Australia - Great Barrier Reef

 

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Journals

Antarctica!
Dec 7-20, 2000

Europe - Germany, Belgium, and France
Nov 28 - Dec 6, 2000

Nepal - Around Manaslu
Oct 30 - Nov 27, 2000

India
Oct 18-29, 2000

Australia - Driving around Southern Australia
Oct 6-17, 2000

Australia - Olympics
Sep 25 - Oct 5, 2000

Australia - Great Barrier Reef
Sep 17-24, 2000

Bali
Sep 10-16, 2000

Thailand - Bangkok
Sep 4-9, 2000

Cambodia
Aug 30 - Sep 3, 2000

Vietnam - Central and South
Aug 20-29, 2000

Vietnam - North
Aug 10-19, 2000

Laos
Aug 5-9, 2000

China
Jul 26 - Aug 4, 2000

Egypt - Along the Nile
Jul 16-25, 2000

Egypt - Touring and diving
Jul 11-15, 2000

Israel and Jordan
Jul 5-10, 2000

Norway
Jun 22 - Jul 4, 2000

Brief return to the USA
Jun 6-21, 2000

Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Jun 1-6, 2000

Ecuador - Galapagos Islands
May 25-31, 2000

Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
May 21-24, 2000

Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
May 17-20, 2000

Peru - Cusco and the Sacred Valley
May 11-16, 2000

Bolivia
May 3-10, 2000

Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
Apr 27 - May 2, 2000

South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Apr 12-26, 2000

Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
Mar 30 - Apr 11, 2000

Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Mar 25-29, 2000

Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Mar 17-24, 2000

Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Mar 9-16, 2000

Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Mar 1-8, 2000

Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Feb 18-29, 2000

Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Feb 13-17, 2000

Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Feb 8-12, 2000

Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Feb 4-7, 2000

Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Jan 28 - Feb 3, 2000

Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Jan 22-27, 2000

Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
Jan 16-21, 2000

Belize
Jan 6-15, 2000

 

Sun Sep 17, 2000 - Cairns, Australia

The plane touched down in Cairns (pronounced "cans" for you Americans) just before 6am. Luckily the flight was practically empty and we each had a row in which to sack out. We caught about 3 hours of sleep. Immigration went quickly but the man flagged Tom's card with an X that we assumed meant for a complete check at customs. We retrieved our bags, then walked through the "Nothing to Declare" line. Tom went through first, and the bored women took his card - he didn't look back. Louisa was later, and saw the woman double-take at the X on the card - she was more careful checking the cards after that, but we got through without a search. We didn't have anything interesting anyway, it just would have been a royal pain at 6am.

The ATM at the airport didn't work with our card, but we managed to call the hotel and they told us a room was ready for us. We caught a taxi to the hotel, with a short stop at the ATM on the way. At the Fig Tree Lodge the woman was friendly, and gave us a room right away. When it turned out to have twin beds, she switched us to a king one with no problem. We quickly settled down for a 3 hour nap.

Around 11am we motivated to explore the town a bit. We went down to the desk to ask some advice about getting into the center, and where to go. As it turns out, the van was just heading out to pick someone up from the airport. He offered to go out of his way to drop us at the pier, where we could shop and eat lunch. He was very friendly, and we had a nice short chat with him - turns out he's the owner of the hotel! We were very happy with the service.

The first mall was definitely built for the extensive tourist population that passes through Cairns each year. It includes a Johnny Rockets which we steered towards immediately. The upbeat fifties/sixties music blared and we quickly popped coins into our tableside jukebox to hear a few favorites. The staff were incredibly friendly and funny making it an enjoyable meal even before the double burgers and chocolate shake appeared. In the midst of the meal Aretha Franklin's Respect started and the entire staff of Johnny Rockets started a choreographed dance. It was great fun.

On the way out of the complex we had success at a charm bracelet stand. They had a scuba diver, and a silver outhouse complete with man inside, to remind us of trekking in Vietnam. Perfect additions to the collection.

The streets and sidewalks were empty as we walked towards the Central Cairns Mall. Most of the shops were closed since it was a Sunday. It was quite pleasant to walk along. We found a camping goods store open which had a good selection of polarized sunglasses. Tom found a pair to his liking. We also found a cool accessory for our beloved CamelBak, but it was out of stock.

