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Entries about snorkeling

Great Barrier Reef

sunny 105 °F

It was a 3 hour flight from Alice Springs to Cairns, although it seemed like it passed by in a flash.

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Out of the dry, dusty, fly-filled, burning heat and into the humid, sticky, tropical heat. We landed in Cairns and jumped in the car to head up to Port Douglas. It was about an hour drive north (about as far as the paved road went) to Port Douglas from Cairns, and I was hoping that we'd see some wild kangaroos.

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We pulled into the little town of Port Douglas and if felt like we were the only people around. After checking into our apartment, we went down to the main strip. The tropical vegetation was very different than anything else I had experienced in Australia. It was amazing to me how diverse the different regions of the country were, only reenforcing the fact that Australia is a very huge place. Everything was green, no bare dirt was visible anywhere. Each tree and bush was an explosion of leaves and flowers. You could tell this area saw a significant amount of rainfall.

We stopped into a bar for a brew, and surprisingly enough, hockey was on TV. I didn't know that Australians even knew ice hockey existed. As it turns out, the bartender had lived in Canada for a while, so he had an appreciation for the sport. The bar had some live music, a guy on the acoustic guitar accompanied by a didgeridoo (Aboriginal instrument) that sounded awesome. We ended going to a couple other bars, playing some buck hunter, and sharing way too many pitchers. One of the bars had an interesting urinal. As I've mentioned before, the Australian urinal is really just a metal plate on a wall that you whiz on and a drain at the bottom. This bar took it one step further and had you whiz on a window. At first I thought I was doing something wrong and that the lady on the back patio would wonder why a guy was taking a leak on the window, but there was nowhere else to go. It was surprisingly nice to have a view while doing my business as opposed trying to find something interesting on a blank wall. Of course the influence of alcohol may have made this more interesting to me than other (sober) people.

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After the bar kicked us out, it was time to get some rest before our reef tour.

The next morning we stumbled out to wait to be picked up by our tour company. We went with a company called Wavelength. Wavelength specializes in snorkeling and small groups. The other tour companies have giant boats and offer underwater observatories, scuba diving, sub rides, and loads of other ways to get extra money from you. Since the coral and fish only live at a depth of 5-15 feet, you don't need all the other equipment to take in the views. By not doing the extra activities, our group didn't have to wait for the scuba divers to get ready or drop people off at observatories. Instead we could go directly to the best snorkeling sites. Since we had a smaller group, we weren't running into each other all day and got some breathing room out on the reef.

We boarded the boat and started our 90 minute trek to the first snorkeling site. Our guide explained what we would be doing, the proper way to use our snorkel equipment, and instructed us to get in our special snorkeling suits. Because of the threat of the jellyfish, we each had to wear special suits to protect ourselves even though the deadly jellyfish are rare out on the reef. The suits weren't too restrictive, but we looked like we were going in for bobsled training. Once we arrived at the first site, we all plunged into the water.

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The first snorkeling site was along the continental shelf where the ocean floor just seems to end. It was a little freaky with such a vast open area water to our backs (which of course I knew was teeming with sharks just waiting for an open opportunity to strike). Our guide tried to show us all the different varieties of coral and appreciate the uniqueness of each formation.

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The coral was a variety of colors, from pale khaki to deep green, but some of the coral seemed to glow with vibrant colors. Anemones moved with the ocean currents. Fish swam in an out of coral structures, moving from one overhang or hole to another. You would be watching a single fish picking through the reef when a giant school of fish would explode from the reef. The muted sound of being underwater heightened my vision, making the beautiful colors and formations stand out even more.

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We got back on the boat and headed out for a deep water snorkeling site. This was a spot were there was an island of coral surrounded by very deep water. The island had multiple overhangs that fish like to hide under. Kicking down from the surface, you could sneak under and take a peak. Large spotted barramundi, squid, and other various fish were everywhere. Ghost whips snaked eerily upwards as fish wove their way in and out. A large school of fish actually took up residence under our boat, taking advantage of the new shady spot.

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Our guide, Fluffy, was awesome. He had such an obvious passion for the reef and everything that could be found on it. Since he could hold his breath for 3 minutes, he would dive deep into the water and find the best overhangs and spots for us to view. He also had an awesome superman suit.

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We made our way back to the boat and headed to the third site. It was only 100 yards away from the second site, but it was back on the continental shelf. More amazing views of coral formations and a variety of fish awaited us. A school of black fish twisted their way through the coral. Fluffy picked up a sea cucumber and passed it around. Fish huddled around a log that had gotten caught on the reef. Giant clams glowed with a blue interior. Anemone fish hid in their anemones.

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We climbed back on the boat for the final time. We had spent 6 hours out on the reef and it was time to head home. Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef had lived up to the hype.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 18:31 Archived in Australia Tagged animals ocean snorkeling world_heritage_site Comments (1)

Bula!

sunny 94 °F

Life is tough right now in Australia. The temperature sits in the mid-eighties, clear blue skies, 16 hours of sunshine, beaches around every corner, I just can't take it anymore. Dawn and I decided to escape for a vacation. Our destination, a weekend getaway at the beautiful beaches in Fiji.

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After a 4 hour flight from Sydney we arrived in Nadi at a tiny airport. There were no air bridges to connect to the plane, you walked down a flight of steps from the plane and through the open air into the airport. Coming into the airport, three men were playing music that you'd expect to hear when arriving in Hawaii. Beautiful ladies waited to put bead necklaces around the new arrivals, and we were through customs in about 60 seconds (much different that the typical inquisition when arriving at a new country). We checked in at the resort rep at the airport and waited for the bus to take us to our ferry.

