The twin engine plane was approaching from the South as we were getting ready to land at Cairns airport. A great 2,5-week trip Down Under that had started at Sydney and had continued through Brisbane at Fraser island, was to include Cairns and a three day boat diving in the Great Barrier Reef before finishing with a short, but stylish visit of Melbourne.
The plane was flying along the lines of East Australia and having a window seat was greatly appreciated. It was a chance to marvel the super diverse and snaky coastline. A kaleidoscope of blue, deep blue, azure, turquoise, brown, green or deep green colours was just a dazzling spectacle. Mountains, bays, gulfs, atolls were filling the eye and the mind with great pleasure. It is what I always have said about such places – that they can only be properly appreciated when on air. I am pretty sure in the next years sky buses – helicopter-like flying objects – will board people and offer them 2-hour hovering or soaring trips over certain areas or even longer overnight stays as such flying objects could evolve into small hotels or restaurants. Of course such trips or stays may cost a fortune, but for many people in this world money is not an issue – and for those that money is an issue do not hope for antigravity technology to be invented in the next years!
The more we were approaching Cairns the more the flora was becoming tropical. The atmosphere looked and felt moist. Green was greener, brown was browner (sic). Colours became darker and richer and you could sense this humidity even from inside the plane. Approaching from the south, we opened the flaps, got the landing gear down and broke left to catch the runway.
Our first day at Cairns – me an a good friend had organised our trips in such way to coincide in Fraser and Cairns – was to get ready, physically and mentally, for what to some people is the pinnacle of diving – three days on (and mainly off) a dive boat off the coast of Queensland marvelling the super-diverse underwater life of the Great Barrier Reef – GBR. We walked down town, had a bite and a coffee, arranged some practicalities with our dive shop, attended a crash course on the living residents of GBR which we would be called to recognize the next days, felt humble and blushed as we were the only novice divers among others that had logged up to 150 dives from the cold and inhospitable waters of Norway to the warm waters of the Bahamas – we could only be proud of the “informal dives” we had logged in a West London swimming pool -, had a doctor examine us and confirm we are in good health to dive (one needs such kind of certificate/clearance to dive in Australia) and barely slept for 5 hours at night.
The next day started with a fresh, moist less, clean atmosphere. We all gathered in the diving shop and after arranging our gear and some practicalities, we made our way to the harbour and in just 30 minutes we were cruising on a dive boat eastwards the Pacific waters.
A sense of exhilaration was all over us…even those experienced divers.
Everything was about the first dive.
When we reached the location of the first dive, the captain stopped the boat. We all gathered on the top deck, did our short briefing, then moved to the lower deck where we prepared our gear that was carefully packed back in the dive shop – you do not want to be looking for a missing regulator in the middle of the ocean – found our buddies and took numbers in going deep. After a 15-minute wait, which seemed like a century, we did our last checks, blew some air into our jackets and …there we go. We stepped into the unknown – the blue waters of the reef.
The water was pretty warm. We checked our buoyancy, found our buddy, did the OK signal, looked around, got our bearings right, heard some initial instructions from the instructors, digested the first moments of this thrilling diving experience which was being buoyant without moving hands and feet and slowly let some air out of our jackets as we started descending into the dazzling blue waters.
The feeling was utterly exhilaratingly unique. For the first time in my life I exceeded the 50+ seconds I had ever spent underwater without holding my breath. That was a first, I thought. Then I realised that it was also the first time I exceeded a depth of 5 meters. That was another first, I wondered. I must say, though, that I don’t remember much about those first seconds as at that time apart from trying to see everything around me and cherish the moment, I needed to concentrate on all the safety precautions to make sure my dive was OK like trying to take heed on the equalisation process by blowing my finger-blocked nose. At some point I looked over my head and saw all these myriad bubbles heading to the sea surface and I was totally left in exhilaration. The blue colour of the sea with the bubbles speeding to the sea level and me heading to the other direction created all over me this unique and sublime feeling.
We reached the sea bed and sat on our knees, did our OK signal and spent some time to acclimatise. We then hovered for 2-3 minutes around the site and then performed some practical tasks – regulating our breathing, trying to keep buoyant 1 meter above seabed, trying our mask-removal or mask-clearing tasks and exchanging regulators. It was a bit boring, but very much needed. Then we initiated our actual dive and started following our leader. The reefs were quite shallow and as this was our first dive, the dive path was chosen wisely. Maximum depth was set at 10 meters with an average of 8 which meant that we would have more air – and time – to discover mysterious sea creatures and formations around us.
It took us a while but at some point, as if by magic, we entered the real magical world of the Great Barrier Reef. In awe I was staring around.
The eco-diversity that we discovered there was unique.
Fish or other weird sea creatures of all sorts of sizes and funny shapes that we never thought that existed were all over the place – large, small, blue, grey, pink, long, short ones.
Corals of mind-boggling sizes and colours were such that you thought that the magic hand of their creator made them in such ways that not even the best mathematician could create in terms of diversity!
All these composed an underwater ecosystem – a world that we fail to realise that exists when we live in our nice homes. A world that probably existed long time before man set foot on earth and a world that probably will remain long after in case man is extinct from the earth, provided man does not destroy this world…
At some point we saw a huge turtle resting the huge body mass next to a coral formation. Then after 3 minutes some small sharks made their appearance. For the strangest reason in the world I was not at all scared, although days ago seeing such pictures of other divers had given me the shivers. (Of course it was not the great white!) Those small sharks swam 10 meters away from us for a while and then disappeared in the black abyss with a quick and strong twist of their tail. A while later two small sea turtles “flew” next to us swimming. Then some meters down our dive path we saw a sting ray camouflaged in the sandy sea bed. We regularly checked our air and when the tank air reading was at 90 we made our return signals. Then, out of the blue, a bunch of clown fish got out of the safety of the small corals, just to get in again. Clown fish are always a marvel to watch!
We made our way back to the initial descending point, ascended, did our 5-meter safety stop and then surfaced. Back on the boat I think we all grabbed a coffee and for half an hour there was such deafening silence as everybody was digesting what we had lived. Even for experienced divers that was a fantastic experience – both as a recreational activity but also as a way to bring us closer to this unknown yet serene, tranquil, subtle, delicate and peacefully evolving world. We may watch documentaries or movies in cable TV about what lies or swims in these waters, but actually seeing in real even the tiniest fraction of that world is in no way compared with such TV documentaries. And it is exactly this realism that can make people see with a different perspective and bring them “closer” to such world, and realise that the existence of such worlds is based on subtle equilibriums that should not be disturbed.
The first day’s evening and the next two days were filled with numerous dives in the same and other diving site locations – Milln Reef and Flynn Reef. In total we logged 9 dives. We performed all short of dives, probably the highlight being the night dive. We also tried a Wall dive, which was really scary as we were buoyant at around 5 meters deep next to a wall but we could not see the sea bed next to it – it was pitch black- and we were afraid we would fall into the abyss. My fear of getting bored in the boat left the first day as the actual dives, all post- and pre- dive tasks like briefing, gearing up or rinsing our gear and adding up lunch, dinner and relaxing time could easily fill a 30-hour day.
The last day came and we took our way back to Cairns. We reached Cairns harbour around 18:00. We said good bye and headed for our hostel. I have to say that both the still undigested information and sensational experiences from the three days coupled with the fact that I was to continue my trip the next day, did not leave me much time to recap those three days. I left this process as a task during the flight back home and of course for the next years of my life. It was going to be a process like wine making. The older it gets the more “self” capital it creates!