After a brief stop at an internet cafe / travel agency, we found the mall. We browsed the shops, picking up a cheap fleece jacket for Louisa before everything closed at 4pm. We were 'jonesing' for a movie, so we went to see the X-Men at 5pm, spending the intervening hour journaling in front of a big-screen showing the Olympics. The movie was fair, and we ate popcorn and snuggled in the loveseat.

We walked the couple of km back to the hotel, and on the way passed a pizza place that smelled so good we stopped in to buy dinner. We asked for pepperoni, and the woman asked if we meant capsicum (which we Americans call green peppers). We got that straightened out with a bit of show and tell with the pizza making man, and soon were back in our room devouring the pizza.

We managed to watch a bit of Olympics recap, but soon fell asleep.

 

Mon Sep 18, 2000 - Diving Cod Hole

Breakfast at the Figtree was extensive but slow. Fortunately, the meeting place for Mike Ball's dive boat, the Rhiga Colonial Club, was near. Check-in went smoothly and Tom found a phone in the lobby to call FedEx. Unfortunately the hotel's fax machine did not work so we still did not have the five pages of customs forms that we needed. We did find out, however, that FedEx needed us to mail (not fax) the forms back, and also include a photocopy of every single page of Tom's passport - that's 96 pages! Unbelievable.

After a short ride to the airport, the twenty-two of us boarded three small cessnas for the hour-long low-level (650feet above the water) flight to Lizard Island. The weather was decent, although we did fly through one rain shower, and it was bumpy most of the way. Flying over the reef was magnificent, and soon we landed on the small strip next to the thatched roof "terminal". We walked from there a few hundred yards to the beach, where we loaded into dinghys for the SuperSport..

Ruth, our energetic hostess, gave us a series of animated briefings on safety and boat procedures. We did this while at anchor in the harbor, because the hour-plus steam to Cod Hole was going to be bumpy. Finally, after an hour of briefings, we headed to our room to unpack.

During the motor to the reef, we tried on rental gear from the boat. A bit of comic relief was had when Tom was given a women's wetsuit to try on, and he couldn't figure out why it didn't fit. The equipment was in very good shape, and we were impressed by the professionalism of the Mike Ball program.

We relaxed and read a bit, with Tom mostly succeeding in his mental battle against seasickness (dramamine helped, too). Soon we arrived at Cod Hole and anchored in the lee of the reef, where the boat motion was relatively mild.

It turned out that we are two of the most experienced divers on the boat, which was quite a change from the last dive boat in the Galapagos. This meant that we did not need to dive with a dive master, except for the first night dive. We suited up in the rental equipment which was quite new and jumped off the back of the boat.

We swam along the bottom and soon saw one of the largest fish that we had ever seen. We sized it up for a bit and swam on. Soon we saw another, but even larger. This one was hanging out over a huge table coral. We guessed that it must be five feet long and quite massive. These were some of the potato cods, that give the dive site its name.

Dive log: Cod Hole
91ft, 30min

We both wore 5mil short long-sleeve wetsuits, with no booties. We were both a bit too light, Tom with 4kg, Lou with 5kg.

We saw a few huge potato cod, one almost as big as Tom, friendly & curious. Later in the dive, we swam by a another boat feeding a swarm of both huge cod & red bass circling and diving around them. We peeked for a few minutes, but knew that our boat was doing the same on the next dive.

On our swim, we saw a few large red bass, some diagonal banded sweetlips, and lots of extremely colorful coral in a great variety of pastels. Unfortunately, we saw no sharks in shark alley.

In between dives we took a much needed nap. The lack of sleep from the previous two nights caught up to us and we were lulled to sleep by the rocking of the boat. Our cabin is plush with a double bed making the accommodations quite cushy.

Ruth woke us with a rap on the door and a shout of 'dive time!' Peter entered the water with a box full of small fish for the feeding. We formed a circle around him while he fed the greedy potato cod and the hanger-on snappers. Some of the potato cod were a bit aggressive, biting at his hand, which was fortunately encased in a steel mesh glove. The huge fish move amazingly fast, and one cod fish had a parasitic small fish hanging on its back.

