Mon 4 Sep 06 26 °C
Friday - (25th Aug)
Day 1 of diving course starts with something that makes me smile.
I wait outside the hostel to get picked up at 8:30. The bus arrives at 8:40ish, and then proceeds to drive round the corner (literally) to drop us of at the Pro-Dive school. Doh!
Our group seem like a nice bunch. They are, in no particular order -
Jonny (from Belfast)
Caroline (from London)
Tony (from London)
Nicholas (from Denmark)
Antonia (from Germany)
Melanie (from Germany)
Anna (from Sweden)
Paul (from Ireland)
Laura (from Ireland)
Everyone looks fitter than me. Oh dear.
Our instructor is a Kiwi, who used to play rugby before taking up diving. His name is Oscar, and he's a pretty big fella. I don't think anyone will be arguaing with him !
Our 'secondary' instructor is called Tanya. She's an Aussie, who seems to be a bit of a joker (in the nicest possible way).
Day 1 starts with lots of theory about air pressure at depth, how not to die if you run out of air, etc.
In the afternoon we have to learn some stuff about our equipment, and get wetsuits of the right size. I don't look too good in my wetsuit...
The other thing we have to do is swim 200 metres (something I haven't done for at least 20 years) and tread water for 10 minutes. I manage the 200 metres but fail miserably at the treading water (3 minutes is pretty bad).
After this, we learn how to set up our stuff (putting on all the hoses, inflating the buoyancy device, checking air pressure guages).
Finally we get to try it all on, and have a go at breathing with our heads underwater. This is actually OK.
Most of the rest of the afternoon is spent in the pool.
There are lots of boring lessons, like swapping your regulator (mouthpiece) underwater, etc.
Before I go home, I try the 10 minute treading water thing again, this time successfully. If I couldn't do it, I wouldn't have been allowed to dive, so I'm pretty relieved.
Nothing much doing in the evening, just went for fish and chips.
Saturday - (26th August)
Similar sort of day to Friday.
We get to dive down to 4 metres in the pool, and practice our other skills (buoyancy control, safety stuff, etc).
In the afternoon, we go back into theory mode, and take our written exam. It's seriously easy, and nearly everyone gets 98%.
It's quite a tiring day, and in the evening I just make some tea, read and pack for the next day.
Sunday - (27th August)
Exciting day, today, as we get to go out on the reef to finish our certification.
We all meet at 6:15am, sort out our equipment, and head off to the boat. There are about 30 passengers.
Some are doing more advanced diving certifications, some are just doing recreational dives, and some just snorkelling. It's mainly Europeans (Germans,Swiss,English and Irish), but there are a couple of others.
I'm sharing a cabin with Jonny, who is my diving 'buddy' (you always dive with a buddy, for safety reasons).
It's a 3 hour trip out to the reef, so we all settle down for breakfast and a good chat.
Toni (Antonia) is very funny, although slightly manic ! I don't think she puts her brain in gear half the time - she's bound to be the butt of most of our jokes ...
I'm pretty nervous about my first 'real' dive, in the sea. I'm not the only one though, as a few of the others are just as worried. How come this makes me nervous, but jumping out of a plane doesn't ? Answers on a postcard please...
My nerves are misplaced, as our first dive is really cool. There are no skills to practice, so we just swim around looking at the reef for 35 mins, or so.
There are loads of fish, but I'm pretty busy getting used to the feeling and don't really notice as much as I should !
Afterwards we just relax on the boat, and I have a really nice chat with Tanya, who's typically aussie (i.e. likes taking the p*ss)...
In the afternoon we have another dive where we go through our skills for real. That's not so much fun, but everyone manages OK. It's pretty nasty when you have to fill your mask with seawater, and blow it out, as it all gets in your nose.
I can promise you that spending 30 minutes with salty nostrils is no party !!
In the evening we all chill out with a few beers, play cards, etc.
Monday - (28th August)
Sleeping on a boat is pretty cool. The motion sends you off very quickly.
Waking up on a boat is not so cool, especially at 6am.
We have 2 more technical dives to do today. After that, I will be a certified diver, woo hoo !
Our first dive takes us down to 18m, and we see some turtles and loads of fish.
