Cairns Dive Trip
In my last blog I journeyed into the outback for the first time. I travelled out in sweltering heat, driving my campervan further into the desert in search of Springbrook National Park. After an overall successful first trip it was time to head north towards Cairns where I could begin my Australia adventure!
Travelling along the Bruce highway fuelled by energy drinks and the occasional daim bar I made my way along the coast until I reached Cairns. On my route I passed through many places I would eventually come to know well but for now it was all new to me. Every stop something exciting to discover. I arrived in Cairns and was on a mission to get out diving as soon as possible. In fact I barely had the chance to settle in, arriving late to the hostel and having booked to start my dive training the day after.
Diving was something I had dreamed about for a long time. Back in England I had done some dive training in Guildford under a BSAC club near to me. I can never forget the first time being able to breath underwater. I was in the shallow end of a swimming pool and put my head under the water learning how to breath. It was a new and sudden freedom like riding a bike for the first time. Breathing underwater was a skill man was never designed to have and here I was able to breath in a new realm. Well as much as you can explore a swimming pool with it's tiled floors, heaps of chlorine and the occasional plaster floating around.
Soon enough I was practices skills in the water such as mask clearing and how to use my equipment properly before we moved into the diving pool allowing me to descend to deeper depths. Once I had the hang of things we could have fun under the water, blowing bubbles into rings above us, sword fighting along the bottom or playing tag as we finned are way around. It was winter in England however so there wasn't any ocean diving I could do and the idea of a sea full of sediment didn't appeal. Now I was in Australia that had all changed and I had endless opportunities to dive reefs along the coast. If I got my licence.
So that was the first thing on the agenda. I signed up for an intensive course where we would learn everything we need in Cairns before setting off on a boat trip to dive in the ocean for the first time! I had signed up with Pro Dive Cairns and it was time to get diving.
Leaving my bags at the hostel and not getting the chance to meet anyone in my room I got up early the next day to walk to the dive centre. Welcomed I met my group for the whole trip, some amazing characters but more on that later. First things first was the classroom lessons which we needed to get out of the way. They dragged a bit but took one day before we didn't have to do anymore. Then began the pool sessions. In a shallow outdoor pool which was always warm we spent a few days as a group getting to know each other and perfecting our skills to prepare us for the real thing.
In the pool I got to meet my fellow divers. There was Alex, Quentin and his sister Megane. My dive partner Haily along with a few others. We had a great crew! I spent most of my time with the names I've listed above spending a lot of time after dive training drinking beer with them and exchanging stories. With a new found dive family along with our endlessly optimistic Dutch instructor we got on a bus and headed to the docks. From here we boarded our boat along with another dive group doing their advance course.
All of us were prewarned about motion sickness and took a pill as we set off just in case. As soon as we began heading out into the ocean the waves caused the boat to rock back and forth. While we played cards and chatted Alex was sick in a bin by the kitchen. We had reached our first dive spot by the afternoon and I will never forget my first time descending into the depths. I stepped off the boat looking at the horizon to break through the surface and bob around while my Haily jumped in behind me. Having chatted over beers had helped a lot since it wouldn't be long before our lives were in each other's hands.
Grabbing onto a guide rope we descended slowly along it to the ocean floor. Above the water my nerves had filled me with worry, my breathing starting to quicken. The second I put my head below that feeling vanished completely. Surrounding me were hundreds of fish and sea creatures of all descriptions. The occasional fish became inquisitive swimming up to say hello, jellyfish blobbed around as I tried to avoid them and a cleaner wrasse began swimming around Haily's hands. It was a magical first dive with lots to see, my mind constantly engaged on what was around me. I had completely forgotten that it wasn't normal to be breathing underwater!