Dive log: Cod Hole
62ft 42min

We had better weight this time - Tom 12kg, Louisa 8kg. After the feed we swam off on our own to check out shark alley, but came up empty again, although some other divers saw a small reef shark.

On the way back we explored the coral caves and swim-throughs, finding a neat cave that led into an internal canyon, which then had a different tunnel back to the main reef

We warmed up with a few minutes on the sundeck chatting with other divers. Overall the group was friendly and interesting. Four others were from San Francisco, although one couple had just immigrated to Melbourne.

We suited up for the night dive while the sunset. Ruth guided us under water while we searched for night creatures. We stuck with Ruth, because it was Louisa's first night dive, and she was pointing out neat stuff.

Dive log: Challenger Bay
32ft, 37min - night dive

On this one we saw lots of cleaner shrimp, with red glowing eyes. We looked at a colorful nudibranch, and a polyclad flatworm. As nearly everywhere, we saw star coral, feather coral, and lots of colorful plants. We poked at a beaded sea cucumber, and saw some other fatter ones too. There were big red bass, more potato cod, a ragged-finned firefish (which we call lionfish), an orbicular batfish, a mitre shell, and some unicornfish. We were pleased to see a few morays, including one swimming freely. Sometimes it was a bit disorienting from the boat, because of the surge and the bottom dropping off, but Ruth got us back

We emerged from the water starving. After hot showers, Michael the chef prepared a hot dinner. The quantity and selection of food was outrageous. The group ate and chatted for an hour or so, finishing with hot fudge sundaes. Soon eyes began to close and we retired to bed.

 

Tue Sep 19, 2000 - Diving Pinnacles

We woke at 7am when the boat stopped moving - we had been underway a half hour or so to reach the first dive site. Fruit, cereal and coffee greeted us in the main salon before the first dive at Lighthouse Bommie.

Dive Log: Lighthouse Bommie
83ft, 33min

Tom added more weight to 11kg which was better. Louisa forgot herdive computer and dove a little light. We started off relatiively deep to explore a low "bump." There was not much color which we attribute to the depth. We saw a few good sized lionfish, but the star of the dive was the sea snake. We swam behind it for a long while as we navigated between the bommies. We spiraled up a tall, thin bommie with green & yellow "black" coral. Along the way we swam by anemones and clownfish, a large school of yellow fish congregated in a current, trumpetfish and a black and white snapper. We also spied two batfish and a small grouping of 4-6 barrricudas

Mike, the chef, cooked ham, mushroom, pepper and cheese omelets along with cinamon raisin toast and other goodies for the full-on breakfast. We retired for a morning nap before the second dive. By 10am we jumped in the water for the day's second dive at Pixie Pinnacle.

Dive Log: Pixie Pinnacle
87ft 43mins

We rode to the dive site in the launches because another boat was anchored at the mooring above the pinnacle. The highlight of the entire pinnacle was an unbelievable flame file shell with a neon blinking rim around the edge of the shell. It looked like a small part of Las Vegas was on the pinnacle. IOverall, it was a cool pinnacle which we spiraled around. Some nice coral grows off of it. The marine life included a good-sized solitary barracuda, a huge bumphead parrotfish, a huge schcool of yellow-stripe snapper and swarms of tiny 1-2cm orange goldfish.

We dried off and relaxed on deck for a while, reading and chatting with some other divers. Tom modeled polo shirts for the sun deck, but didn't buy any from the "dive shop". Soon enough it was time to suit up again and head down, this time off the back of the boat at Pixie Wall.

Dive Log: Pixie Wall
68ft 48mins

We thought this dive was better than the pinnacle. We swam along a cool wall with huge coral formations and neat canyons and caves. We enterred into some big caves, through narrow canyons, espcially on the way back at 30ft where there was lots of big coral to swim under, between and around. A barramandi cod hovered in a hole just barely big enough for it. There were many huge giant clams in a variety of colors, We saw a big table coral absolutely filled with tiny fish and schools of goatfish. Other mraine life inclcuded more batfish, the usual butterflys, angels, clownfish, spotted wrasse in the coral, and lots of triggerfish swimming in pairs. We also spoted a couple barracuda hanging motionless in the current and a giant cuttlefish that changed color to match that of what it was swimming over.

