This morning started with uncertainty. The voucher from Pleasant Holidays for my reef tour said that pickups would be between 7 am and 7:30 am, but the person I spoke to when confirming the reservation said 8:05 am. I decided to trust that person (and that I hadn't mis-heard them), and so I was waiting in the (magnificent) lobby at 7:55.
I didn't look at my watch, but I think the bus was late. I've got no idea why it would have been, since there were only four or so people on the bus when I got on. We proceeded to drive all over Cairns, picking up more and more people, and I was wondering just what the plan was. I thought that we would be taking a boat from Cairns, but it soon became clear that that wasn't going to happen. Somewhere near the end of the hotel pickups in Cairrns, I noticed a pamphlet in the seat pocket and I looked at it to find that we were apparently going to drive to Port Douglas. I can only figure that because it is winter here, they cut things back a little.
So, we ended up driving to Port Douglas, a trip of about 90 minutes or so, via Palm Cove, one of the beach communities along the way with a lot of hotels and resorts where we picked up a bunch more people. The pamphlet had said we needed to be boarding the ship for a 9:45 departure, so when we were just turning off of the highway to go toward Port Douglas at 9:45, I was again worried. But the driver was in contact with the docks and wasn't worried, so I stopped.
We arrived in due time and then got aboard our respective boats (there were three). A couple of minutes later (10? 15?) we pulled away from the dock. The Quicksilver VIII pulled away from the dock sideways, while we just backed out of our slip. As both ships made their way out to open sea, we had a safety demonstration and then some announcements about the things that would be available as extra things to do once we got to the pontoon platform.
I wandered around the boat for a bit taking pictures, and then went down to the main deck to sign up for some extras. I was going to do the bottom-walk (basically a helmet goes on the head with oxygen pumped into it), but I ended up signing up for the beginners scuba diving! I paid my fee, sat through the briefing, and got my dive time (12:50). I also got my ticket for my lycra suit (there was a chance of some jellyfish in the area).
We got to the pontoon platform at about 11:50 am (we must have left late - it was supposed to be a 90 minute trip), and I went and got my suit, then changed into my swim trunks. I got my swim fins, and then put on my lycra suit (which was a bit of a struggle, but it fit). I next got my mask and, after a bit of a hunt, my snorkle, and I went into the water beside the pontoon. Let me tell you, it was amazing! The reef was right there, all the fish and the coral and everything. Snorkling isn't completely automatic or easy (for me at least) - it takes a little practice, or maybe just getting used to - but it was worth it.
There were several activites available on the platform. There was a "semi-submersable", a boat with a chamber that was under water. There were also reef-viewing chambers on the platform. There was a helicopter ride available, but I missed the sign-up while getting my diving briefing. There were guided snorkle tours, as well as the diving and the bottom-walk. All I really had time for was two snorkle-swims, one before and one after my beginner dive, but I don't feel like I missed out on anything really (I saw the reef and fish close up anyway).
The tour served a buffet lunch, but because of the short time out there (from just before noon to right around 3pm), people doing the second and third dives (I was the second dive) needed to get a plate and have it set aside (since we really shouldn't have eaten before diving). I did that just before my dive time - it was nice food, and would have been better if I could have eaten it fresh and maybe gone back for more of the really good stuff.
The dive was really interesting. I got into a wet suit (not a full one, just knees to elbows), then got a weight harness, and finally my tank (which was really heavy). Our dive leader, Colin, took the three of us down to the first platform to put on our fins and do some tests. It took me a while to get used to breathing with the regulator, and I was worried about being able to keep it up, but I did finally calm down and get used to it. We then got all the way into the water, and started descending, blowing into our ears to equalize the pressure there. We didn't go down all that far (15 feet? 20, maybe?), but it was far enough for a first time. We swam around and looked at the fish and the coral. We stopped in a few places and took closer looks (without actually touching anything). I had purchased an underwater camera, and took about 12 pictures down there. There was also a videographer down with us, who took movies of us. The video will be padded with stock footage and have music dubbed over it, and I'll get mine delivered to the hotel tomorrow (in DVD form). After some amount of time, we were led back to the platform and went up slowly, and finally we were back on the surface.
I got out of my dive stuff and then went back into the swimming area with the camera to finish out the roll. Then I got out of my lycra suit (a bit of a struggle), then waited for a changing room to open up. I didn't have a towel (I thought they would have been provided), but I did have a second t-shirt, so I used that to dry off before getting dressed again. That was about the time that the boat was getting ready to leave, so I found a seat, got my food, and ate lunch.
The trip back was pretty quick - we arrived back in Port Douglas at about 4:30. On the way, I previewed my video and bought a copy, wandered around getting some pictures, bought a t-shirt that said "I dived the Great Barrier Reef", and passed the time looking at the passing water. There was time, once docked, to walk around the shops in the Mirage Marina, but not really enough time to buy anything. I got back on my coach, and we were back in Cairns by just a little after 6pm.
I returned to my room to drop off my stuff before going out for dinner, and found a message waiting. I called the tour operator for tomorrow's tour, and found that I was the only one who was signed up for that tour, and they needed at least 2 to run it. Fortunately, I was able to switch the tour to Monday (my formerly free day), and everything was fine. I now have tomorrow free to shop (hopefully for some books), wander around, do my laundry (no need to figure out how to get that one in tonight any longer), and, most of all, be back in the room well in time for Doctor Who!
I went out to the Fiesta Cantina and had a very nice Mexican dinner, then returned to my room for the normal end-of-day routine. So I'll close this down with the observation that Burger King exists in Australia as Hungry Jack. And Subway is doing their "hot sub" promotion here, even though there isn't any Quizno's for competition. It must be a franchise thing.
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