Scuba Diving

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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Gili Trawangan, Gili Islands

From Bali we decided to make a stop off at some of the Gili Islands before heading to Lombok. The Gili Islands are an archipelago of three small islands located just off the coast of Lombok. They’re pretty much what you imagine when you think of paradise… clear turquoise waters and white sandy beaches.

We took a fast boat to Gili Trawangan and when we left Bali it was really sunny with not even a cloud in the sky. As soon as we arrived at Gili Trawangan the blue skies quickly turned grey and it started pouring it down. We hadn’t booked any accommodation either as we thought we’d just find a room when we got there but the rain made our search rather difficult. Kyle was laden down with his huge rucksack on his back, a rucksack on his front AND a surfboard… we very quickly got soaked. It was raining so heavily that we couldn’t physically see anywhere where we could shelter from the rain. A young Indonesian guy came up to us and offered to show us a room and we agreed to take a look just so we could shelter from the rain. The room was fine and we decided to stay there instead of trying to find somewhere in the rain. We probably could have found somewhere nicer had it not been raining, but hey!

Beautiful waters at Gili Trawangan!

Beautiful waters at Gili Trawangan!

The Gili Islands are pretty interesting because unlike Bali and the other Indonesian islands cars and motorbikes are prohibited. The only transport available are horse-drawn carriages and bikes, and it was a welcomed change after all the motorbike fumes in Bali. Gili Trawangan was a bit like Kuta and the sea front was lined with pubs, clubs and bars one after the other. It was weird though because the Gilis are predominantly muslim and just behind the main strip was a huge mosque. Whilst clubbers were stumbling home in the very little clothes in the very early hours of the morning, the call to prayer was blaring out to the island. It was totally bizarre!

Gili T

Gili T

Gili Trawangan was a very small island and you could walk all the way around in about 2 hours. The Gilis are also famous for the quality of the coral and marine life and we came here to do a couple of dives. On the island of Gili Trawangan there are 30 dive operators alone! We booked a scuba dive the next day with Blue Marlin Divers and were hoping to see some sharks, manta rays, turtles and some beautiful coral. On the morning of the dive I was having some problems with my ears, so when it came to the descent I was unable to equalise and was experiencing a lot of pain. I had to abort the dive and had to return to the surface, which was a shame because I could see huge turtles swimming around. It was pretty amazing!

A turtle Kyle spotted on his dive!

A turtle Kyle spotted on his dive!

Later at dinner that evening our waiter asked us if we wanted any drugs and he looked completely stoned. I was confused because I thought Indonesia had harsh punishments for drug dealing and use of narcotics. Drug dealing, for example, is punishable my death. We said no and the waiter said, ‘No worry! No police on Gili, so no problem here!’. The Gili islands are so small that there’s no police presence here so anything goes! The hawkers that were trying to sell you sarongs and bracelets in Bali were now trying to sell you drugs! It was insane.

Koh Tao – Scuba Diving

So after our sleeper train and catamaran, we arrived in Koh Tao and were greeted at the port by a huge crowd of people. Each person was making some kind of offer: hotel, hostel, tuk tuk, taxi or dive course. It was absolutely mad! We just wanted to get out of there, and fast. We quite by accident jumped into a taxi with some other travellers and turned up at Ban’s Diving Resort, where we negotiated my PADI Open Water Scuba Diving Certification and 4 nights accommodation for less than 200 squids. Pretty damn cheap, especially since the same course in England would be over 400 pounds (using Kyle’s computer and I can’t find the pound sign!!!).

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The course would take four days. The first evening was orientation, where we met our instructor, filled out the necessary paperwork and watched the corniest DVD on scuba diving theory for a couple of hours. The DVD was so American and cringey. It said things like:

Did you know scuba divers have the most fun in the world?

Scuba divers make friends from all different cultures!

Granted the DVD is made to be suitable for all ages, but this DVD was embarrassing. It seriously looked like it’d had been made in the 80s!

Day 2 of the course consisted of a very early morning start (7am!) in the swimming pool, where we learnt various skills such as clearing water from our masks and what to do if you run out of air under water. It was all pretty good fun but very tiring – we were in the pool for 5 hours! After that we returned to the classroom for more cringey DVD and a quiz on everything we’d learnt so far. We were going to be doing 2 out of the required 4 open water dives the next day – talk about jumping in at the deep end!

Day 3 – We met early again at 7.30 and got onto the dive boat ready for our first 2 dives. We had to get our tank ready and check that everything was in working order. Our instructor liked to use the acronym ‘Bruce Willis Rules All Films’ to help us remember everything we had to check for.

Bruce (BCD), Willis (Weight Belt), Rules (Releases), All (Air), Films (Final Check.

We each had a buddy and we’d make sure that their vest was inflating/deflating properly, that they were wearing a weight belt (otherwise you just float to the surface), make sure everything was connected properly, check their air was on and that we could both breathe out of the air pieces at the same time. Once we were all ready, we jumped one by one off the boat and into the crystal blue water.

Water pressure increases as you descend deeper so you have to ‘equalise’ to stop your ear rupturing. On the first dive I got to about 7 metres deep and I couldn’t equalise anymore. I was getting a bit panicked and I motioned to my instructor that I had problem with my ears. My instructor tried to help me but it was no use. I had to ascend and return to the boat whilst the others in my class continued with their dive. I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to do the first dive, but I was feeling quite congested that day. I decided I’d try and do the second dive of the dive and this time I managed to descend to the sea floor with no problems (maybe nerves got the better of me on the first dive?). Once we got to the sea floor, we had to do put the skills we’d learnt in the pool into action. The instructor came to each person and we had to take our mask off and then clear it of water when we put it back on. We also had to simulate being out of air and having to use a buddy’s spare regulator. We were under water for about 47 minutes and then we ascended to the boat. As I hadn’t done the first dive, the instructor took me on a one to one shore dive, where we dove from the dive boat straight to the beach. It was so much fun!

Day 4 – Last day of the course and the final dives! We met at 7.30 am (again!!) and we went to two dive sites called White Rock and Twin Peaks. We had a cameraman recording us today so we had a little fun under water doing somersaults and pretending we were surfing on our flippers. We swam through little arches and saw barracudas, clown fish, trigger fish and a blue spotted stingray. By the fourth dive I was really enjoying scuba diving, but my ear was hurting a little from all the water pressure.

After completing four open water dives and an exam, I am officially an open water diver! I’d really recommend Ban’s Diving Resort. They were really professional and the course/accommodation were great. Koh Tao is a beautiful island (or ‘iceland’ as I heard some Frenchies saying it).

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