We had been the first off, so we were nearly the first back. We had plenty of time to shower and write a few dive notes before lunch was served. The bland curry was livened up with a bit of mangy chutney, and what it lacked in quality it made up in quantity.

After lunch we chatted about travel with a couple who had recently moved from London to Sydney. They encouraged us to write a book about our travels, insisting that they would buy it - we appreciated that. Then exhaustion hit, and we headed upstairs for a nap.

An hour and a half later, we emerged, feeling much better, and settled down to do a bit of boggle/journal on the deck.

If we haven't explained this previously, it's a method we used to encourage ourselves to write in the journal, by playing boggle simultaneously on the Psion. We switch off every 5 minutes, playing a round, then writing in the journal. It works for us!

The weather cooperated with clear skies and flat seas. This allowed us to do a night dive at Fish Market, which the dive master told us was a very rare, but lucky occurrence. The moment we entered the black water we were greeted with a large barracuda. This set the tone for the dive which ended with a reef shark that was interested in Tom for dinner and a mutant lobster.

Dive log: Fish Market
60ft, 42min

This was another big pinnacle, with lots of fish life nestled in coral. We saw a barracuda right at start, then lots of unicornfish, a couple of batfish, and some surgeonfish, black with trailing tails. There were little red ones, striped ones with red on top and blue on the bottom, and anemonefish totally wrapped up in tendrils. A reef shark swam right next to Tom, which was kind of neat. As usual, there were lots of shrimp with beady eyes, and a couple of cool hermit crabs in big shells. We stayed away from lots of spiny urchins. We saw what Louisa called a "mutant lobster", which we found out later was a slipper lobster.

We greedily ate dinner and lingered with the group. As everyone's eyes began to droop we headed to our cabins about 10pm.

 

Wed Sep 20, 2000 - Diving Bommies

Dive time came early again, at 7am, so we threw on our suits and gobbled a bit of cereal before putting on our gear. Fish Market this morning was different from last night, with more fish about. We must be a bit jaded, however, because we actually got bored on this one.

Dive log: Fish Market again
94ft, 46min

We did see schools of small 6in fusiliers in a column 30m high, which was pretty cool. We saw more false clownfish - we never did see real ones, although they're awfully hard to tell apart. There was one great barracuda, but no turtles or sharks. Again there were lots of spotted unicornfish, surgeonfish, big batfish, and yellow stripe snapper schools. Since the coral wasn't very colorful, it was actually kinda boring, after a while.

After the dive we had pancakes while the boat moved to Steve's Bommie (bommie seems to be Aussie for an underwater knob). We relaxed and chatted for a few minutes. Soon it was time to dive again.

Steve's Bommie is actually 2 bommies, and has a couple of unique things about it. There are 2 rare leaf scorpionfish, which one of the divemasters pointed out under water. We were also surprised and delighted to see a huge stonefish swimming slowly from one ambush to the next. Other than that, we saw lots of the usual, and enjoyed the dive.

Dive log: Steve's Bommie
90ft, 46min

Steve's Bommie officially is a shorter pinnacle deep on the ocean floor. We spent most of the dive spiraling around the larger pinnacle that reaches almost to the surface of the water. The highlight was the two leaf scorpionfish. Luckily the divemaster marked them or else we would have missed them completely. The larger of the two was about 10 cm long, and yellowish while the smaller was perhaps 5 cm long and greenish. They blended into the surrounding colors so that even when we knew where they were were find!

As we rounded the pinnacle from the leaf frogfish, an unidentified mass moved in front of us. After it settled onto the coral again we recognized it as a large stonefish. It was amazing to see one, especially one of this size, in motion.

The bommie had nice colors on top with small nudibranches and lots of anemonefish that we observed during our safety stop. Otherwise, the marine life consisted of the usual: big school of jacks off a ways spotted boxfish clown triggerfish diagonal banded sweetlips more yellow stripe snappers barracuda two huge lionfish lots of pipefish still lizardfish giant clams

Tom read while Louisa sat in the sun for a while. Louisa decided not to dive this one again, so Tom went down with the captain, Larry.

