Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Diving the Coral Sea & Great Barrier Reef

We have just had 4 nights on board Taka out of Cairns. A dive boat especially built to take on the crossing to Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea. We found this boat to be very comfy when we last did the trip in 2007, with outstanding diving and so did not hesitate when we booked this time. We were not disappointed even though Taka has been bought by another, larger dive training company.

*Wally the Maori Wrasse, a large and inquisitive fish at "Troppos Lounge".

Departure was on a Friday and we'd been camping for the night in Wooroonooran National Park. A 2 hour turnaround was not quite enough with a few essentials being forgotten - Andy's earphones the most notable of the ommissions. I don't want you guys feeling sorry for us but it is one thing packing for a dive trip and getting on a plane from your house, and another very different and somewhat difficult experience trying to achieve the same from the back of the car.
Everything had to come out of the car, it was very hot and we still had to get Jimmy from the airport as he would be joining us for the trip. With time running short I was left at the caravan park with a pile of our stuff, finishing off loads of washing etc. As it turned out it was quite lucky the troopy was empty cos Jimmy's gear bag was ginormous.

*Payniac's encounter with Wally.

After sorting the gear the boys dropped it all at the dive shop ( a miracle the right stuff ended up on the boat if you ask me). Then we quick marched to the pub for lunch - $10 for a schnitty,
chips and salad AND a pint of beer, VALUE!

Andy and I had been anxiously watching the weather forecasts for weeks. The ghastly winds had died down and seas were projected to be calm, inside the reef that is, and sun, sun,sun. At one point we did wonder if we'd get to Osprey at all as rough seas and high winds negate the crossing. Fingers were crossed, we were all here to dive with the sharks after all.

*Andy executes an almost perfect giant stride entry. He couldn't help himself most times and would inject some personal flair that had crew and punters giggling.

The first night is filled with paperwork, showing of cert cards, safety briefings, dive briefings, meet the crew and other guests. It is also generally an early night as most are a little anxious to be on top form for the first days diving at least. I am one of these anxious types and retired leaving Andy and Jimmy smashing beers on the back deck hoping to get cricket on the radio. This was a recurring theme.
*A stunning cuttlefish at a dive site called "Two and two thirds".

Day 1 of diving was at the Cod Hole which is a world famous dive site near Lizard Island. Famous for the great big potato cod that have been fed by dive boats for about 20 years. This site was recognized by diving legends Ron and Val Taylor and was instrumental in the establishment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The fish are used to divers and love to pose for photos.
* A large cod at a cleaning station.

*VJ with a large potato cod

The cod feed itself is not really my cup of tea but it does provide good photo ops

*Payniac showing us how it's done.

Day 1 also included a night dive at Challenger Bay. Andy passed on both the offered night dives, but he is NOT afraid. Jimmy and I had a super dive amongst the hunting Giant Trevallys and Red Snapper. For me night diving is generally a very relaxing and calming affair, this was no exception. Jimmy James excelled in the dark considering he has very little night diving experience

Day 2 is shark diving day. "North Horn" on Osprey Reef is arguably one of the most exciting dives I've ever done and I've dived it 6 times now. Imagine dropping into gin clear, blue water over a kilometre deep with a sheer wall coming up out of the blue almost to the surface just covered in life, and dozens of reef sharks patrolling the edges knowing they will be fed in the next few hours. It is thrilling. Hammerheads, Grey Reef Sharks, White Tip Reef Sharks and most exciting of all a huge Silvertip Shark at the end of the shark feed.

The sharks are fed regularly by the dive boats. A wheelie bin full of tuna heads affixed to a chain is lowered down into the water and secured to the top of a bommie. We all sit around a natural underwater amphitheatre guzzling air in anticipation. The lid is opened, the tuna released and the sharks go beserk. It is awesome!

*Grey Reef sharks get more and more excited waiting for their free feed.

*A bit blurry but I couldn't resist. A silvertip shark, mush bigger than any of the other sharks involved in the feed. It only hung around for a minute or so unfortunately before heading back out into the blue.

I should mention that for some guests the crossing to Osprey (350km from Cairns) which is a full nights steam from the Cod Hole was rather uncomfortable. It was a little bumpy but as we were in steerage we didn't get the raise-you-out-of-your-bed-and-slam-you-back-down experience that some did. We did take preventative measures against sea sickness just in case but all three of us were just fine.

After diving North Horn it's hard to believe there could be anything better but I think there is - "Steve's Bommie" is probably my favouritist dive site EVER. It's got it all, a sea mount in the middle of nowhere, exposed to nutrient rich currents, it supports a huge amount of very colourful life.


*Reefscape at Steve's


*2 different coloured Leafy Scorpionfish - venomous as the name suggests

*Clownfish in their anemone home on Steve's


Other highlights of our time on Taka include a second Jimmy-Nessa night dive, this time on "Beer Gardens". This was the scene of a mild panic attack last time Andy and I were here and I had some anxious deja vu. For the most part the dive went off without a hitch until the very end when Jimmy's fin came off (I missed this as I was leading back to the boat) and he got caught up in the group behind us. I could see him the whole time but he could not see me due to background light. It's so easy to get confused on a night dive and we were lucky this happened right at the end of the dive. I had already been in trouble earlier in the day for surfacing after my buddy. It all worked out though and we were able to laugh about it and chalk it up to experience over a few beers.

