Diving Down Under
April 2006

Going half way around the world
Yvonne About a year ago my good friend Yvonne and I started talking about going scuba diving. But where to go? The Great Barrier Reef seemed like an excellent choice, and after several months of planning, it became a reality. Let me say that flying from Cleveland to Sydney is a very long trip. I made it with only one stop in LA which made for a 14 hour flight into Sydney. I was lucky enough to get an exit row seat (thank you Cathy!) so I was all set. After catching some sleep on the plane, I arrived in Sydney at 10pm Saturday night and met up with Yvonne who had arrived a couple of days earlier. We spent the night at a hotel near Sydney harbour in a room that afforded an excellent view of the Opera House. It made me wish I had also come a few days earlier, rather than having to catch a flight to Cairns at 8am the very next morning.

The Great Barrier Reef
One of the beaches on Green Island Cairns is the most favored jumping off place for visiting the Great Barrier Reef. We took a catamaran out to Green Island, which is situated very close to the reef. We arrived at a dock built out from the island. Later in the week, we came back to the same dock to watch the evening feeding of the fish, which included a reef shark.

White Herron We stayed on the island for four days/three nights. It was a very small island (660 by 260 meters) which had lots of wildlife such as this white heron. Beautiful beaches edged about half of the island's coastline, though we too busy to spend much time on them, except for one night hike where we layed back and viewed the milky way. We also saw the Southern Cross constellation which is only viewable from the southern hemisphere, and adorns the Austalian flag. Sunset on Green Island The sunsets were spectacular, especially when viewed with a mimossa. The hotel accomodations blended well into the environment with the rooms interspersed with trees, and board walks in between. The food was scrumptous, especially the seafood - no surprise there.

The majority of our time here was spent scuba diving. The first and last day we dove right out from the island. The first day we saw a sea turtle, giant clams, clown anemonefish, to name a few. The visibility was marginal due primarily to Cyclone Larry passing just south of here two weeks earlier. There was also a large amount of dead coral. This was not just broken coral, of which there was some, but brown, dead coral. The implication was that this was also caused by the cyclone, but it didn't seem likely to me that it would die that fast and that massively especially when it was not in the cyclone's direct path.

Pontoon on Great Barrier Reef For two full days we went diving from Pontoons stationed at various locations along the reef. These pontoons made ocean access extremely easy with stationary stairs and underwater platforms and mooring lines. There was also a cafeteria providing hot meals between dives. On the negative side there were lots of people diving, snorkling etc. and the reef was somewhat worse for the wear. The first day we went to Moore Reef and the second day to Norman Reef, where I had taken my first open water dive nine years earlier.

A fish known as a Maori Wrasse The most memorable part of this diving experience was petting a large fish called a Maori Wrasse, affectionatley named Wally. Actually there were a few Wally's at each Pontoon. This fish was blue and green and velvet to the touch. I took every opportunity to pet one, and on occasion one would come back to me to be pet again - perhaps they enjoyed the encounter also. Other reef sightings included baby barracuda darting around in schools, teenage barracuda cruising around in schools, and one really large adult barricuda with very large teeth hanging around off one of the diving platforms just by himself. Additionally there were tiger fish, oblique-banded sweetlips, angelfish, sting ray, and many pineapple sea cumcumbers. It was a good thing that Yvonne had brought her new underwater camera because she had much to photograph.

Baron Falls at Karunda Once back on the mainland we spent a half day shopping in Cairns (pronounced cans). Then the next day we rented a car and headed out to see the waterfalls and parks in the area. First we headed north to Kuranda to see Barron Falls. Close up of Baron Falls at Karunda This was a very large waterfall which was swollen from all the recent rain. The hike down to it was through a lovely rain forest with viewing platforms along the way. At the lowest viewing platform we saw a colorful train that was stopped for the view.

Atherton Tablelands
Blown over banana plants After stopping in town for scones and cream, and a little more shopping, we headed south to the Atherton Tableland Area. There were several waterfalls and places of interest we wanted to see but we were only successful at reaching a few of them. This was the area the was direclty hit by Cyclone Larry and the devastation was massive. Fortunately no lives were lost, but we saw numerous uprooted trees, twisted tree tops and branches, missing roofs, and roads made impassable. In all the banana plantation we saw not a single banana plant was left upright. The people here wasted no time in commencing the cleanup effort and were doing an outstanding job.

