Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Australia - Great Barrier Reef

This is the fourth in a series of blogs from our intern Kali who is a student at UW-Madison. She has been studying abroad during the spring semester on the eastern coast of Australia and has composed several blogs about her experiences there...

 Australia - SCUBA diving the Great Barrier Reef

My trip to Cairns was my absolute favorite yet.  I became a certified scuba diver in the Great Barrier Reef and it was the most incredible experience of my life so far.  If I had to suggest any experience for another person to have at some point in their life, it would be to dive at the Reef or another place like it.  I cannot express how amazing it was to swim with sea turtles, sharks and so many colorful and beautiful sights.  The photos do not come close to doing it justice.

The week long trip started with a cheap flight to Cairns, and a day on a boat seeing the sights and searching for crocodiles. I do regret not making it out to the rain forest, but the trip was an overall success. We booked a trip cruising around the water searching for crocodiles, then later visiting a crocodile farm where they breed and raise crocodiles to protect them from the difficulties of surviving in the wild. I will say now, I am not a fan of crocodiles. I don't like anything that can eat you both on land AND water. That is to scary for me. However it was fun actually seeing a live crocodile. If you are into that you should go check it out, they are huge animals; some guys were jumping my the fence at the farm and the crock ran at them, bit the fence, and bent it. They are scary!

On the crocodile cruise we ran into the same German friends we had met at a campsite in Byron Bay! They had been travelling around Australia and we had no idea they would be in Cairns at this time; we were amazed to be on the same cruise as them a month after camping with them in Byron. Meeting backpackers from around the world is an absolute blast. You learn so much about others and who knows you may even see them again in your travels! We went out for drinks with them later that night, and they told us all about diving the reef which they had just finished doing.

I stayed in a hostel with my friend Jordan, and we decided on a female only room. The hostel was great for the most part, 15 dollars a night, a free delicious breakfast and dinner every day, free internet, and nearly clean rooms. The only problem was on the last day when I had been gone for half of a day, came back, and my things were gone, bed made, and none of my clothes or belongings were to be found. I went to the front desk and asked them about it, and they came back with good and bad news. The good news was they found my things, bad news it was in the trash.  For some reason they thought I had checked out, and decided it would be a good idea to throw away all of my belongings. So be careful when staying in a hostel; luckily my important things were with Lukasz and Laura in their hotel. The workers dug my things out of the trash and paid for laundry and a new tooth brush, but wouldn't refund us for the night. I was not too happy, but the excitement of beginning our first dive in the ocean kept my ecstatic.

The dive program we signed up for is called Pro-Dive, and I highly suggest doing the 5 day program with them. This trip was a perfect experience, with great instructors, amazing food on the boat, and fun people. I do not have a single complaint about the program. I couldn't believe how amazing the whole thing was. It began with two days of classroom and pool training in Cairns. Cairns by the way is a small area, and everything is in walking distance and easy to navigate. The Pro-Dive people do pick you up from your accommodation and drop you off each day, and the training is fun and essential. I never realized how much work goes into diving until I began my training. The classroom is easy, and the instructor gives you the answers on the exams and goes over everything so you understand, and the training in the pool consists of putting on gear, practicing emergency situation, getting used to being underwater, using your equipment, and diving 4 meters under. Some of the tasks were a little intense, and anyone who easily panics, especially under water, should maybe not try diving. Many of us had a few moments of minor panic at one point in this trip. For my friend Laura and I, we had trouble with mask clearing. You had to take off your mask under water and put it back on, blowing the water out of it. Both of us are unable to be underwater without plugging our nose, so we ended up choking on water and coming up for air the first few times. This was an important skill to learn and we would have to be practicing it 10 meters under water in the ocean at one point, so it was learn or don't dive.

Other skills were ones like floating and breathing, taking off your gear underwater and reassembling it, learning how to communicate under water, and practicing sharing air in case one person runs out. These are all practiced in both the pool and the ocean to make sure you are ready for any situation. After a few long days of training, we were finally ready to jump on the boat and begin our training dives in the ocean. They picked us up nice and early, and we joined the group of 30 divers on the boat. 

