Before we visited Australia there were two things that we knew we had to do: dive the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and do our first ever Skydive.
The night before we watched a BBC documentary that just happened to be on iPlayer all about the GBR, so by the time the morning came and we walked to the harbor we were understandably very excited. We couldn't believe that today we'd be ticking off such a massive item on the bucket list. Even if you are not interested in the slightest about Scuba, you've probably heard of the GBR. The largest living structure on the planet and even visible from space.
As we boarded the catamaran, the first thing we noticed was how modern and clean everything was. In fact the scuba gear was brand new as it had just been replaced. The company we went with was Tusa, and we were going to the outer reef to a site called Hastings. The crew were smiley and thoroughly briefed us all regarding safety and protocol. What a change from our dives in SE Asia.
The ride out to the reef was extremely bumpy, and the rain poured down. Hordes of fellow divers piled to the back of the boat to the section designated to those with sea sickness, and there people clutched for dear life on to paper sick bags as they hurled up their breakfasts.
I usually suffer from sea sickness, but the copious amount of motion sickness tablets I had taken seemed to be holding it at bay, nevertheless I was relieved when we finally stopped and got ready to dive. The group was pretty big, I'd say around 60 people, so again this was different from our previous experiences with smaller groups.
We did three dives in total all around the Hasting's reef. What did we think? Well, honestly....we were somewhat disappointed. I feel terribly ungrateful saying that, and perhaps if we'd not dived before we would've been more impressed as it seems others on the boat were, but contrasted against the diving we did in SE Asia, this experience left us feeling a little flat. It seemed to me that the reef was a little barren and the number of fish was far less than other places we'd been to. No turtles, no reef sharks either. I guess it is to be expected, how could somewhere so frequented by visitors and so close to a town like Cairns remain pristine? Apparently there is a problem with “Crown of Thorns” starfish here too. These thorny critters actually eat the coral, and we saw the Scuba instructor rip one off a coral at one stage.
Skydiving was possibly the scariest, most adrenalising thing we've ever done or possibly ever will do. We dived over Mission Beach, just south of Cairns, which is a beautiful setting for a dive and luckily we had lovely blue skies on the day. It's an expensive activity at around $300AUD per person, and even more costly for photos ($99AUD upwards), but definitely worth doing at least once in your life.
The plane was tiny, with perhaps 8 of us jumping. The ascent to 14,000ft seemed to take a lifetime, but in reality it only took maybe 20minutes. I was sitting on the floor right next to the door, so was the first out of the plane! I was actually glad of this because I think watching others jump would have made me even more nervous.
I sat staring at the 3 lights at the front of the plane as the little door opened and the rush of cool air swept in, knowing that when the 3rd light lit up it would be time to go. Eventually that moment came; we lent over to the right and were sucked out of the plane in a heartbeat. Suddenly I found myself falling from the sky, the rush of air was immense and it was the first thing to strike me. The jump is started in the so called “Banana position” (head back, hips out, legs tucked up and hands holding on to the shoulder harness like a rucksack), then I felt the instructor tap my shoulder signifying that I could spread my arms into the usual skydiver pose. It's hard to describe how it feels falling at such great speed, from such a height toward the ground. Before the jump, such thoughts like “what if the parachute doesn't open?” raced through my mind, but now there was no thought, just pure adrenaline. Even the most reserved or level-headed would struggle not to let out a shriek or two at this stage.
The freefall only lasts 60s, and before you know it the parachute is deployed and you are jolted back up into the sky. At this point, my mind had time to catch up to what on earth was going on, and I could take the time to look around at the shimmering sea, reef, islands and beautiful beach as we spiraled downward. I could also see my fellow divers above. Weirdly when I reached the beach, I found that I felt sick (what doesn't make me feel sick!?). I guess it must have been my bodies reaction to the adrenaline in my system. For the rest of the day we couldn't stop talking about the dive and having flashbacks to various parts of the experience. The pictures are very expensive at $99, but they really are worth it, and some of them will at the very least provide comic relief for years to come I think (hence the lack of pictures in this section of the post!).
It was truly like nothing else I've tried before, and I'm very glad to have built up the courage to give it a go. I don't think I'll repeat the experience anytime soon though :)