After a decent brekky (bacon and eggs), we go for our second dive of the day.
All the most complicated skills are tested in this dive, but no-one has any real problems.
By the time we're back on the boat we are fully qualified !
I'm now considered safe and sensible enough to dive on my own. Mmmmm.
In the afternoon we're let off the leash (as it were). Me and Jonny get to go off and go and do our free dive, with no guide. We saw quite a lot of stuff, but Jonny runs low on air after only 25 minutes, and we have to go back to the boat.
I took an underwater camera with me, but all the pictures were rubbish. I don't have enough control, yet, to get close enough to the fish.
In the evening, we split the group up. Some people are going to do the next level of certiciation. I decide not to do it (so I can do some free dives, instead of 2 more technical ones).
The advanced guys do a technical night dive, while the rest of us do a guided night dive. Some people saw lots of stuff, but I didn't see anything (I was at the back of a line of 15 divers...).
Tuesday - (29th August)
Really early start this morning (5:30am) for my first free dive of the day.
This time I'm paired up with Toni, who is definitely as mad as a hatter. Hope she's sensible under the water.
We actually have a really good dive, and see some Turtles up close, and a big giant clam, as well as areas of reef teeming with really colourful fish.
I'm also getting the hang of my buoyancy control, so I can get much closer to stuff safely.
When we come up, we're both pretty chuffed (although I don't think Toni knows that word) about it.
The advanced guys are all jealous. They dived down to 30m to fulfil their 'deep dive' skill, but didn't see much.
Later in the morning, I pair back up with Jonny to help him with his underwater photography diving. The photo instructor (Arek) gives us an early briefing, so that we can get into the water before enyone else (so we can get clear water for pictures).
We go more slowly for photography, and see some smaller fish close up, including a Puffer Fish, and a big Bump Head Parrot fish.
In the afternoon, we go back to shore, after agreeing to meet later for drinks.
Get pretty p*ssed in the evening, and have a real good laugh with Tanya. Discover we have a shared love of Long Island Iced Tea !
Get to bed at about 2am - I think.
Wednesday - (30th August)
Today I'm starting my tour to Brisbane.
The bus picks me up at 8am.
There are only 7 of us on the bus (plus a guide) -
Sabina (my Swiss friend)
Karen (Sabina's friend, who's come out to meet her)
Jeff + Dave (2 guys from Chicago)
Amber (a girl from London)
Hiro (a guy from Japan, who's much older than even me)
Jeff,Dave, Karen and Sabina have been on the same diving trip for the last few days, and all seem to get along as a nice foursome.
Fortunately, Amber is pretty chatty, and I spend most of the morning talking to her.
We start our drive South, to Brisbane, by going North, into the Atherton table lands.
Our first port of call is a lake in an old crater. It's not really that interesting, but there are some little turtles in there. The distinguishing feature of these turtles is that they can breathe through their ass, when they need to. I still haven't thought of a scenario when I'd consider breathing though mine...
Afterwards, we stop off at Milla Milla falls. They're pretty small, but very pretty. Apparently they've been used in various videos, and adverts (think Timotae).
In the afternoon we go to a Croc farm, to see feeding time. One of these beasts is about 5m long, and seriously huge.
When you seem them go for their food, you realise how fast they can move - pretty scary.
At night, we stay in Mission Beach (where my skydiving took place).
We all go for a meal and a few beers in the local bar/restaurant. This soon turns into a 'scavenger hunt' game, with free beer going to the winning team.
We win, by getting our girls to pole dance, showing a 'mangina' (I'm not explaining if you don't understand), and so on. Fortunately there are no pictures of these activites.
Thursday - (31st August)
Nothing much to report this morning. We're just travelling through sugar cane fields, and tropical rainforests.
In the afternoon we arrive at Townsville, to catch the ferry to Magnetic Island.
It only takes about 30 minutes before we get there.
We stay at a really nice hostel called Base.
In the afternoon, we go kayaking on the sea, and hang out on the beach.
In the evening we move to the bar, and catch a great sunset. Jeff and Dave made the group a big vat of pasta, which was a pretty good thing to eat overlooking the sea.