Dive log: Steve's Bommie
73ft, 46min Tom only

On this one, Tom saw the plaque on the top of Steve's Bommie, in memory of a divemaster who died in 1989 in a freak accident. We inspected some damage done to the reef, where breadbox-size chunks had been broken off - Larry said it had been done within the last few days, and he would write a note to the authorities. We also found the scorpionfish again, but the stonefish was gone, although we spent some time searching for it. Larry also pointed out a cool tiny porcelain crab, and an even tinier banded shrimp. We saw a lot of nice gorgonian fans, a big flat purple & jet black nudibranch, and 6 large ragged fin-firefish. We finished off with a swim in the middle of a huge school of bigeye jacks. Louisa then snapped a few pictures of Tom coming out of the water.

During lunch we steamed a few minutes to Flare Point. Tom crashed hard for an hour or so, while Louisa caught some more rays. All too soon it was time for the last dive.

Dive log: Flare Point
62ft 42min

Flare Point contained nice coral gardens that we explored for a while. Unfortunately, Louisa's mask started leaking, so we headed back a bit early. We did swim through a cool cave and ended up in a coral canyon, out of which we took a different cave. We surprised another diver who was peering into the cave by swimming out at him. We didn't see any promised turtles, and we forgot to check out the cuttlefish on our way back, but it was still a fun dive with a big spotted ray laying in the sand on the bottom of cave, pretty good sized parrot fish, a giant puffer fish and lots of pastel corals. We spotted something new, sailors eye algae, which looked like a shiny silver egg sitting on coral.

After the dive, Tom finished the latest Clancy book, The Bear and the Dragon, while Louisa finished a few articles in Vanity Fair. We sat on the shaded deck with intentions of writing in the journal, but really ended up chatting. Ruth rounded us up for champagne on the sundeck with the sunset in the background. The cocktail hour passed quickly with conversations and pictures. Next we were enticed with hot shrimp cooked on the 'barbie' as it is called in Australia. Louisa chatted with the couple from Hong Kong about their hobby of running marathons and half-marathons. Tom had a techie conversation with Mike Lee, a techie from Arriba.

The dining table was filled once more with grilled chicken, steaks and fresh fish caught by Peter the engineer as well as salads and corn-on-the-cob. YUM! Everyone lingered around the table until once more eyes started to fall.

We got underway around 11 pm for our all-night cruise down to Cairns. Unfortunately, the seas were a somewhat high, and with our room on the second deck, we got thrown around in our bed quite a bit. We tossed and turned, getting up every hour or so, until things calmed a bit around 3am.

 

Thu Sep 21, 2000 - Cairns

We were awakened early at 7 by knocking on our door. We grunted, then got up and started groggily packing. We didn't actually need to get up for another half hour, and we were a bit peeved at being awakened early. When we got downstairs, it turned out another diver had tried to awaken us to give us something, and when we didn't come to the door, started telling people that we must have left the boat - worrying the crew that we'd run out on our bill. A crazy start to the day.

We had breakfast and did some group photos on the sundeck, then headed to shore to wait for the bus. Louisa found out that another diver worked for Deloitte Consulting in Melbourne, so we talked to them for a while. Finally, we said our goodbyes, and had the bus drop us at the Mike Ball office.

Venetia from Mike Ball had offered to help us with our FedEx package problem. We were under the (mistaken) impression that shipping some trekking stuff to Australia would be easier than India or Nepal. FedEx Australia, however, has provided terrible service, and Australian customs is draconian. We gratefully used the Mike Ball copier to make copies of all 96 pages of Tom's passport, then, after 4 calls to FedEx, finally got the fax of the customs forms.

We took our leave after saying a quick hello to Mike Ball himself. We would definitely recommend his operation - not luxury, but very professional, and the staff was great. A pretty good value, too.

Next door was a car rental, so we got a small convertible Holden Barina for a good price, then headed into town. Tom quickly got used to shifting with his left hand, and we were getting used to driving on the "wrong" side, although we were pretty cautious with the many roundabouts at first.

We stopped for sandwiches at a cafe, then found the post office to express mail our customs forms to FedEx. Next we drove to the airport to rent a cellphone. The stand was closed, and the phone number didn't answer, so we struck out there, but we did take advantage of the hotel information to make a reservation at an apartment in Clifton Beach.

