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Archive for the ‘Snorkelling & Scuba Diving’ Category

The Whitsundays is another of those must do things in Australia. We had been looking forward to it for a long time. We had seen lots of pictures and heard lots of stories so knew what to expect from the trip. We also knew exactly what we wanted from the trip, boat and crew which made choosing a lot easier. We spent 2 days and 1 night sailing around the beautiful islands. The boat we chose was a racing yacht called Siska and had a relatively few number of passengers (25) looked after by 3 crew members including Jack the Cornish lad. We were also joined on the trip buy two Dutch girls called Freya and Susan from our campsite who were really good fun.

Jo was a little nervous about being sea sick after the 1770 trip so we decided to give him some sea sickness tablets. Unfortunately whilst half asleep I gave him the wrong dosage as unbeknown to me we had two sets in the first aid kit. This meant that he was overdosed and about half an hour after taking them was not looking so hot. He couldn’t walk in a straight line and could not focus his eyes long enough to read anything. It is fair to say that the drugs were working but perhaps a little too much. He soldiered on and we started the long walk to the boat. To try and soak up some of the medicine I got him a large bacon sangar which he was very pleased with. When we got aboard the boat where the motion started to make him feel a bit more stable. Within about 6 hours he was back to normal. Ooops!

Siska is a 23 metre long yacht from Perth with two sails. It was designed for speed and had been an Australian racing yacht winning lots of awards and had sailed around the world. It had since been retired and fully decked out for taking tourists around the islands. We had a double berth for our one night at sea with its own hatch to the deck of the boat.

Whitehaven Beach.

Whitehaven Beach.

After a brief safety talk it was all hands on deck and we got a chance to participate in raising the sails, which was great fun. Once we were sailing, well sail assisted as the wind was only blowing 10 – 15 knots!, we were off to the extremely well photographed (after only Uluru and the Sydney Opera House) Hill Inlet lookout which looks over Whitehaven beach. This was gorgeous and one the most stunning beach views we had seen in Oz. There was a gorgeous combination of many shades of turquoise water and white silica sand which made beautiful patterns of colours across the inlet. This was definitely the place for photographs and as a consequence had a fair few other people around. After enjoying the view we headed down and chilled on the sand of Whitehaven beach for a bit. It was lovely but I have to say that Australians call it the most beautiful beach in the world and I am not sure I would agree. It is stunning but so are lots of beaches for many different reasons. This one was peaceful and picturesque but had no life or vibe to it unlike a surf beach. Perhaps it was the clouds coming in but we weren’t feeling it. That night we had a few drinks tried our hardest to figure out the cryptic mind puzzles the crew had given us and admired the stars.

On day two we headed off to one of the best snorkeling spots in the islands. The water was warmish and we jumped in. Although part of the Great Barrier Reef this was more of a fringing reef and so was not nearly as spectacular as the Fitzroy Reef Lagoon. There were still lots of colourful fish and amazing coral so we were happy. It made us really appreciate what we had already seen and reflect on how colourful that had been.

Nara Inlet

Nara Inlet

As it was a cloudy day snorkeling did not take as long as usual so the crew took us to Nara Inlet. This is a picturesque little inlet which is very sheltered on 3 sides by large cliffs covered in rainforest. Apparently this is where the boats shelter if there is a cyclone as it is so well protected, this also makes it a perfect breeding ground for hammerhead sharks. We did not see any though as it was the wrong time of year. Our crazy crew decided this was a great spot for doing a rope swing off the boat. There weren’t any takers as you had to swing high otherwise you would crash into the railing and we had just been told about the hammerheads! We were then taken in shore to explore an old aboriginal cave with cave art. This was very interesting a real treat as it was not planned. We heard about how the aboriginals in that area used the water ways and made canoes. It was fascinating.

The ride home was very peaceful and again we did a bit more sailing. We enjoyed chatting to Freya and Susan and wished that they were heading North not South so that we could do a bit more with them. After we got off the yacht and were heading off the marina to our surprise we spotted a green turtle. He was right next to the shore in the busy marina just going about his business.

Back on dry land everyone went their separate ways but decided to meet up in the pub that evening, this was helped by the free drinks on offer by the company! Luckily the drinks were in our hostel so we didn’t have far to go. Freya and Susan joined us and it was a great way to end the trip. that was made possible thanks to my aunt and uncle – thanks guys!

