After a rather disappointing visit to Cairns two weeks ago due to the miserable weather, Ilinca and I decided to give Cairns a second chance and to finally make it to the Great Barrier Reef. And because the best way to see the reef is from underwater, we both enrolled to a 4-day diving course, from which 2 days are spent in Cairns to learn the basics of diving, and the other two days out on the reef, 70 km off the coast line from Cairns.
The Temptation of Diving
One of my big passions back home in Switzerland in paragliding. I love it because it allows me to move freely through the air with only my and nature’s energy sources. I enjoy beautiful views, observe birds in flight and other wild animals on the ground. It is a good way for me to relax.
I had similar expectations about diving, and I guess the reason why I only decided now to go diving is that I have never really been at the appropriate place for learning it. And what better place to learn diving than on the Great Barrier Reef?
Becoming a Certified Open Water Diver
To be honest, I did not know too much about diving, but neither did I when I started paragliding. But this lack of knowledge got filled already on day one of the education. A full day of theory about all aspects of safe diving. And wow, it was a lot more theory than I thought, and diving is also a lot more technical than I imagined. There are a lot more skills you need to master for a first safe dive than for a first paragliding flight. Those readers who also dive probably know what I am talking about.
Only on day two did we finally make it into the swimming pool to apply the theory and perform the first few exercises such as filling the mask with water and clearing it, or taking out the regulator (= air supply) from your mouth and but it back in – all under water of course. While I felt very comfortable doing these exercises, Ilinca realized that diving maybe is not the right thing for her. So unfortunately I had to continue the course alone from now on.
Day three was the big day. We went out to the reef and together with my instructor Luke and my co-student Grady from California, we went on our first open water dive. And what a dive it was! Of course I was very busy with not doing anything wrong, nevertheless I already saw a shark on my first dive, dozens of other kinds of fish, and lots of corals as to be expected on a reef. It felt like I were diving in a giant aquarium. We descended down to a depth of 12m on this first dive. In the meantime, Ilinca was snorkeling somewhere above me and enjoyed the reef from a different perspective.
After three dives, day three was over and I spent the night out on the reef on a larger ship that belonged to the same diving company. It was exciting to spend the night out in the ocean, and because I had trouble sleeping, I also enjoyed the almost full moon over the calm ocean at two in the morning and saw some big fish (a grouper of around 2-3m length and some sharks) swimming around the boat during the night.
Day four was the big day. After an early morning snorkeling session on the reef with not too many exciting sightings and breakfast, Grady and I had our certification dive together, and the instructor assessed if we had become safe divers in the past three days. We both passed, and voilà: I am now a certified open water diver and I am allowed to dive to a depth of 18m without any instructor (but always with a dive buddy because you never dive alone). After that, there was one more dive together with Grady, and then I headed back to Cairns where I met Ilinca. She went to Port Douglas in the meantime as one day of snorkeling was enough for her.
Those were four intensive but very exciting days, and I cannot wait to go diving again. As we intend to visit Thailand and other South East Asian countries later on, I will definitely get the opportunity to go under water again.
The Condition of the Great Barrier Reef
Even though diving at the Great Barrier Reef was very exciting, it was impossible to ignore that the reef has seen better years. Diving tours nowadays go to the outer reef because the inner reefs are not in a great condition anymore. But even in the outer reefs, there were some parts of the reef where all corals have died and hence the colors and much of the marine wildlife has disappeared. But luckily there are still plenty of places where the corals are still intact and hence provides a living space hundreds of animal species. I hope that the reef’s conditions will not continue to get worse, because it is really a wonderful place on our planet. Unfortunately I did not have a underwater camera with me, so I cannot share any pictures from the Great Barrier Reef.
Next Stop: Sydney
After several weeks in warm climate, we are heading down to Sydney today, where I might have to put on my long pants for the first time on my trip.