. As we went closer to the edge, it looked as though we were approaching a dark blue wall. I moved into the "wall", I looked down to see the seabed, and it felt as if I was looking down a cliff. My instructor signalled not to go any further. When I got back to the ferry, I learnt that the depth at that spot went from 16 metres to 1500 metres!

Of the three things I did, snorkelling was fun; free-diving was even more fun; Scuba diving was the best. 

Things I want do next:
  1. Complete a open-water certification course - which means I'll be officially qualified to dive without an instructor next time :D
  2. Scuba dive at night. I didn't know they do this till I got onboard. Damn. Apparently they dive with UV glow sticks and dive torches. Crazzzy!
  3. Watch Finding Nemo. Everybody was going gaga about this small fish called "Nemo" which hides inside corals. I haven't watched Finding Nemo so was wondering what's the fuss is about :-/
The Great Barrier Reef - truly one of nature's gifts. You gotta see it! :-)