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Apart from the surf, or lack of (grrrrr), the main reason we wanted to go to Town Of 1770 was to look at visiting the Great Barrier Reef, one of the main reasons we both had come to Oz.  Most people go to the reef from Cairns but we had heard that the southern end of the GBR is less crowded and more colourful.  We were trying to decide whether to go from 1770 or wait until we get North, but luckily, my birthday was around the corner and my family decided to send us some money.  The money from my grandparents and uncle paid for the day trip from 1770 (thanks again!).  This meant that it might be possible to both the southern and northern parts of the reef (which is bigger than the UK), snorkeling off 1770 and try a scuba dive later on.

Originally we had planned to go to a lagoon next to an island but changed our minds when we found out the company take groups up to 150 people. Snorkeling with that many people would not be fun!  Our other option was 1770 Sea Quest, a slightly smaller boat to Fitzroy Reef Lagoon, which was recommended by “the lono” and the locals.

Ruth about to snorkel

Ruth about to snorkel

We opted for this as the boat had a similar capacity but was capped to half full for comfort.  The only downside was that the Fitzroy Reef Lagoon is not a green zone, meaning removing items from the reef (i.e. fish) is still legal there, luckily due to the remote location of the lagoon it isn’t fished heavily.  1770 Sea Quest was the only tour to go there and the reef had not had a tourist license for the last 10 years which meant that it had not been as affected by hordes of tourist boats.  We booked on board the next trip as conditions were looking good and started getting excited.

It was an early start to go out on the boats, although we were quite tired we didn’t mind getting up early when it’s to do something like this!  We were very excited.  Our boat was out on the water and we were taken out to it aboard a large ex-naval 4WD transport vehicle that is like a boat on wheels.  It drives into the water and when it’s deep enough becomes a boat- genius!   It takes about an hour and a half to get out to the reef from 1770 and so we had a little while to wait.

On the way out past the headland we saw a large number of Boobys (the birds!) diving into the water in a feeding frenzy – it was quite spectacular.  We saw several of these gannets flying along side the boat throughout the day.  One even landed on our little reef runner boat that was towed behind us.

Unfortunately, I was obviously a bit more tired than I thought and got a nice bout of sea sickness on the way out.  As we approached the reef the water changed to a light turquoise colour and you could see the reef below and the white sand on the bottom.  We slowed down and the excitement of the occasion helped me feel a little better.  As we circled the outside of the lagoon we were treated to something really special – three big manta rays.  I had wanted to see one of these since I was a boy and they were truly majestic.  They swam near to the boat for about five minutes before disappearing into the depths.  If the trip had ended after seeing them, I would’ve been happy.

Fitzrory Reef Lagoon from the Surface

Fitzrory Reef Lagoon from the Surface

Not long after seeing the mantas we were inside the lagoon and there were fish around the boat instantly.  We couldn’t wait to get in.

The water was cool but not too cold.  I was glad I had taken my wettie as the ones on the boat were shortys which meant Ruth got a little cold after being in for a while.  Swimming over to one of the “bommies” (a gathering of coral) that was just below the surface was an awesome experience.  As we got closer you could see it coming nearer to the surface and we were being surrounded by more and more fish.  My sea sickness was completely gone now and pure enjoyment replaced it.

What we saw blew our minds, it was so beautiful.  There was a variety of several hard and soft coral species and their colours, everything from orange to brown, lime green, purples, pinks, reds and bright blue, were amazing.  There were fish everywhere, some in shoals and some on their own. We were stunned at how bright they were and how different they all are from each other.  We saw Nemo, Dory and many of their friends all around.  It was out of this world and we felt very privileged to have seen it.  We took a few photo’s on our underwater camera and but it was more about experience it than seeing it.  Ruth signalled to me that she was getting cold and so I checked my watch – it was nearly lunch time and we headed back to the boat.  We had been in for over an hour and were the last ones out and so lunch had been served a little early.  Luckily there was still plenty left for us and whilst we ate they started the “Reef Teach” about the reef, it’s inhabitants and how to conserve it.

Fitzroy Reef Lagoon

Fitzroy Reef Lagoon

After lunch it was time for the advanced snorkel which takes you back out to the outer part of the lagoon on the Reef Runner.  This cost a little extra but was worth it.  The outer edge is where the most activity is on the reef as this is where the nutrients arrive on the current.  This means that there is more to see, it is more dramatic and there is a greater chance of seeing the bigger fish (sharks!).  We could really tell the difference, everything was on a much grander scale.  The fish were big but the corals were huge!  I saw a brain coral nearly as big as our tent!  Although we still saw some of the smaller fish and corals we had seen earlier, this was less colourful (but still vibrant compared to the Atlantic).  I managed to meet Dude Crush but he swam away before I got to ask him how old he was!  Although we didn’t see any sharks it was a truly fantastic experience.  Our guide informed us that as we were going in the middle of winter, the water temperature was only(!) about 22 degrees which meant that the corals were at their most vibrant for the year.  We never knew that you could get such vibrant colors naturally under the sea, the pictures don’t do it justice.