Back in town, we stopped at an internet cafe for an hour, then went to the grocery store and bought enough food for a week. Since the store was in the mall, Louisa had to check out the shoe sales as well, and came away with a pair of sandals. We then found a bottle of wine, and headed up the coast.

The Agincourt apartments in Clifton Beach are clean and bright, if a bit spartan. We had a nice view over the ocean, and chatted with the friendly manager as we checked in. Then we started cooking dinner, with the Olympics on in the background.

Our salad and corn was great, but the steaks a dismal failure. We made up for it with homemade brownies and ice cream. We did the dishes while watching swimming, then went to bed. We couldn't keep our eyes open even to read - we dropped off immediately.

 

Fri Sep 22, 2000 - Hanging Out near Cairns

We turned on the Olympics as we ate a bowl of Frosties (Frosted Flakes). We journaled and read for most of the morning with the Olympics on in the background. About 11:30 we cooked a huge big breakfast consisting of bacon, eggs, toast - the works.

Finally we thought that we should start the day. With the top down on the convertible we drove along the sunny road. First stop was at the local mall on the way into town. Kmart did not carry a GPS like they do in the states, but they directed Tom to a camping store in Cairns.

While in the mall we bought a few jazz cds to listen to in the car, and finally found the book "What Color is Your Parachute". The directions to the camping store were a little loose so we ended up driving fairly far outside of Cairns before turning around. The camping store did not carry GPS models that would work. With our current GPS options exhausted, we went to the pedestrian streets in the central district to an internet cafe for a few hours.

Tom was cranking with putting our pictures up on the web, so after awhile Louisa went down the block to the art museum cafe. She sat in the sun, had glass of delicious Australian wine and researched India. We found a brochure for swing dancing including an open house in a couple of hours.

After the sun set we had a delicious dinner at Fishlips on Sheridan Street. The owner talked to us about Australian wine. He strongly recommended Hardy's Tintara Shiraz, which was absolutely fantastic. He shared with us a great book on Australian wines and we picked some vineyards to visit in the wine region close to Sydney. The food at Fishlips was outstanding as well as the service from the friendly staff.

After dinner we stopped by The Tanks Art center on the North end of town. They turned oil tanks from WWII turned into an arts center surrounded by an attractive public park. The inside of an oil tank is quite large, and while spartan, it closely resembles a warehouse loft. The dancing open house has just begun.

They had a new dance, made up by a local dance instructor who had been featured in "Strictly Ballroom." Called SwingRoc, it is sort of a modified swing that works better to a rock-n-roll beat. We met some folks who taught us the basic moves, and we picked it up fairly quickly. We had a fun evening talking with some of the Australians, who were very friendly (as were nearly all the Aussies we met). We ran out of steam around 10:30 and drove back up to Clifton to bed.

 

Sat Sep 23, 2000 - Life around Cairns

After a quick breakfast we jumped into the royal blue Holden convertible (think Cabriolet convertible). Stores in Australia close at 1pm on Saturdays and are not open on Sundays, as a general rule. We kept this in mind and tried to get some things done.

First on the list was picking up a mobile phone. We rented one at the airport and felt very connected. Immediately we started calling around Australia.

Next task was purchasing Tom a new GPS. We had talked to a couple of stores and knew that a few Magellan models were in town. At the second store we bought a Magellan 310 for Tom, for nearly over the price of the States. This one has fewer features than his 315, but will do fairly well - we just couldn't justify the higher price of the 315..

We stopped in at the Qantas office, but did not succeed in changing our tickets out of Sydney. They claim that we need to work with the travel agent that issued the tickets, which is in Sydney.

We then headed back to the apartment for huge sandwiches for lunch. We relaxed a bit and watched the highly touted 1500m freestyle finals, where Grant Hackett crushed Kieren Perkins by 7 seconds. Then we went for a half-hour run along the beach. We enjoyed seeing a bit of Clifton Beach, which is a somewhat downscale resort community that hasn't been built up very much.

After showers, we headed out again, this time deciding to drive north and see "one of the great coastal drives" (according to our landlord). The road was occasionally curvy, and there were some nice vistas along the ocean, but it was no Big Sur.