Only a couple weeks before our arrival, heavy rains pounded Fiji causing massive flooding and damage. Australia and New Zealand donated millions of dollars to help the relief effort. People had been isolated on the main island due to the floods. I didn't know what to expect in my first glimpse around Fiji. Would I see the flood damage? Would we be pounded by rain during our trip (since we were coming during the rainy season)? To my relief, Fiji looked like an island paradise. No large buildings, lots of greenery, and very friendly people.

Just like Australia and New Zealand, Captain Cook was the first European to make note of Fiji. Fiji is an island nation comprised of over 300 islands. Only 100 of these islands are inhabited, the rest marked as nature reserves. Two of the islands contain 87% of the population. English is the official language, but the locals also speak Fijian and Hindustani. 40% of Fiji's population are Indian, brought over by the British in the 19th century as indentured servants. The weather was hot and humid, but it felt just like I'd expect a tropical island to feel.

We boarded the bus and made our way to our ferry. The island reminded me very much of various Caribbean islands. The roads weren't in great condition, traffic moved slowly, most people were walking, and the buildings looked like they had been around for a while. A lot of the resorts are off the main island, so you didn't see any touristy buildings (aside from the Hard Rock Cafe). After arriving at the marina, we boarded the catamaran for an hour boat ride to our resort. Traveling between the various islands, we were presented with many pretty views.

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We arrived at the resort, checked in at the reception desk, and were shown to our room. Dawn had reserved a beach front bure (a standalone cabin right on the water). It was perfect. The bure was very open with exposed timbers serving as rafters in the high ceiling. A small kitchen and sitting area sat at the front of the bure, while the bed sat in a larger room with an additional couch. We had air conditioning, but we wouldn't need it as the windows wrapped the entire building and allowed the cool night breeze to come through. After the long flight and boat ride, we settled in for the night. Rain began to fall, creating a soft symphony on the roof to lead us to sleep.

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After a quick breakfast, we made our way to the beach. To my surprise, we were the ONLY people on the entire beach. Apparently the resort was next to empty, but I wasn't complaining. The sun was hot, really hot. After about an hour sitting in the sun, we promptly moved to the shade. Dawn became mesmerized by the abundance of hermit crabs and spent an hour hunting them down the beach. I dove into my book and enjoyed not having to do anything. Already this trip was entirely different than our tour of New Zealand. New Zealand was a whirlwind trip, an attempt to see as much as possible, driving 300 miles a day. Fiji was very relaxing, made even more so by the accompaniment of a cold beer (creatively named Fiji Bitter, to go along with the Victoria Bitter, Melbourne Bitter, and Tasman Bitter also made by Fosters).

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I had read that Fijians were very friendly people, which I took to believe that all the Fijians looking to suck money out of the tourists would do anything to get you to open your wallets. However, throughout our trip, I realized that most of the people were genuinely friendly. Our bus driver, the airport security agent, the maintenance men at the resort, everyone we ran into were very nice. Very rarely did you pass someone without being greeted "Bula!" (Fijian for hello). Most Fijians choose to live in rural villages than in the city. I read that people are very giving and will invite people into their villages. It is customary to take your shoes off before entering any building. People are encouraged to stop and enjoy their time in Fiji. When we ordered a beer or frozen drink, the ladies refused to make me carry it back to our spot on the beach. However, since everything is on "island time", it sometime took 20 minutes to fill a bucket with ice and throw some beers into it.

That night Dawn and I decided to walk around the island (the island was 5 miles in circumference, about a 2 hour walk). We left late in the afternoon, taking our time strolling down the beach. Dawn had to stop every 100 feet to pick up another hermit crab. We reached some lava rocks, sat down, took in the view of the next island, and a hermit crab finally stood up to Dawn and pinched her. We eventually made our way back to the resort and headed to the "floating" bar (it wasn't really floating, just stuck out in the middle of the cove). Of course we were the only two out there, the two of us and the poor bartender that had to sit around just to hand out two new beers every 20 minutes. It got late and it was time for sleep.

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After another morning of lounging in the sun, we headed out in the afternoon for some snorkeling on the reef. It was the best snorkeling I've ever done. Thousands of fish were everywhere, so many that they would often run into you. Fish hiding in the coral, big colorful fish swimming above the coral, we even found Nemo hiding in an anemone. Sea horses and squid, little sword fish, bold fish that would swim out of the coral and right up to your mask (as if to say, get out of here, this is my spot in the coral, apparently these fish would bite Dawn as she passed). After a couple hours, we got back in the boat and headed to shore. Another stroll down the beach, some posed pictures in the hammock, and another good night's rest.

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After a full body massage in the morning, it was time to fly home. Instead of taking the ferry back into town, we boarded a tiny, tiny plane for a 10 minute journey. The pilot helped us into the plane and started up the engines. To my horror, I realized the propeller was only a foot away from my head. The pilot practically sat in Dawn's lap. We bumped down slowly to the end of the runway and turned around. Putting the throttle all the way up, we took off down the runway. The pilot seemed to have had a rough night. He wiped his face with his hands and yawned widely (in the midst of taking off). Once we left the ground, he opened his window and stuck his hand out to redirect the air onto his face. I began my Hail Marys and prayed we'd make it back to Nadi. After a not so graceful landing, I jumped out of the plane and kissed the sweet ground of the tarmac. A guy came out to grab our bags in a golf cart (despite my plea that I could carry the small bag) and told us to go to the baggage claim. We walked 10 yards into the airport, the guy called our flight, and put our bag on the tiny carousel. The guy probably waited all day to put bags on the carousel, and he was going to follow procedure no matter how ridiculous it was. After narrowly making our flight (Dawn had to fill out postcards), we made our way back to Sydney.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 01:18 Archived in Fiji Tagged beach snorkeling leisure Comments (2)

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