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Sunday 14 Apr 2013
Cairns, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef at last!

Sunday dawned bright and sunny - yes! at last! - for my day trip on the Ocean Freedom.  I have been dreaming of diving or snorkelling on the great Barrier Reef for many years so I was very excited.  Chris from Dreamtime drove me, Helena (Brit) and Rob (Canadian) down to the port and the three of us chatted all the way out to the reef, getting on very well. 

I wanted to do a trial dive, but when I ticked the athsma box they got very serious.  I explained that it was very mild, I had never actually had an athsma attack and couldn't remember the last time I had used an inhalor, but it turns out the Queensland has the strictest diving rules in Australia.  I was not allowed to dive without a dive medical certificate first, which would cost me $75 and had to be done at the medical centre.  So no diving for me today, but at least they were able to refund me my money.   I had to settle for snorkelling instead, but I was happy with this as it actually gave me more time in the water.

We visited two spots on the Opolu Reef and had time for two swims in each place.  Rob, Helena and I stuck together and within minutes had found a sea turtle.  He was very well camoflaged but we dived down to see him and say hello.  I'd hired a waterproof camera for the day which took some great photos.  We saw a wide assortment of brightly coloured fish, but even more impressive was the variety of corals - brain coral, soft coral, pointy coral - in bright colours.  On our way back to the boat, Rob found a sea turtle up at the surface for breath so we were transfixed as we watched him glide gracefully back down to the coral beds.  They really are the most elegant, dignified creatures.  They move effortlessly through the water.  I tried to keep up, but didn't stand a chance.

Before lunch we had a ride on the glass bottomed boat to learn about the coral formations and reef inhabitants.  Coral is made up of animal, plant and mineral all at once and is home to many thousands of different species.  The turtles are still my favourite.  The crew served up an impressive buffet lunch of prawns, salmon, cold meats, chicken legs, salads, and big chunks of bread.  It wasn't until we saw it  that we realised how hungry we were after all that swimming.

Helena's company has a mascot - Dave the yellow duck - who has made his way around the world with various clients and employees.  Her mission was to get a photo of Dave on the GBR, so he came with us on our next snorkel swim.  This time we did a 'drift dive', where we were dropped off at the top of a coral reef edge called the Wonderwall and drifted back to the boat with the current.  This was fine until we spotted an anemone with clown fish - NEMO!! I took Dave the Duck down with me for a photo with his new friends.  The hardest part was trying not to lose the anemone every time I came back up for breath.  The current was strong enough that by the time I had taken a breath and dived again, I had drifted at least 5m downstream and had to swim back again against the current.  I had just given Dave back to Helena when we saw another beautiful Hawksbill turtle glide past.  I grabbed Dave back and set off after the turtle.  This time I managed some great close up pictures and kept pace with the turtle for a while.  If only I didn't have to come back up for air! I could happily watch these guys swimming all day.

For my last swim of the day I went out with one of the guides who took me to see a few places where other creatures like to hide.  We found a coral cave about 4m down and he suggested I dive down and have a look underneath the edge.  I did and was very surprised to see a line of big faces staring back at me - there must have been 20 big silver Trevelli under there.  In fact, I was supposed to be looking for a reef shark but he was hiding behind the fish.  I tried several more times and caught only a glimpse, but the guide took my camera down and got a good photo for me.

In the meantime, one of the other guides had attached Dave the Duck to a dive weight and placed him strategically in the middle of a coral boulder.  The photos were excellent, but looked like we had planted himin an aquarium!

We finished the day exhausted but very satisfied: five turtles, a mornay eel, a reef shark, several nemo fish, parrot fish, spotted coral cod and a host of other fish I have no names for.  I definitely need to learn to dive in Bali!

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Zobeedoo's Big World Adventure, Part I

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Marahau Bridges, Abel Tasman

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