On the way, a kayaking company called us back on the mobile, and we made a date to drive down to Mission Beach early the next morning.

At Port Douglass we stopped in to see the town. The main street has many shops and attractive restaurants. After a bit, we stopped at an internet cafe to do some more airfare research, then walked to the supermarket for some dinner food. It was closed! At 7:30pm on a Sunday night - this would never happen in the States.

No worries, though (as they say here), we had plenty of sandwich food. On the drive back Louisa had the brainstorm to grill the sandwiches, so we had grilled ham & cheese, with steamed veggies, for dinner.

We topped it off with the last of the brownies and ice cream, and headed off to bed. We're getting up early in the morning!

 

Sun Sep 24, 2000 - Kayaking the Great Barrier Reef

We were on the road by quarter til 7am, but this meant we were behind schedule. Tom drove us along the highway that skirts the beach towns south of Cairns. Most of the traffic was four wheel drive trucks pulling motorcross bikes on trailers.

We arrived a little late to the put-in with Coral Sea Kayaking, but Dave and Addy were quite friendly about it and soon we were in the safety briefing.

The wind was rather strong and the waves rather tall, but Dave assured us the kayaks were stable and debriefed us on how to act if we turned sideways into a wave. We loaded into the fiberglass tandem boats and learned that Louisa controlled the rudder. Now that is quite a change!

Water seeped into the cockpits while we climbed in, but the ride was easier than we expected. It took about one hour to paddle the four kilometers across the bay on the Coral Sea to Dunk Island. Dave, the guide and owner of Coral Sea Kayaking, paddled close enough to our boat that we could chat. He has led a fascinating life setting up rafting and kayaking businesses around the world, including a trip on the White Nile in Uganda. We will have to travel there soon, however, because the Ugandan government plans to dam the river.

First we stopped on an open beach for a break. Dave fed us with delicious homemade granola bars while we stretched our backs and legs. The sun was out which balanced the cool wind. Shortly we paddled along the island, enduring a short rainstorm, to another cove. From here we snorkeled a bit, as the sun peeked in and out of the clouds. The visibility was terrible, less than one meter, so we swam to the bommie and turned around. The fish that we did see were not even close to colorful or impressive.

Back on the sunny beach we dried off and chatted with the two Aussies in the other kayak. The main entertainment, however, was killing huge Marsh flies. Tom won the gold medal in this event with 18 for the day. Soon Dave called us over to the shade for a huge spread of sandwiches and fruit. We ate nearly everything in sight, although we passed on the vegemite.

After cleaning up a bit, we went on a walk through the woods. Dave proved to be a knowledgeable guide, and had us fascinated with the various plants and trees we walked by. He was also brave (or crazy) enough to bite into nearly every kind of fruit and bark to tell us whether or not it was poisonous. We enjoyed the walk tremendously, although we didn't have time to go around the whole island.

Back in the kayaks, the wind pushed us along to the mainland since it was at our backs. During the paddle Dave mentioned that he has a friend in the business who runs kayak trips in Fiji. Turns out we've already emailed with Southern Sean Ventures about an Antarctica trip that we are keen to join. Some of his friends said the trip was fantastic, better than Patagonia. This conversation only added fuel to the fire and we became more committed to figuring out the airfares.

The waves picked up as we neared the shore. Louisa became a bit nervous, but soon we caught a wave and surfed almost all the way in. What fun!

Addy met us on shore with friendly greetings, and soon we had everything packed up and were back at our car. We bought a couple of t-shirts to remember the trip, and pointed the car north back to Cairns. We were tired, and it was raining, and we needed a shower, so we went as fast as we safely could.

In Cairns we briefly checked out the Queen's Court, but decided to just to go the Fig Tree again, since they had been so friendly the first time. They gave us their last room - with twin beds - but we took it and gratefully hopped in the shower.

Refreshed, we walked across the street to Fish Lips again, to partake of their terrific barrimundi. We also had a special lightly battered whitefish that was fantastic. By the end of dinner, we could hardly keep our eyes open, so we stumbled back across the street and into bed.

Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:55 2008 on www.shieldsaroundtheworld.com.
Copyright 2000 Tom & Louisa Shields. All rights reserved.