Overall we really lucked out on this trip with very calm conditions and no current to contend with. A great introduction for Jimmy to tropical diving. It was really fun diving with Andy and James and apart from the night dive we had no dramas at all. There's a lot to be said for diving with people you know and trust, it also helps that I've been diving with these guys since they were certified. Thank you Andy and James for being such great buddies. Diving is a continuous learning curve and by the end of the 14 dives on Taka I think we all felt very much at home in the ocean. Overall the level of diving on board was very good and we were pretty much left to ourselves to organise our dives.
As we were a threesome we often had a spare buddy join us for a dive; Vilius from Lithuania, Ciara from Italy and Mariana from Portugal - also our roomy. Our closeness and familiarity led some guests to speculate about our relationship, one particularly nosy parker asked if we were a threesome in the other way!!

On the last day we did two lovely shallow dives at "Troppos", a great way to finish an incredible few days diving.

*Jimmy James showing perfect buoyancy skills, nice one!

*Payniac intrigued by something on the reef

*Andy and Jimmy just before descending on a dive.

*Payniac on top deck looking every bit the wild man

*Great Barrier Reef from above

We booked the Taka trip way back in April and so had been looking forward to it for months, it was sad for it to be all over and to say goodbye to Jimmy James in Cairns yesterday. It also signals that we have 4 weeks to go on this 12 month adventure around Australia. We intend to make the most of it.

Currently in beautiful Mission Beach in one of the ritziest cazza parks we have stayed in, the gardens are like a resort. It's a 100m walk to the famous beach and you can swim here - the first beach in thousands of kms!!

See you all soon!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Trip to the mechanical gardens

As well as being 'Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef', Cairns is also 'The City in a Garden'.

Yesterday we visited the beautiful botanical gardens and this is a (very small) selection of the photos we took.

Today Jimmy James arrives and we head out on Taka. Weather is fine, the wind has dropped and it looks good for the crossing to Osprey Reef! Last time we were on Taka I missed the new year's eve-esque celebrations when K-Rudd got elected. This time, almost certainly, I'll be missing the Ashes celebrations. Even Roebuck is backing us to win!

Hope you enjoy the photos and we'll have lots of divey ones up by the middle of next week!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Home and back again

My flying visit back to Sydney was successful on lots of levels and I can genuinely say that we have lots to look forward to when we get back.

My time in the office was productive and proved how important it has been for me to keep my hand in over the past 12 months. Returning to corporate world after a year of feral living could I think have broken my spirit. As it is, I'm looking forward to getting stuck back in, and won't need to go on an excel refresher course.

Six nights of flying solo meant I had plenty of time to catch up with Jimmy James (aka karaoke legend) and Army. Sensibly this time I also managed to squeeze office time either side of a weekend which gave me the chance to visit Candi & Steffen to see the backyard blitzing they've been giving 19 Riverview Avenue, Dangar Island. Five years of no gardening whatsoever had left things shall we say a little overgrown.

I was amazed by the transformation. The place looks absolutely amazing, water glimpses have been enhanced, surprise sandstone features uncovered, wandering jew ripped up and incinerated, and new plants planted. The inside was awesome too - looking like a real house rather than the weekender it's been. What a beautiful place to be moving back to. Sitting out on the deck each night, under the stars, with a fire going was just like being on tour.

Going back to the office provided another opportunity for my co-workers to get used to the hairy thing that I've become.

Should the beard stays or go when I get back permanently? I have been doing a bit of research.

According to, '... the male beard communicates an heroic image of the independent, sturdy and resourceful pioneer, ready, willing and able to do manly things".

Less partisan research is more equivocal, but the general theme seems to be I will need to keep it tidier than I have been. I think I'll keep it at least until the wedding.

I got back to Cairns late on Wednesday night, and after a pretty big night with the Johnston's at the RSL on Thursday, Ness and I headed out of town for the weekend. First stop was Goldsborough Valley, about 60kms south east of town. Far enough off the beaten track to leave most of the tourists behind, we secured a great little spot close to the Mulgrave River.

Goldsborough is billed as one of the greenest areas in the tropical north. And the wildlife was pretty spectacular too. Plenty of food around for the Kookaburras.

On Sunday we drove up and over the great dividing range up to the Atherton tablelands, stopping for a walk at the Crater Lakes national park, and then to spot Platypus at Yungaburra. The water was a little murky but you just had to follow the bubbles and then they'd pop up to the surface every couple of minutes.

Ness spotted this tree python during our walk around Lake Eachem.

Sunday night we camped in Dinden National Park, which is up behind Kuranda. A very peaceful spot with a resident feral pig close to our camp.

Yesterday we all went out on the 'Great Day' fishing charter for some crabbing and fishing adventures.

There were lots of extra freebies thrown in, including spotting this 2m salty in the mangroves where we dropped some of the crab pots, and also a huge Osprey nest on top of one of the navigation posts with the parents feeding their chicks.

The fishing proved quite successful too, although it was a case of quantity rather than quality. Only one of them was big enough to keep and our skipper chopped him up for sashimi.

We had a little more luck with the crabs, hauling in a heap of mud crabs and blue swimmers. Unfortunately you have to throw back the females which left us with a couple of blue swimmers. We did get to see an impressive demonstration of how strong the claws are on mud crabs. Handle with care, or better still get someone else to do it for you.

Ness hooks another whopper.

Ken & Jean depart tomorrow and then we are joined by Jimmy James and we head out on Taka for some serious scuba action. Really looking forward to getting back in the water, and have my fingers crossed that the wind stays down so we make the crossing to Osprey reef!