There are two things in this world that seriously freak me out – open water and fish. My week at Surf Camp was about my limit regarding venturing out into open water before this week, because as far as I’m concerned there are far too many things in there that could kill me and so I always like to be able to touch the bottom! I do realise those things that could hurt or maim me aren’t likely to be the fish and therefore that fear is slightly irrational, but go and chat to people in the UK who are genuinely scared of spiders and then come back to me!
With these things in mind a snorkelling trip to the Great Barrier Reef probably wasn’t the wisest move, but upon my arrival in Cairns it seemed to be the thing to do. Everyone I spoke to had been out to the Reef, or was intending to in the next couple of days/weeks and so it was time for me to jump on the bandwagon and take the plunge too. Most were including an introductory dive in their trip, however as an asthmatic and having had ear infections galore over the past few weeks I had convenient excuses aplenty to not need to go any deeper than necessary!
When I awoke at 5.30am on the morning of Tuesday 23 June it was absolutely pissing it down. Cairns was experiencing some unseasonal weather for this time of year – the warmth and humidity I had expected were certainly present, but partnered with a ton of rain and clouds galore! However I had been promised sunshine and temperatures in the mid-20s by the weatherman for later in the day and so with this in mind I donned my flowery anorak and stoically set off in the pouring rain to catch the 7am Cairns Dive Centre boat from the Marlin Marina.
Once aboard the boat with around 40 others we set off on the two hour journey out to our first Reef site, and it was here that I faced my next challenge of the day – seasickness. Having been so focused on the fact I was facing my open water and fish fears I had completely bypassed the fact I get motion sick. Despite the fact it had now stopped raining the rotten weather from earlier was still making its presence known. Everything was against us – first the weather, and now the wind and the waves! Slowly but surely the small talk between us all diminished and was replaced with an uneasy quiet, pale faces and clammy palms. One by one we all made our way to the back of the boat to take advantage of the fresh air and sick bags if needed! Even those who had taken advantage of the $4 seasickness tablets before our departure were there. As I stood there clinging on for dear life with one hand, holding a sick bag in the other whilst telling myself over and over again that everything was temporary I was comforted a little by the knowledge I’d saved myself a whole $4!
Finally, after almost two hours of emptying our stomachs we reached the millpond that was the Great Barrier Reef.
Within 20 minutes of arriving at our first dive site we were in our wetsuits, snorkels and flippers, ready and raring to go! After being checked off the boat by the supervisor we were free to roam wherever we pleased – providing it was within 50 metres of the boat. I honestly had no idea what to do or where to go. In my head I was freaking out because it was so blue and so big and I couldn’t touch the bottom and I didn’t know what might be in there, and so I’d be lying if I said I didn’t dilly dally just a teeny tiny bit on the steps of the boat. What I really wanted was someone to hold my hand, but all I had was the whopping great big underwater camera I’d hired for the day! In reality what I wanted was hugely different to what it was that I needed to face this silly fear of mine, and so after a few minutes I pulled up my big girl panties (metaphorically, obviously), pushed off the boat and swam like crazy to the site everyone else had flocked to.
And it was crazy!
Those pictures don’t do it justice at all! I’m not a wildlife photographer I think we can all agree! The colours were so much more vivid than that at times, and there were so many more fish all shapes, sizes and shades swimming around my face, completely un-phased by these crazy, masked humans visiting their home. That’s certainly more than could be said for me – I was panicky! But after watching everyone else fully immersing themselves into not only the water but the overall experience I had a mini pep talk with myself about this probably being a once in a lifetime chance and tried to leave all my fears and worries behind on the boat – and it worked!
I honestly never thought I’d have a photo like that – me in the water with no land anywhere to be seen! I even managed a snorkel selfie…
In total I snorkelled for a good four or five hours at two Reef sites. After lunch we made our way to a second site where I went out with one of the instructors and made the decision to not take my camera out with me. A friend had mentioned that on her visit she got so focused on trying to get that all important Nemo picture that she didn’t feel as if she fully took in the reality of where she was and appreciated it for what it was. Maybe I was too conscious of that, but when swimming around in the afternoon I swam alongside a sea turtle, saw even more fish every colour of the rainbow and at the end we saw something we are convinced was a shark! It miiiiiiight have just been a really big fish, none of us got close enough to get a good look! The great thing about the afternoon session was that I wasn’t seeing it through my camera screen – the proof may not be there in photographic form, but I have those memories forever.
The whole experience was amazing, once I’d gotten over the whole ‘open water’ thing. At times I was inches above the Reef, not even swimming but simply floating around and if I’d reached out any further than I did I would have been touching it. Obviously I didn’t, partly out of fear of what would happen if I did, but more out of respect for the environment I was in. The one thing the Cairns Dive Centre crew say is to take nothing but photos, leave nothing but bubbles – a great philosophy considering the Great Barrier Reef is listed as a world heritage area, and serves as a great reminder about what a beautiful and wonderful world we really do live in.