One of the best points to access the Great Barrier Reef is Cairns, surrounded on three sides by rainforests and saltwater crocodiles in the sea on the fourth.
The highlight of our time in Cairns, was hopping aboard the Kangaroo Explorer for 3 days for maximum scuba diving and snorkelling on the Outer Great Barrier Reef. I did my open water certification 10 years ago, but had forgotten my dive certificate, so had to pass a written and practical test before I could dive. Boy a lot has changed in 10 years - using a dive computer is much easier than using the dive tables.
I hired a camera with a special underwater unit to document Jack's first ever scuba dive. Lucky because sea turtles joined us. I was so excited to see a sea turtle, I completely forgot to breathe. Then I remembered, breathe and take pictures. We were told the sea turtles like it when you scratch their shells, so I did that, too, and they stuck around for a wee bit longer. Awesome!
Over the course of the 3 days, we saw so much marine life: yellow-tailed fusiliers, chocolate-dipped damsels, slender long toms, hawkbeak sea turtles, puffer fish, sting rays, white tip reef sharks, black tip reef sharks, moray eels, clown/anemone fish, unicorn fish, parrot fish, pineapple sea cucumber… The coral was pretty fascinating, too. It sleeps and wakes, changes from smooth to bumpy or soft to hard when you touch it, can be sharp or sticky like Velcro.
We even spotted a cleaning station. This is when big fish actually line up for the little fish, called cleaner wrasse, to come and clean them. The little fish bravely (naively?) clean inside the mouths of the big fish!
Just before our night dive, we were told that sea turtles take a deep breath of air before they go to sleep on the ocean floor and if you wake them up, you should direct your light to the surface so they know where to go to breath. We saw if you use your flashlight to point out little fish, a red bass will chase it and eat it.
As we watched the sunset on the deck the second night, we noticed lightning and storm clouds in the distance slowly creeping in our direction. In the middle of the night we were awoken by the thrashing of the ship in the waves. I clung to the mattress to avoid being tossed around like the contents of my tummy. The captain had to move the boat to avoid crashing into the nearby reef.
It took 2 days aboard the Kangaroo Explorer for me to develop my sea legs. Until then, I was continuously sick unless I was diving. By the time we made it back to shore, I was so well-adjusted, I was sea-sick on land for two more days.
Though the water was 25C, we wore lycra head to toe called a stinger suit to protect from the jelly fish. We did get little stings, but nothing as harmful or painful as a big sting would have been.
Better late than never, we attended Reef Teach where we learned all sorts of interesting facts about the creatures we saw from the boat. We learned that the octopus is an extremely intelligent creature that can work its way out of mazes and even solve puzzles. When kept in aquariums they are frequently given mechanical puzzles, which need to be regularly replaced so they don’t grow bored. They even showed us a self-portrait of an octopus that taught himself to use a camera. We also learned that the Story of ‘Finding Nemo’ isn’t quite accurate. Apparently, if Nemo’s mother have died in real life, then Nemo’s dad would have become a woman and mated with Nemo so they could have children of their own. Not very Disney!
And with that, I ticked Great Barrier Reef off my bucket list. Or so I thought. It was such a perfect trip, I'd go again in a heartbeat.