On the way home we went the long way round as we were in whale season and wanted a chance to spot some of these magnificent beasts.  Before we left the area though we were visited by more manta rays.  One of them came really close to the boat and so we got a perfect view of it.  A bit later on the whale trip paid off and we saw a mother and a calf swimming ahead of us.  The calf was light grey which suggests he was only a couple of weeks old.  He was being taught how to breach and gave us a demonstration of what he had learnt.  He had not quite perfected the technique but he gave it a good try, it was breathtaking to see.  The rest of the journey back was pleasant (with no more sea sickness!).  Ruth and I both had a little snooze and woke up just in   time for afternoon snacks and to see land come back in sight.  All in all, an amazing day.

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Coffs Harbour Jetty

Coffs Harbour Jetty

We stayed in Coffs Harbour for a week. Coffs is about halfway between Byron Bay and Sydney and so is a popular spot and known for its banana industry. We were hoping that we would be able to get work in Coffs as it is a popular holiday destination with Aussies. Coffs was the largest place that we had been to since we landed and so was a bit of a shock to the system.

The town is split into three areas, the CBD (central business district), the Palm Centre and the jetty/ marina. We were staying in a hostel near the jetty ,which was about a 30 min walk from the CBD. We didn’t really like Coffs and so decided not to look for work there as we didn’t want to stay for more than a week! The town was too spread out and seemed as though it wasn’t sure if it was a small village or a big city and so had a strange mix of the worst bits of both. The beaches were nice but just the same as other Aussie beaches. The jetty/ harbour area was our favourite area as there was a creek leading to the sea, the jetty, an island and a breakwater so there was lots to sea and varied sea conditions and wildlife.

While we were there we had a nice English couple staying in our room which made the hostel fun. We spent a few nights playing poker, having BBQ’s etc. One day we all went snorkeling off the small island “Mutton Bird Island”. Our room mates had never snorkeled before so we took them to this recommended spot and gave them a few pointers. The snorkeling was good. We saw lots of fish and a small stingray. The fish were still a mixture of warm water and cold water fish as we were near the East Australian Current bringing in warmer water. Our room mates were so chuffed that they had seen a stingray on their first snorkeling trip and were hooked.

The next day we were sitting watching the locals jump off the jetty and decided to give it a go as it looked like fun. It took a while for us to pluck up the courage but eventually we jumped. It was good fun and not as scary as the pool jump we did in Yamba. The climb back up was a bit painful as you had to push up on the barnacles.

We took a stroll around Mutton Bird Island, so named because a colony of Mutton Birds which are a rare bird nest there. We did not see any Mutton Birds as they were all incubating their eggs. The island was nice to walk around though and had lovely views.

Overall we enjoyed our week in Coffs Harbour but a week was all it needed and we were happy with our decision not to work there.

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On Wednesday Ruth and I went on a boat that took us out to Julian Rocks.  These rocks stick out of the sea a fair way out in the bay from Main beach.  It is one of the top ten places to snorkel and dive in Oz as they have a mixture of tropical warm water from the north and cold water from the south. For all you Finding Nemo fans this is due to the East Australian Current and means that the wildlife is very varied.  You could definately spot the fish which were warm water and which were cold water ones. The rocks are a mini reef with lots of coral and sponges and starfish on.

We got to snorkel around the rocks and saw loads of different fish including some massive ones that were nearly as long as me! We also got to see some small sharks (sleeping luckily) as well as swim with a turtle which was amazing. It was great to swim alongside such a graceful animal and really cool watching him come up for air. We spotted another one later on but it was having an afternoon nap against the rocks. Just before we swam back to the boat Ruth spotted a huge ray, which swam right underneath us. This thing was huge, at least 6 feet across. From looking at it and reading the books after, we think it might have been a stingray. If I’d known for sure at the time I’d have followed it humming the tune through my snorkel!

On the way back inland we spotted a Loggerhead turtle swimming along the surface, it was also quite big and an orangey colour. At this time of year you are supposed to be able to see the Humpback whales breaching as they migrate back south but we haven’t seen any yet. There are also regular dolphin spottings from Cape Byron so we are keeping our eyes peeled.  Apparently on the good surf days one of the pods often catches the waves with you (I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much though).

We took some pictures with our underwater camera so here’s hoping they come out. We will let you know as it is a film camera and we’ll have to go and get it processed.

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