I have never thought I would be someone to get seasick, and I would like to stress this to any person planning on doing this trip, please don't be cocky like me and just take some sea sick pills 30 minutes before the boat leaves. I was sure I would be fine, but these boats are made for shallow waters and rock so much and so far, I was ill the entire 3 hour drive to the outer reef. It was not a fun boat ride, and I was fine the next time when I decided to take some pills. Luckily as soon as we were in the water the sickness went away and I was ready to dive. We had two training dives the first day, and we practiced equalizing our ears, and the other skills at around 10 meters under water. This first dive was where it all became real. I put on my heavy gear, stood on the edge of the boat, and thought "Oh god, this is it, I'm going to die". When you jump in and take your first breath, it feels so unnatural and a little scary, but you keep breathing and you are alright. I swam to the rope and began my decent to the bottom. Although I was nervous, I couldn't help but be amazed by the sights of the Reef. There are so many colors and the craziest looking fish, I didn't know fish could look like that.

The dives were good, but the real fun happened when we finished our four open water training dives. We had finally become certified divers, and we were ready for our five fun dives. We lived on the boat for three days and two nights, and our days were nonstop dive, eat, sleep. We were up by 5:30, in the water by 6:30, out and eating breakfast, in the water again, out and eating snacks, in the water, dinner and a nap, dive, then snack and bed. Although it was a couple of busy and early days and we were absolutely exhausted, I was loving every minute of it. The dives weren't the only thing that made the trip amazing; the people were fun and the food was incredible. We were provided meals every day, and these were delicious and huge meals. There was an amazing chef on board, and we had enough food for huge plates of seconds and thirds for each person. The instructors were a blast as well; we played trivia games one night and had a great time diving with them. I couldn't have asked for anything to be better. I've never been so satisfied with any kind of program before like I had been at this one. It was just perfect.

Our first fun dive as newly certified divers was one of my favorites. There was a group of five of us, and we were free to swim around and check out anything we wanted to down to 18 meters under water. We were starting to get used to moving around and controlling our breathing, making up our own dive lingo under water, and having more fun every dive. We swam around the beautiful corals and fish, and finally, a giant sea turtle swam out from behind the reef. This was my favorite thing to see. The turtle was giant, bigger than any of us, and was so majestic. It was too good to be true. It flew through the water in slow motion, and swam around with us, checking us out and gliding over the reefs. Eventually a baby turtle joined in the fun and swam around with us. It was an incredible experience and I am so happy to have seen a turtle.

We had four dives on our second day, and our last dive was a night dive, and this was an interesting dive. The instructors threw some food off the boat for fish to eat, then turned on the spotlight. You could see the fins of sharks circle our boat as they searched for fish to eat. The instructors then said to us, "Ok, jump in!" Excuse me? Jump in? With the sharks? One thing you must know, sharks are scared of divers! We are big and noisy with our bubbles and look nothing like their food. We jumped in with the sharks and they swam away immediately, circling from a much further distance. It was amazing! There were some pretty decent sized sharks below us, and we had a great time. We followed a guide on this one and used our flashlights to check out the night life of the sea critters. It was difficult to see much, but there were sharks, and a huge brittle star fish.

The last day on the boat was amazing. We had our last three fun dives, and we had such a great time. We were finally comfortable in the water and exploring the reef, taking photos, and having a blast. We saw clams, sharks, more turtles, fish, cuttlefish, most of the fish from Finding Nemo, we saw Nemo, sea cucumbers (who poop a lot by the way, it looks like clumps of sand and is fun for throwing at people), and so many other incredible things.
I also gained a nick name on this trip, our instructor Steffen Binke, who is an award winning German photographer, gave me the name "pocket rocket" because I'm too tiny to sink. Every time I got to around 5 meters to the surface I would just pop right up to the surface. People had to hold me down until I could stay under again, which was somewhat hilarious, but also dangerous. If you go up to quickly you can get decompression sickness, which could paralyze you for life, or kill you. Not good! Luckily I had my dive buddies to help me out when I started floating to quickly to the top.

The diving had ended, and we were exhausted but did not want it to ever end. The trip was too amazing, and I wish I could be back there diving right now. The weather was beautiful and tropical (unlike in Sydney where it is now getting colder), the people were great, and the sights were beautiful. This is definitely something I will continue to do throughout my life. The last night we met up with the group from the boat for dinner and drinks. We said our goodbyes to our new friends, and headed back to the hotel and to Sydney a day later. I feel like everything I have said can't do this trip justice, and I think everyone should experience it at some point; it is the trip of a life time. It was also completely worth the fact that I am nearly broke now. I give it 11 out of 10 on the incredible scale.



1 comment:

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