Reef

Diving the Great Barrier Reef

Once we’d finally decided to leave Cairns, we only had a couple of days left to do everything we’d planned: dive the Great Barrier Reef,jump off waterfalls at the Atherton Tablelands and visit the Daintree National Park. Unfortunately the weather in Cairns hadn’t improved since we’d arrived… every day was grey and wet. There didn’t seem much point going to the Atherton Tablelands if it was going to be cold and wet the entire time. The weather forecast didn’t show any signs of improving for the next week or two. We knew we couldn’t leave Cairns without diving the Great Barrier Reef, so we decided to do a dive come rain or shine. We managed to find a good deal with a dive boat that went to the outer reef for $100 with lunch, snacks, drinks, snorkelling gear and a dive, and an additional $20 for each dive after that.

We had to be at the dive terminal for ‘check-in’ at 7.30am which meant getting up and leaving Joanne’s house very early for the first bus into the city. It was a cold and grey morning and the weather forecast didn’t show any signs of improving. Once we got to the boat we were given all our dive equipment to set up. We were the only 2 certified divers on the boat and the other 100 people would be spending the day snorkelling above the reef at the different dive sites. It was soon clear that it was going to be a very rocky day on the boat as the staff were handing out free natural motion sickness pills. When we arrived at the first dive site it was raining heavily and the sea was so rough that people were already throwing up.

We put our wetsuits and BCDs on and walked over to the back of the boat to get into the water, but it was pretty difficult because there were waves breaking onto the back of the boat. It was so choppy that the dive master told us to descend as soon as we entered the water because staying on the surface was too difficult. With a huge leap I plunged into the water and emptied my BCD to descend, and after going down a few metres under the surface the sea was calm. It was pretty cool looking up at the waves breaking on the surface above us, and yet it was so strange that everything was calm just a few metres down. We went down 12-15 metres and took in the beauty. Lots of people had told us that if you’d done a dive in Thailand and on the Gilis in Indonesia that you wouldn’t find the Great Barrier Reef that special. How wrong they were! The Great Barrier Reef was spectacular! The coral was more vibrant, diverse and alive than anything we’d seen before. We were very lucky indeed.

Clown Fish!

Clown Fish!

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Pointing at something amazing, obviously

Pointing at something amazing, obviously

We returned to the surface for a spot of lunch before going on the next dive. The dive master told us it was much better to be underwater than on the boat and he was right. The boat was rocking like crazy. I felt sorry for the people that were attempting to snorkel – the sea was so rough that they couldn’t see anything. We then went to another dive site, suited up and jumped in the water for a second site. We didn’t really see anything more than at the first site, but we did spot a huge turtle! There were also quite a few caves and swim throughs at this dive site but for some reason my BCD kept filling up with air. It filled up with so much air that I began floating up towards the top of the cave and I had to grab onto the cave to stop myself banging my head on the sharp edges. Kyle realised what was going on and pulled the emergency release valve on the back of my BCD to empty the air out. 🙂

Kyle with the turtle

Kyle with the turtle

Sea cucumber!

Sea cucumber!

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When we returned to the boat, I realised that I had a nasty cut on my leg from the reef. As reef cuts are known to get infected very quickly, the dive master made me go to the first aider on board to get my cut cleaned up. I was really exhausted by this point so decided to have a nap in the cabin upstairs whilst Kyle went on the final dive. Apparently 80% of the snorkellers on the boat hadn’t ventured out into the water because of the poor conditions – they basically just paid to sit on a boat all day throwing up.

Once Kyle returned from his final dive, the boat headed back to Cairns and the crew provided some entertainment. The chef got his guitar out and began singing and making up songs about various passengers on the boat. There were people running to the toilets to be sick every couple of minutes. It was only when we arrived back at the port in Cairns that the sky cleared and the sun began to shine.

