More Rubber

Trip Start Sep 03, 2002
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14
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Trip End Sep 27, 2003


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Sunday, May 11, 2003

My how time flies - time for another quick update I guess.

We continued to head north and stopped off at Eungella NP. Stunning (if basic) campsite at the head of an awesome forested valley. They have a good population of duck billed platypi and we got some really great sights of them feeding - unfortunately as they feed at dusk and dawn in shady, murky water no great photos of these truly weird beasties.

We then dashed on to Airlie Beach, as a base for sailing around the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef (GBR). We also had a days sea kayaking which was very pleasant and enlivened with the guide's tales of kayaking in the whale season. Apparently there is the opportunity for some awsome encounters - just a shame we were there at the wrong time of year.

Next up was our sailing trip: we had booked three days out on the good ship Waltzing Matilda. Unfortunately the first day there was no wind, but at least it was sunny; the second day there was still no wind, but it was raining; on the third day things looked up - still raining but with a 20 knot breeze. Unfortunately after an hour's sailing the forestay broke on the boat and the sail fell down, so we had to motor back. To be honest whilst the boat was OK and the skipper Wayne was a really nice bloke, the whole set-up of all the crewed boats was very backpacker-ish and not great value. Doing a bare boat charter would be a much better idea.

Straight off the sailing trip we had time for a quick curry then onto a dive boat, Oceania, the plan being to motor out to the GBR overnight. After a very bouncy night ('cos of the sea, not Mandy's demands) we awoke to a strange calm. We thought it was odd that the sea was so flat after two days of 25 knot winds. As the boat swung round and the bay in which we were anchored came into view through the cabin window it became apparent that we had not made it out to the Reef and were still moored off Hayman Island. Not to be downhearted we jumped into the water and discovered the visibility was about 1-2m! The diving was about as enjoyable as being at the bottom of a mud filled quarry in England only slightly warmer.

It was at this point that Mandy decided to make up for the recent lack of near death experiences, by making an unscheduled and rapid ascent to the surface from about 10m. Fortunately,as this was the first dive and we had not yet built up the nitrogen levels in our bloodstream) no harm was done (Nick gutted that there were no low level helicopter flights and extended stays in decompression chambers to liven up the reportage). Subsequently we worked out that this ascent was triggered by faulty gear - Mandy was a bit shaken but at least added another item to her "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" list.

That night the Captain tried to get us out to the reef again. After some bouncing and banging we again awoke to calm seas - and a large island out of the window. Apparently having got half way to the GBR we had turned back when one girl had got seriously seasick (found naked in the toilets - not able to stand - completely lost the plot). However, as the winds picked up to 30 knots plus that day and about half the boat was seasick (not us though), we were actually relieved not to be out on the reef.

The day after returning to shore we started our Rescue Diver course. This gives the instructors the opprtunity to have lots of fun acting at being panicked/distressed/stupid and doing their best to drown the candidates - excellent!

We then had another attempt at getting out to the reef on Oceania. High winds the first day meant that we were yet again diving off the Islands. As one of the dives was a 'missing diver' exercise, involving searching for a weight belt, in 1m viz, and silt, the instructors were lucky to get their gear back. Finally on the second day we made it out to the reef and had a couple of days OKish diving.

It was a really good bunch of people on this trip, so the drinks on shore the night we returned got really quite messy. And the best part was that we were back in the classroom at 8am the next day to complete our first aid course. Surprised the resuscitation dummies didn't get up and walk out when we breathed on them.....

And so we shot on up the coast via Townsville (good fish and chips, otherwise a bit of a dump) and Cairns (Mandy thought unrecognisable from when she was there 12 years ago) to Port Douglas. PD is mor upmarket than Cairns and whilst its not as cool as Byron Bay still has a bit of character. We did some beach and drove up to the rainforrest at Cape Tribulation - as far as you can go up the east coast without a serious 4WD. The best part was getting to play with Nellie the fruit bat in the Bathouse - although Mandy was not pleased to find Nick trying to book her in for a week.

Then it was time to head back to Cairns to give the GBR one last go. Having been quite disappointed in the diving from Airlie Beach we decided to go all out on this trip and booked on a Mike Ball Expedition to the 'world famous' Cod Hole. Although twice as expensive, the money was well spent as this trip was in a different league. Nice boat, great food, loads of polite and helpful staff who all knew what they were supposed to be doing, etc etc.

We took a low level flight up to Lizard Island (north of Cooktown), then met the boat and headed straight out to the Cod Hole - to dive and watch huge (1-2m) cod swim around whilst being fed by the dive coordinator. To be honest neither of us were ecstatic about the fish feeding - it is a beautiful dive site in its own right and we could do without the 'manipulation' of the fishes behaviour. But we now definitely both believe in (big) cod. The fish at this place are very used to divers which does have the advantage that we were able to get the closest we have ever been to some Reef Sharks, which are usually quite shy creatures.

We then went on to dive some more stunning sites over the next three days, including Steve's Bommie and Pixie's Pinnacle. Loads of fish, a few sharks and lots of interesting other stuff, all carefully highlighted by the staff. At the end of the trip they showed a promotional DVD for the trips they run into PNG - Nick was gutted that our Australian visas are only single entry (though the other kind of Visa was much relieved!)

All in all a stunning (though pricey) trip - you get what you pay for I guess. The only downer was the weather - winds up to 40 knots and 2-2.5m seas inside the reef. Not too bad when we were moored just behind the reef for diving, but some real rock and roll whenever the boat was moved, particularly the 12 hour run back to Cairns through some open water.

Well thats just about it from Far North Queensland. With the weather very mixed (and the bank balances hammered) don't think we will do any more diving but start to head inland - time for some serious kms, serious dust and extremely serious flies.

We haven't developed all our pictures yet but hope to do so when we get to Darwin in a couple of weeks time - watch this space.
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