On another short business trip to Australia, I managed to grab a weekend in Queensland, the sub-tropical north east of this huge country. Landing in Cairns, having passed over the Atherton Tablelands amidst rainforest on the way up from Sydney, the approach into the airport came in over the sea, and the patches of brilliant turquoise in the ocean in the distance revealed the presence of one of the mightiest spectacles on earth, the Great Barrier Reef, which stretches 2600km from Papua New Guinea in the north to Fraser Island in the south.
Stumpy out of his comfort zone!
The Great Barrier Reef comprises over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands and is located in the Coral Sea. It can be seen from outer space and is the world's biggest single structure made by living organisms known as coral polyps.
This was to be my objective, with a couple of dives planned for the following day.
Now, those of you who follow my blog know that my natural disposition is to clamber up mountains, so it was with some trepidation that I found myself 30 miles off Cairns, fully kitted up in all the paraphenalia of a diver, jumping into the swell of the sea around Flynn Reef the following morning. I had joined a trip with Tusa Dive, http://www.tusadive.com/ on their boat, the T5, and , in the very capable hands of Claire, my guide for the day, soon discovered the magic of the reef.
My first dive helped me understand the basics and, to my surprise, I was soon swimming independently, down to around 9m and observing this incredible environment. A grey reef shark, a couple of stingrays, red bass, and a host of smaller reef fish including the inimitable 'Nemo', the anemone or clown fish, sergeant major fish (damselfish) and the larger parrot fish.
We were diving the predominantly hard coral reef in the area of the Flynn Reef and the coral beds are truly amazing for their colour and diversity. A couple of turtles were spotted by the many snorkellers off the back of the boat too.
After a quick lunch, we repositioned to Thetford Reef, 15 minutes to the southeast, then diving again, to 9.1m, this time descending walls and swimming through amazing coral canyons, where soft corals like the fan coral were seen. Giant clams, butterfly fish, more damsels, and angelfish were all sighted.
A quick snorkel after the dive, challenging against the current in one direction completed the reef experience before the 90 minute transit back into Cairns.
'Wally', a Maori Wrasse
Sergeant Major Fish
Underwater pictures courtesy of Tusa Dive, Cairns