Diving along the Great Barrier Reef

Diving along the Great Barrier Reef has been on my list for a long time. After having been there I can wholeheartedly say that it is absolutely worth it. We did a weeklong life-aboard on the outer reef and it passed way too fast. We did this trip in four stages. First a couple days in Sydney to acclimate and get over the jet lag. We then flew to Cairns where our boat departed. The main act was diving long the Great Barrier Reef. Finally we spend a couple days in Melbourne looking for Australia’s other famous critters. There are a couple pictures and impressions of the non-diving part in the Australia 2019 post.

We chose to spend our week on the Great Barrier Reef aboard the Spoilport, a custom dive live aboard run by Mike Ball Dive Adventures. It was perfect in every way with a phenomenal crew. The original itinerary was to spend 4 days diving the Coral Sea near Osprey reef and then 3 days on the actual GBR. Unfortunately, the weather was not with us and we could not make the crossing. It was just too windy. On the upside, we got to dive a couple more days on the GBR.

As an added bonus we had several encounters with Dwarf minke whales. It was already past their prime season at this location, but a couple did decide to hang back. These encounters are snorkeling only, which is nice as there is no limitation on how long you get spend with the whales. It is entirely up to them to decide. There are no pictures as my little camera that I normally take on snorkeling gave up on me. Still, seeing these beautiful animals is amazing.

The rest of the actual diving is also nothing short of amazing. We encountered a huge variety of animals of all colors and sizes, big reefs full of healthy corals and calm waters. Over the course of the week I got a total of 22 dives and 19.5 hrs below the waves with a couple stories to tell.

First off was the encounter with a large Olive Sea Snake. These are amongst the most lethal snakes anywhere, but do not attack humans. This one snake, however, took a liking to my dive buddy and decided to go after her. Not to harm, but simply out of curiosity. It was quite impressive to see this huge snake move about and checking out a diver. Needles to say, my dive buddy was far less interested in the snake.

Another dive was marked by a group of huge, (American) football sized, cuttlefish. I have seen plenty of them before, but they are usually rather skittish and maybe fist size. This one did not care at all that I was there and proceeded to poke around the holes of a coral mount to find a good spot to deposit her eggs.

Lastly, it is interesting to compare the GBR with Fiji and Indonesia, the two regions in the coral triangle I have been to. Indonesia has more colors on the corals of the Bunaken National Park, but mostly smaller critters. Fiji has more soft corals. The GBR appears a bit subdued at first, but has much more and much bigger marine life. The reefs have suffered from global warming and patches of coral bleaching can be seen occasionally even on the outer reefs. It is still a beautiful sight to be seen, though. There is an enormous diversity of life out there.

Australia 2019

Diving along the Great Barrier Reef has been on my list for a long time. After having been there I can wholeheartedly say that it is absolutely worth it. We did a weeklong life-aboard on the outer reef and it passed way too fast. We did this trip in four stages. First a couple days in Sydney to acclimate and get over the jet lag. We then flew to Cairns where our boat departed. The main act was diving long the Great Barrier Reef. Finally we spend a couple days in Melbourne looking for Australia’s other famous critters.

Stage 1: Sydney

After a long flight we got to Sydney in winter. It was a lot colder than expected to start with. Once we had properly bundled up, we got explore the center of this beautiful city. It is very user friendly on foot. The rapid transit and ferry system make getting around a breeze. We did not have that much time and thus stuck to the main attractions. Day one was spend walking through the nice botanic gardens and visiting the famous Opera House and Zoo. While strolling around the gardens we made our first encounter with the native Cockatoos. They would become a common sight all over the place. The weather was not with on the second day and so we decided to get a sneak peek at our diving section by going to the Sydney Aquarium.

Stage 2: Cairns

Our only reason to visit Cairns was to get on our ship. The way flights and schedules worked out, we ended up with essentially two days to look around there. It is definitely a different vibe from bustling Sydney, but it did not disappoint. The aquarium is small, but very much worth a visit. It only displays the fresh and salt water species found around Cairns and does a great job in explaining all. One series of displays in particular got my attention. In these they sorted the fish by color and explained why that color gives them an advantage in their individual habitats (depths). The botanic gardens offer a nice impression of the surrounding tropical forrest. Lastly, at nightfall look for the flying foxes. They are huge bats of almost crow size. During the day they settle in a large tree near the library.

