Monday, 3 February 2014

Octopus Love near Cairns: Diving the Great Barrier Reef

I moved into the very cute, relaxed, and friendly Northern Greenhouse Hostel in Cairns and booked some tours.  I was able to book a day trip to see Cape Tribulation, the Daintree River, Mossman Gorge, and a wildlife park and was happily surprised to find out that I would still be able to do a three-day, 2-night liveaboard diving trip with ProDive to the Great Barrier Reef despite Cyclone Dylan which made landfall near Townsville, just south of Cairns.

Northern Greenhouse Hostel - very nice and a good deal at $25/night for a dorm bed in a 6-bed female dorm.

The Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas was an unexpected highlight of the day trip from Cairns with The Adventure Company.  As much as I love animals, I try to avoid zoos whenever possible.  I really enjoyed getting up close and personal with the critters at the Wildlife Habitat.  I was able to feed little Northern Nailtail Wallabies, Parma Wallabies, and Eastern Grey Kangaroos as well as ducks, ibis, and other small birds as well as see Cassowaries, Koalas, and all manner of birds and parrots.  The wallabies and kangaroos were adorable and happily ate out of my hand, even scrabbling at my legs for more when I went to leave.  One of the kangaroos was like a dog and enjoyed a neck scratch by leaning into my scratch and tilting her head back.  One of the bigger male Kangaroos was a little alarming when he greedily grabbed my hand with his big claws (gentle but a little startling) and pigged out on the kangaroo food I had left.
Cassowary - truly prehistoric looking!
extremely adorable Spotted Quoll
Strange-looking Tawny Frogmouth
Supercute Northern Nailtail Wallaby... how could you deny this cutie when he's begging for food? 
These little Northern Nailtail Wallaby got somewhat persistent for the kangaroo kibble.  This one was trying to climb me! 
Northern Nailtail Wallaby
The alarmed look on my face is because this big male Eastern Grey Kangaroo had big claws that he wrapped around my hand.  I wasn't sure he would let me go when the food was gone!
My favorite Grey Kangaroo.  This sweet girl loved a neck scratch

After enjoying the Wildlife Habitat, we headed to Daintree to a short walk in Mossman Gorge to see a swimming hole and some waterfalls.  This was followed by a nice lunch near the beach at Cape Tribulation followed by a walk along the beach before moving on to do a short cruise up the Daintree River in search of crocodiles.  We saw only one crocodile, and it was just a little baby only around 2' long sleeping on a log.

Mossman Gorge
Cape Tribulation

Another Cassowary Crossing sign

Daintree River

The size of crocodile I hoped to see...
The teeny crocodile I actually saw 

Viewpoint looking south near Port Douglas

The next morning was very exciting when I woke up to see sunlight streaming through the dorm window.  I quickly looked at my watch to check the time at which point I realized that it was 6:20am, the exact time I was supposed to be at ProDive to check in to head out for the liveaboard diving trip!!!  OH NO!  I panicked.  I scrambled to grab my bags, my bedding (had to be returned) and ran 3 doors down to the dive shop hoping I hadn't missed my chance to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef.  Phew, I made it and they didn't mind if I took another few minutes to get my dive gear and board the van.  Within 10 minutes of waking up I was on my way to the boat.  LUCKY!

On board the boat we had a safety briefing and information about the boat, schedule, dives, and meals, we were assigned berths (rooms to sleep in) and told where to move our luggage.  I shared a room with a sweet girl named Sunniva who graciously let me have the bottom bunk (I was afraid of falling out of bed in the rocking boat!).  We did 3 dives the first day, 4 the second, and 3 on the last day of the trip.  I got a great dive buddy, Mikkel, who was a great, calm, relaxed diver who is great on air, good at navigation, and who seemed to be interested in the same sorts of things that I am so we were a compatible dive team.  Highlights for me were the night dive on the first night where a group of about 5 big Red Snapper followed us for the duration of the dive using our torchlight to hunt.  We were able to spotlight a few small fish for the Snappers and then watch them hunt and eat the small fish - so much fun!  The second night dive we did was also incredible.  The lights from the boat drew in a lot of Giant Trevally and some good sized Grey Reef Sharks which we could observe swimming around us by the lights of the boat at our safety stop.  The last dive was the best octopus encounter I have ever had.  Mikkel spotted an octopus and pointed it out to me.  We watched for a few minutes before I realized that there was a smaller octopus nearby.  We just stuck around and watched the two octopus for about 20 minutes and they weren't shy, crawling around, changing color and shape, swimming, and otherwise being awesome!  Nice way to cap my visit to the Great Barrier Reef.
Prodive Boat
Many Spotted Sweetlips near a huge mushroom coral
Giant Clams
Mikkel, my buddy for scale.  These clams were huge!

The coral was very healthy and colorful
Viewing up to the ladder at a safety stop
White tip reef shark with Mikkel for scale
Lovely green turtle with Mikkel for scale again
Spotted Lagoon Ray

The thread of marine stingers was still present so all divers were issued stinger suits which I still think are hilarious.

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