Posts Tagged ‘SCUBA’

The Great Barrier Reef…Finally

January 8, 2010

I have been procrastinating this post for days, weeks, and months…mainly because I knew it was going to be a massive project and also because I am not quite sure I will do the Great Barrier Reef the justice it deserves. But I’ll try (finally).

Quick Recap: If you’ve been following my blog, then you know James and I decided to try SCUBA diving so we could experience the reef up close and personal. We ran out of time to get our complete certification before the trip, but went in with the best intentions to SCUBA at the reef if possible, even if it was a resort course (which means you don’t go as deep or for that long). In short, it was tough to book diving sessions from afar when we didn’t know all of the options. We thought we were getting a head start by calling from Brisbane airport on our way to Hamilton Island. However, we got some bad news: the boats that were going there were already booked, and the other boats weren’t going because of the wind (seriously?? yes). We then booked a SCUBA trip to a closer reef, not “THE GREAT” one, but it was then we both realized we had some issues with SCUBA diving in general (James had trouble equalizing and I, well…I just freaked out underwater).

Fast forward to finally being able to find/reach FantaSea Cruises once we get to Hamilton Island and finding out that their Great Barrier Reef tour was in fact operating one more time before we left. This was our only chance to experience THE reef, so we jumped on it. While booking the day-long trip we learned that FantaSea has a docked pontoon (“Reefworld”) in a set spot along Hardy Reef. They actually have two – but the larger one was closed down for renovations (and that one had a waterslide…boo!), so we would be traveling to the smaller of the two. Luckily, it didn’t seem like the tour was sold out, so there wouldn’t be as many people as in high season.

Since FantaSea had a very large catamaran which holds a couple of hundred people, the tour outfit could still travel to the outer reef, otherwise the winds would have been too severe. We had experienced a bit of the windy seas the day before on our way to Whitehaven, so we kind of knew what to expect, and we came prepared with seasickness pills. It was a rough ride for many, but we were able to watch some video of the reef and talk to some of the tour guides. We also signed up for a helicopter ride over the reef to get the ultimate view.

I bet you wanna see some pictures by now. Well, let me just explain the different things we did while at Reefworld:

Snorkeling – This is the main attraction at Reefworld since it’s an all-ages activity. Unfortunately, the area cordoned off over the coral has some drastic tide changes, and the coral itself is dead (for the most part). You might know that coral can die as result of touch, and well, let’s just say this area has been molested. This means the fish here are limited, but you get a pretty good sense of what the reef is like in general. Fortunately, they haven’t moved their snorkeling area, so the damage is contained. The coolest part about this snorkeling area, though, and above all other snorkeling I have done, is the coral shelf. Imagine floating in a few feet of water and then suddenly seeing a drop-off hundreds of feet into an endless abyss. That’s where the real stuff is! Lucky SCUBA divers get a little closer to this, but the snorkelers are allowed just to the edge of the coral, where it meets the channel (dark blue, very fast-moving water). We took the channel to reach the reef once we survived the windy open seas:

Stark contrast between the channel and the reef. That dark blue water is deeeeep. And the light blue stuff is just a few feet!

The snorkeling area is barely visible because it is so tiny in comparison to the reef's actual size. There was a small area roped off just at the edge of the coral (light blue water) in front of the pontoon at the far left in this photo.

Helicopter Ride – Do this. Non-negotiable! It is worth every penny (around $95 each person). The FantaSea folks schedule you for a timeslot and then you are ferried over to the helipad, where you take a quick flight over Hardy Reef and are able to really get a sense of just how massive the Great Barrier Reef really is. The word “great” is the understatement of the universe. The pilot takes you over famous Heart Reef – a coral formation in the shape of a heart, and flies around so you can get some pictures (I think I took about 100 just on this helicopter ride alone). It was very interesting to see the huge catamaran we arrived on in reference to the reef and how minuscule it seemed in comparison to the coral.

Our heli-pad, covered in bird poo. Yep!

I got to ride shotgun.

The boat and heli-pad in the distance as we fly towards Heart Reef.

Getting low!

Closer shots of the coral.

Unlike anything I have ever seen.

Coral formations about 25-30 feet in actual size.

Heart Reef

*It’s also an option to fly by helicopter all the way back to Hamilton Island, but it’ll run you a few hundred dollars each passenger. This ride goes over Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet. I would have done this in a second if I were made of money.

Semi-Submersible Coral Viewing – This was James’ favorite aspect of the reef, (I think) probably because it was the most unexpected. Essentially, it’s a glass-bottom boat that travels along the coral shelf so you can see the many different kinds of coral that grow “uninterrupted.” The sound of the boat probably scares away a lot of the fish, but we still spotted giant grouper and a sea turtle. The only downside of viewing this way is that the colors are distorted from water depth and glass, so the photos don’t really convey the complete awesomeness of this experience.

The area of view here is about 20 feet tops, so we were very close to the coral - and it's huge.

This round-ish coral was several feet wide.

This type of coral seemed the most prevalent where we were. It can even grow above the water's surface.

This photo shows a bit of the coral wall drop-off...you can see some fish congregating about 30 feet down.

The combination of these three activities really gave us a phenomenal sense of the coral and just how massive the Great Barrier Reef really is – it’s just indescribable (but I tried).

This doesn't even look like planet earth!