Stage 3: The Great Barrier Reef

The main part of this trip was diving the Great Barrier Reef on a live aboard. There is separate post ‘Diving along the Great Barrier Reef‘ with all the pictures about this part.

Stage 4: Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road

After a week on the boat, it took us a couple days to get our land legs back. It also took us a bit to get acclimated with southern Australia in the winter. It was cold, rainy and we got hailed on. As the name suggests the Great Ocean Road run along the coast near Melbourne. Given the number of rental homes and hotels it is clearly a major tourist attraction. Deservedly so, I must say. It offers beautiful views of the coast, wineries, and lots of hikes to see the local flora and fauna up close.

We were particularly interested in finding some of that local fauna, Koala Bears especially. I do not qualify as an expert in all things Koala, but I can say with certainty that they are indeed very cute, abundant and put any sloth I have seen to shame. They are the most stationary terrestrial animal I have encountered. The vast majority of them was curled up in a little fluff ball. That did not distract from them still being cute and fun to find and watch. Of course we found more Cockatoos and a plethora of parrots.

The trip did end with a day in Melbourne itself. It is a nice city and worth spending more time in than we did. But if you only have a short amount of time, I suggest doing one of those free walking tours. You get to see a lot of the city and learn a couple quirky facts along the way.

Fiji 2017

Oddly enough, posting photos is the very reason we did this trip to Fiji. Not these photos, though. A while back a friend asked for suggestions for a relaxing vacation and I remembered how nice Fiji was. When I wanted to show her the photos, I realized that I never posted them. So, while working on the 2009 photos the wish, more need, to go back emerged.

Originally planned for Christmas, the trip had to be postponed due to a tropical storm on Fiji during that time. At long last, a couple months later, I finally saw the gorgeous reefs of the Bligh waters again. It is still amazing.

In 2016 Cyclone Winston did a bit of damage to the shallow reefs and it shows. There is a lot of debris on the ground. The deeper waters of the Bligh passage did not seam to have been affected as badly. The Bligh waters, named for Lieutenant William Bligh from the “Mutiny on the Bounty”, is a large area of coral reefs on the eastern side of Fiji. There are deep water passages that bring in all the nutrients and large animals. We had an abundance of reef sharks and even a couple turtles.

Other than enjoying the magnificent underwater worlds, there is not much else to do at this corner of the island. Our resorts were near the little town of Rakiraki on the north-east corner of Viti Levu, the main island. However, that just makes for the perfect relaxation vacation. Go out diving in the morning, have lunch and relax with a good book in the afternoon. Rinse and repeat for 10 days. Pure bliss.

We did run into a bit of wrinkle, though. A big Hollywood producer decided to get married at our resort and booked the entire place. Consequently, we were kicked out for the second half of our trip. Fortunately, that happened a week before we left and we could find a room at the resort next door. Their loss is our win. The resort we transferred to, VoliVoli, had just recently been completely rebuild after Cyclone Winston and was a big improvement over our original place.

Fiji 2009

I just realized that I never posted the photos from Fiji after a friend was looking for suggestions on where to go to. Well, that is easily remedied. This trip was actually quite a while back, but after looking through these photos, I feel like I have to go back and revisit Fiji.

The trip itself was a pure relax and dive vacation. We stayed at the Wananavu resort on the north east tip of the main island. The resort is about a 2 hr ride from the airport in Nadi, where all the international flights arrive. It is a fairly pleasant drive through some really nice landscapes and sugarcane plantations. However, the hotel can arrange for a water plane as transport, which we did not do. The isolation is a great bonus as there is nobody around. We spend the morning diving and then the afternoon at the small local beach in a hammock. Then repeat the next day.

Diving is about as easy as it gets. Warm, crystal clear waters bursting with life. Unlike many other places, the ocean floor is at about 100 ft with coral pinnacles going up to the surface. That is also the reason Fiji is called the soft coral capital of the world. It is absolutely amazing to dive these reefs. The photos barely do them justice. The deeper waters have some of the larger creatures like turtles and reef sharks, while the upper layers are teaming with colorful fish.

While many of the more popular (and glamorous) resorts are on other islands close to the west cost, this resort is the only one that allows diving the Bligh Water by day boat. It is otherwise only accessible by live aboard. The Bligh Water is deeper water with more currents, but even more amazing corals and life. Definitely not to be missed.

Finally, a Ro-Ro ferry capsized a few years prior in a storm. It now makes for a great dive wreck. Especially the main deck with all the cars and trucks strewn around like toys.