Yvonne by Millia Millia Falls

We did visit Millaa Millaa falls which is a much photographed cascade. During an afternoon downpour we also saw Mungalli Falls, and stopped for a bite at the nearby Cheesery. This was when we heard from other travelers about all the sites ahead that were closed.

Babinda Boulders
River boulders at Babinda Near the end of our road trip we were driving through the town of Babinda looking for the famous boulders. Following a county road we encountered signs saying the road was closed up ahead. We continued until we got to a roadblock and parked our car there. Undeterred by the yellow tape we continued on foot and after a short while discovered we were at the parking lot for the stream and boulders. Yvonne by an uprooted tree in the Boulders parking lot The parking lot had many downed trees that were partly cleared and also lots of mud. The crew was just finishing up for the day and were gone within minutes of our arrival. They did not tell us to stay away. Soooo, we found the path which they had just finished clearing and walked the length of it. We were able to view the impressive boulders and thought the area was indeed magical. We returned to Cairns in the evening and had a nice dinner before heading off to our next destination.

We flew into Adelaide Saturday afternoon and walked around the city until dinner time. We explored Rundle Mall and walked the shore of the Torrens River. As evening approaced we found oursleves thirsty and hungry and chanced upon a marvelous tapas bar called the Apothecary on Hindley Street. Here we enjoyed the food, drink, and people watching.

KI - Kangaroo Island
Honey bees at Clifford's Honey Farm The next morning we headed out early by bus traveling south to Fleuruie Peninsula. Once there we then took a short ferry ride over to Kangaroo Island, which is just off the mainland in the Southern Ocean. The first day of the island tour we made four stops. First was at Clifford's Honey Farm where we observed honey processing, and tasted various end products. The bees used by Clifford's we were told were a strain of Ligurian bees that are very docile.

Next we arrived at Parndana Wildlife Park which presented us with an exciting opportunity to see and interact with various indigenous animals and birds. There were koalas to pet, kangaroos to feed, and much more to photograph. This included emus, possum, Cape Barren Geese, eagles, and two of the nearly extinct cassowary birds (which we were told only 300 remain). During a previous trip to the Daintree (north of Cairns) I looked high and low for a Cassowary and now I know why I did not see any. Click here for more photos.

Seal Bay
Seal Bay was a delightful beach where we saw the second largest breeding colonies of the Australian Sealion. We walked out onto the beach in a group with a park ranger and were told to stay in a group. we quickly observed the reason for this rule as a neighboring group of visitors had a couple of seals head right for them veering off to miss the group. The seals were mostly aloof and not aggressive, but also unpredictable. The last stop before dinner was the entertaining feeding of the Pelicans in the town of Kingscote. This day's tour concluded with a viewing of the fairy penguins which come to shore to nest for the evening. These are very tiny Penguins, maybe 12-15 inches tall, which were hard to view in the dark. But at least we (the people) were not disturbing the penguins as much as we could have if there had been bright lights.

Eucalyptus Oil
The second and last day of our island tour began with a visit to the Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Oil Distillery. We learned all about how the oil is distilled and what it is good for, which is a wide range of things that you would not believe. Next we took an interpretted hike through Kelly Caves which are a dry cave formation.

Remarkable Rocks
Judi and Yvonne by the rock formations After lunch we went to view an attraction called the "Remarkable Rocks". These rocks were very large and very remarkable. Composed of granite they were a sharp contrast to the rock around them. Of course they provided multiple opportunities for photographs, and for climbing around.

Admirals Arch
Admirals Arch from viewing platform Another interesting formation was Admirals Arch which was spectacular. I was also really amused by the New Zealand Fur Seals that were romping around the rocks and jumping into the crashing ocean waves. The last stop on the tour was to a sheep dairy. Yes, they milk the sheep and the cheese we sampled was yummy!

By evening we were heading back to Adelaide for a very quick night's rest before starting the long flight back home to the states, during which I saw 4 movies. Australia is a beautiful rugged outdoor country and I look forward to returning there someday to continue my explorations.