We loved being able to see Hardy Reef via Hamilton Island and hope to be able to SCUBA dive at another barrier reef location sometime in the future.

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Really Crunch Time…

October 7, 2009

Only a couple of weeks left before the big “I do!” Very excited and a little nervous. We’ve been fitting in SCUBA dive certification classes for the honeymoon and I wanted to report that I passed my online course with a 92% (I beat James, ha). After we learned on paper about all of the ways you can die whilst scuba diving, we then learned about the equipment hands-on, and had two pool sessions with an instructor to learn some practical knowledge. There is a lot to learn!

Learning the basics in a pool is a good way to practice skills and gain confidence before going into "open water."

Learning the basics in a pool is a good way to practice skills and gain confidence before going into “open water.”

Some key takeaways for those considering scuba diving:

  • When you have air, you can do anything! I was mainly nervous about the whole scuba diving thing because the thought of being underwater for a prolonged period of time just seems unnatural. But, when you have a regulator providing constant oxygen, it’s pretty freaking cool. I didn’t have to “hold my breath” or be nervous I couldn’t hold it long enough, and I could worry about doing other things, such as looking around and controlling my buoyancy, without even worrying about breathing. I even jumped backwards off the side of a pool with all of my equipment on, and wasn’t nervous at all because I was breathing the entire time. So for someone nervous about water in general, this is a major benefit!
  • Equipment is heavy and that sucks. You have to strap on an air tank AND a weight belt to offset the buoyancy of your wetsuit and everything else. I didn’t enjoy having to do drills like taking off and putting on a 16-lb weight belt while floundering around under water. However, on the upside – I had air!
  • Being bald is a plus in this activity (yay for James). My hair was a big nuisance in this activity, getting caught in my mask and tangled in everything (despite being tied up). I resorted to wearing a swim cap the second session. I figured, I already look¬†pretty dumb in this wetsuit, how much worse could it get?
Watch out!  I'm special.

Watch out! I’m special.

My instructor was pretty proud of me for completing all of my emergency skills and not panicking in the water considering I just learned how to swim and have had a general fear of water for years. I have to say…I am, too! I’m now trying to build up confidence for our next challenge – the open water dives at the Rockaways where the visibility will only be a few feet. If I can survive that, I think I can scuba dive anywhere…

Bad Blogger

September 16, 2009

It’s crunch time…our wedding is coming up, but a more immediate deadline I’m concerned with is our SCUBA certification course.¬† Next week, James and I will be spending a few hours in a local pool learning and showing our skills in operating SCUBA equipment and getting around under water. This is an even bigger challenge for me, particularly, since I just learned actual swimming skills this summer (which I’m still working on).

So, I don’t have much time to reminisce about my favorite vacation spots what with the being busy learning about the millions of ways you can die while SCUBA diving in my online coursework. For example, remember that really bad dentist you had a few years ago who gave you a filling? Well, if there’s air in that filling, you’ll be in for a painful SCUBA diving experience via “TOOTH SQUEEZE.” OK, it’s not necessarily fatal, but do I really need to worry about that too??

Anyhoo, I’ll likely be holed up in our apartment studying so I can become an informed SCUBA diver…I promise the stories will be priceless!

scuba-diver

Are You For SCUBA?

March 30, 2009

So a very exciting thing happened to me recently. My boyfriend James proposed! You know what that means? We get to plan an awesome honeymoon! Forget the wedding…we want a trip to remember after months of stressful planning and people-pleasing…

So where to go? This was a dilemma. I have been to a lot of exotic destinations, whereas James is just starting out on his world exploration. His ultimate dream destination is China, but that locale didn’t really conjure up any honeymoon-ish feelings for me. His next wish was Australia, to which I had already been (Sydney and Melbourne areas). I suggested Italy – OK, not very exotic but high on the romance scale (think Amalfi coast, wine tasting in Tuscany). James insisted we go somewhere far for our 2 week jaunt, and thought Europe was an “anytime-trip” (I’m making such an influence on him already!).

We chose to get married in late October, so we had to consider what the weather might be like in various locations. That’s Spring in the Southern Hemisphere, but since we had just visited South America, we ultimately decided to visit northern New Zealand (new to me!) and the Great Barrier Reef area in Australia (also new to me!). So while I’m heading to the South Pacific for the second time in that many years, I’ll have lots of new adventures to share and places to tell you about.

We’ve just started planning, but we’ve decided to take SCUBA lessons (now I wish I took my childhood swimming lessons more seriously…) before we go so we can check out:

Poor Knights Island, rated by Jacques Cousteau as one of the best dive sights in the world, with some shipwrecks to explore…

scuba3

Possibly me, SCUBA-ing, pending official conquering of fear of water....err....

Possibly me, SCUBA-ing, pending official conquering of fear of water....err....

Of course, the Great Barrier Reef, where we’ll visit the Whitsunday Islands in Australia…

A setting so serene you might forget you don't know how to swim so well...

A setting so serene you might forget you don't know how to swim so well...

scuba6

Our SCUBA-experienced friend Duncan has told us a little bit about the ins and outs, to which I am completely new and terrified about given that I’m not a strong swimmer. So we’ll see how the lessons go and if our SCUBA-oriented honeymoon is everything we hope it will be. If anyone has tips or experiences to share about SCUBA, please do!