Imagine the smallest town you can. A handful of houses, a beach, and a dive center… no restaurants, no shops, nothing. This is where we were headed very early in the morning: Alva Beach Not only did the town have nothing IN it… it was surrounded by nothing but sugar cane. On the way there I found a tinsy tick in my armpit so we arrived a bit late after our failed (and panicked) search for tweezers. Luckily the dive center had a first aid kit!
We met our instructor and headed out to the next town over to find a pool. Being the queen’s birthday, everything but Macca’s (or McDonald’s for those of us who aren’t Australian) was closed. After searching for a while, we found the highly chlorinated pool for our four hours of training. Training started out with a 200m swim and 10 mins of floating or treading water. Then we progressed on to learning dive skills. Our instructor’s wetsuit started out black but by the end of the lesson, it was light grey. Our hair had also turned to resemble and feel like golden straw. No amount of shampooing or conditioning seemed to help it. In fact, a week later my hair is still un-comb-able. When we arrived back at the dive lodge I promptly fell asleep near 20:00, despite the television and lights being on, and slept nearly 11 hours.
Our second day was in a city called Bowen at the top of the Whitsundays, a popular vacation destination for the Aussie’s. Our first dive was a shore dive (which is apparently a difficult thing to do). After swimming out a fair ways, and after being battered by the waves we slowly descended to a more peaceful world. After practicing our skills, we went on a short swim, in and around coral. Not many fish of note to see other than a spotted ray hiding under and outcropping. When we ascended I was unpleasantly greeted by a wave crashing over me. As I started to swim to the shore, I noticed I wasn’t making much progress in comparison to the guys, although I was drinking up most of the ocean with each breath I took. About half way to shore one of the instructors took pity on me, swam back, and towed me to shore. Keep in mind all the diving gear weighs about half my body weight so my legs tend to have difficulty supporting the gear without buckling a little (at least when standing up). So once I reached the shore I was faced with a dilemma – how to get out of the ocean? There was a small shelf where the sand had washed away so it was quite a large step up and I wasn’t sure my legs could handle it. As I thinking about what to do, in the meantime the waves didn’t stop and in came a big one. Well, at least my dilemma was no more as the wave tossed me onto the beach. I decided to wait for someone to come help me get up from the sinking sand, knowing that I probably was lacking the requisite strength. Wes was quite amused by my plight. After about an hour we went back for a second dive. It was less choppy by then, so this dive was a little more smooth. Nothing of interest to note – simply beautiful coral. We drove the rest of the day to Arlie Beach – a party beach scene. We played a little pool, had dinner with our instructors, and then headed to bed. They booked us a private room in a hostel so it was a bit noisy until later in the evening but I was able to fall asleep anyhow – diving is tiring. Not only does it make me fall asleep early but it also makes me crave eggs.
The next day we were off early to Hook Island in the Whitsundays. First, we made a stop at the Whitehaven Beach. The sand there is 99% silicon and was used in the lenses for Hubble. It costs more than its weight in gold and it is prohibited to take any from the beach. Years back a jeweler took some of the same for his jewelery but they caught him and charged him a mere 40k! The dive was not the best. Visibility was quite poor so there was absolutely nothing to see. At one point I had to start holding Wesley’s hand to make sure I wasn’t going to get lost. So even though the dive was no good, the good news was that we got our open water certification and our instructor thought we were good enough to dive the Yongala.
The S.S. Yongala was a shipping ship that sank in 1902 in a hurricane (or, as they call it here: a cyclone). Apparently the captain we renowned for sinking ships and this time they lost everyone on board. The ship is 40 meters down and is in between the great barrier reef and the shore. This means that it is an oasis for fish and coral. It is one of the best wreck dives in the world, not because the wreck is particularly interesting but because there is so much wildlife there and all of the wildlife is HUGE. In fact, penetration is prohibited and you will be arrested once you get back to shore if you decide to do it anyhow. This is because the Yongala is a maritime grave and because it is an old (unstable) wreck. However, this didn’t bother us because we were interested in seeing the wildlife. Unfortunately, conditions usually make this dive difficult, with strong currents sometimes causing you to use up half your air descending to the ship. Even before we got in the water we saw a giant sea turtle and a sea snake on the surface. I was so excited but at the same time my stomach was in a huge knot. When we rolled into the water we noticed there was no current, and no waves. It was a perfect day to dive the Yongala! Descending the mooring line I looked to my right and saw a huge school of huge barracuda. Going down a bit more I saw another school of some other group of large fish. It was incredible! We saw grouper bigger than Wesley, Moray Eels, meter long sea snakes, a sea turtle bigger than a tire, the tail end of a bull shark, clown fish, anemone, EVERYTHING. Wes saw the tail end of an eagle ray on our second dive. We were shown the toilets and engine room but we cared more about the GIANT fish. It was incredible. What an amazing dive. Our pictures from the dive are on a cd that we cannot read with the macbook air so they will have to wait till we get back to the states.