Over the next couple of days we did lots of day diving, each one we would surface from with more stories to share with each other. Each buddy pair seeing different sea life from white tip reef sharks, rays, all manner of fish, sea urchins, corals and even turtles. Each moment solidified in my memory till this day. We practiced many skills too varying the dives based around different things. We had a depth dive and experience what divers call being narked (drunk feeling), headed off just the two of us and then had to navigate back to the boat and played games or learnt hand signals beneath the waves. Each of our group had their own name made into a hand gesture.
In-between dives we would eat a great amount of food on the boat, snorkel around above the shallow corals, chat away to each other, sunbath or watch the sun set as that glowing ball of light met the ocean. All these experiences were incredible but none of them stuck with me more than the final part of our dive trip. We were headed back to dry land tomorrow but with our last day in sight it was time for our night dive!
Gathering around a table the lights were turned off and the light lit up by little torches on each table. Our instructor began by congratulating us on successfully getting through the course and with the additional units we had covered we were all now classed as advanced divers. With our new qualification we could dive in 95% of dive sites around the world and were ready for a night dive. We were brief on how everything would work and what to look out for while down there. There was many jokes about being eaten thrown around. As we lined up to get in the water my nerves had returned, Haily and I sticking close together in case we got lost underwater.
Down we descended along the rope once more this time in pitch black. Nothing but the little orange light of the person in front of us and the torch we held in our hand used for signals. As we got to the bottom and headed off to explore the reefs fish woke up from their state of slumber and darted around through torch beams. We did our best to draw circles around sea life with our torches in an attempt not to scare them. The same reef we had dived earlier in the day had taken on new forms in the dark and it was a mixture of fear and excitement.
This place was called Mickey mouse reef and as we drew close to the edge of one of Mickey's ear we were met by a huge turtle slowly rising to the surface as if we had discovered a dinosaur beneath the waves. It turned out this turtle was known to scientists on the reef and was nicknamed Bruce. I couldn't take my eyes off this beautiful sea creature as he began gasping at the surface of the water for breath. He dwarfed us in size stretching out to the size of a small car and having lived on the reef for more than a hundred years.
On our return to the boat we all plonked on the sandy bottom with our knees, switched our torches off and began sweeping our hands around in the water. It all began to glow! Bioluminescent bacteria came alive in front of our eyes as if fireflies were darting around our bodies. Finally we headed back to do our decompression on a bar that hung beneath the boat. We held on and waited looking out into the darkness. As my eyes adjusted I started to see shadows appearing on the horizon, barely visible and almost as if imagined. It wasn't long before those shadows came close enough to know what they were. Nurse sharks around 5-6 feet long began to surround us on all sides hunting fish in the beams of light coming off the boat so we could find it. We watched as they ripped fish apart stunned by the intrusion on their peaceful dreams.
I was right there in the middle of a shark hunt and didn't want it to end. I felt like I had entered blue planet as we finished our ascent and got out onto the boat deck. We all got our kit off as fast as possible, dried and changed before heading to the top deck to watch the sharks. With the lights on the surface we could see their silhouettes moving through the water and the occasional fish leaping into the air in hopes of surviving.
We sat for a long while watching not wanting to sleep. One by one each team member peeled off for bed until I was the only one left. I thought about all that I'd seen in the past week and wondered what people would think if I told these stories back home in England. I felt grateful in that moment to be able to experience all this and a smile crept across my face. My adventure had only just begun.
We headed back to dry land and it took a few days for our bodies and legs to adjust. It took me a long time to be able to sleep with a constant drunk feeling while I got my sea legs. The entire boat crew headed out on the town to a Bavarian beer house before clubbing late into the night. All of my group but me were leaving Cairns the day after so we said our drunken goodbyes as I staggered back to my hostel once more. I didn't really like the hostel I was in really, it was a bit shit. I would end up moving to a new one tomorrow and that's when my time in Cairns would really start to kick off! But more of that next time.
In my next blog I talk about the rest of my time in Cairns. Making some new friends, visiting some of the worse nightclubs I've ever been to along with jelly wrestling and visit the botanical gardens in search of new species!