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Lombok, Indonesia

We eventually arrived in Lombok in the late afternoon and made our way to where we’d be spending the next couple of days in Kuta. We’d booked a couple of nights in a homestay, which is essentially when Indonesian families open a bed and breakfast on their property. We were staying at Bule Homestay, which was owned by the famous chef of a famous local restaurant in town. We went to his restaurant on our first night and had some of the finest food we’ve had so far on our South East Asia trip.

After a delicious breakfast of banana pancakes the following morning (don’t think I’ll ever get tired of them!), we jumped on a motorbike and took to the hills. We drove 15km to an absolutely stunning beach called Mawun. As soon as we sat down on the beach an Indonesian man and his two children approached us. In very broken English the guy asked Kyle whether he could take a photo and Kyle understood that he wanted him to take a picture of the family. What the guy actually wanted was a picture of Kyle with his kids! We thought it was a little weird but saw they were asking all the Westerners on the beach for photos. Maybe they hadn’t seen many of us before?

Mawun Beach

Mawun Beach

Kyle with a fresh young coconut!

Kyle with a fresh young coconut!

The stalls on the beach only sold fresh young coconuts and pot noodles, so we got back on the motorbike and stopped at a restaurant nearby for lunch. The restaurant had AMAZING views of the bay and came highly recommended in the Lonely Planet. (Not sure why!).

Amazing view over the bay

Amazing view over the bay

 After the waitress took our food orders I was asked to change my choice THREE times! We waited an hour and 15 minutes for a salad and a sandwich!! I was livid that they made no attempt to apologise for their crap service. If there’s one thing that was starting to annoy me about Asia it was having to wait so long for food – I don’t want to think about all the time we’ve wasted. I can’t wait to cook my own food!

We came to Lombok to do some surfing, so the following morning we got up early and surfed at Gerupak, 10km away from Kuta. As you could only access the surf breaks by boat, we booked transport with a local surf shop. We got a lift to the port in Gerupak with these three Indonesian surfers in their car. They were pretty funny and were HUGE fans of Bruno Mars. They were going mad singing and dancing to every single song along the way. It was a VERY bumpy ride to the port. Somebody had told us that the road was way too bumpy for a motorbike but I think we totally underestimated them. The road was too much even for a car. You definitely needed a 4×4 to maneuver these terrible roads. The waves were huge when we got to the surf break! I was a little scared about surfing a reef break but I loved every second of it, even if I did get horribly wiped out on my last wave.

After our exhausting surf session at Gerupak, we headed back to Kuta and relaxed on the beach with this young Dutch guy we’d met at our homestay. He was a really interesting character and he enjoyed driving motorbikes around the islands. He was really passionate about getting to know the ‘real’ Indonesia and eating authentic food. He was, for example, really disappointed with the food at Bule Restaurant because ‘it wasn’t very Indonesian’. The chef had after all trained in France and the food was a fusion between the two cuisines – there was even confit de canard on the menu!

We spent the evening with our Dutch friend and he was full of stories from his travels. I told him I was a little concerned about flying in Indonesia because the airlines here have terrible safety records, and he told us that he took a flight with Wings Air and it was only when the plane was about to take off that he noticed there was a HUGE dent in one of the plane’s engines. The air hostess told him a van had crashed into it whilst it was in the hangar, but not to worry because there was nothing wrong with the plane… I’d have been off that plane in a second!

We returned to the homestay and had a beer with our Dutch friend and the homestay owner. Our Dutch friend had noticed two women always hanging around together in the mornings and asked the owner whether he had two wives. He smiled and told us that he had two wives and five children, but was hoping to have 12 children in total! He was very proud of his family and this little empire he’d built in Lombok. Kyle said my eyes lit up when he said this – I obviously find polygamy very interesting! Apparently polygamy is very rare in Indonesia because you have to be very wealthy to afford it. Although one Indonesian guy we surfed with told us his neighbor has seven wives and that he sends them all to Saudi Arabia to work while he sits on his bum all day!

Yummy Indonesian food!

Yummy Indonesian food!

Pano of Mawun

Pano of Mawun