I love the idea of going diving with dolphins. The most intelligent animal aside from humans, apparently, and they are friendly to boot. Also, having grown up with Jim’ll Fix It this was obviously the wish they would grant when they were running out of sensible requests. (The fact that this is the kind of thing I was thinking as an eight-year-old probably explained why I never got invited to any birthday parties).
Yes, diving with dolphins conjures up a thoroughly positive experience.
Whale sharks, on the other hand, don’t fill me with such glee. The presence of “shark” in their name sort of puts me off. But the locals all say that they are the gentle giants of the sea (usually followed by “you stupid pommy”). Then why are they not called whale pandas in that case?
So the trip to Ningaloo Marine Park near the Exmouth Gulf in north Western Australia did not seem much fun to me. I’m told that, statistically, you have more chance of surviving than dying on these trips but that does not make me feel much better.
But the chances are, that going in April I am less likely to see one. Right? Obviously not. My Aussie host tells me that Ningaloo is the only place in the world where whale sharks return year after year. Furthermore, it is the biggest fish in the world. Even if they do live on plankton then, at a weight of 21 tons, surely they would not say no to a well-built (ok, slightly plump) Englishman to supplement their meals?
But, as an intrepid reporter, these are the kind of things I must do. Some see it as an experience of a lifetime, seeing a harmless natural wonder in the wild. I see it as taking my life into my own hands. My guides, spotting the look of fear on my face, are sniggering at me. This is not like diving in the relative safety of the Red Sea.
As I plunge in, any concerns I have washed away. The thought of seeing these gentle giants is actually exciting me and now I am desperate to see one.
The guides have already explained to me that they are an endangered species and we are only allowed within four meters of the creatures – well, my bravery has not quite taken over to the extent that I would want to go nearer.
It says something that the stingrays, turtles, clownfish and dolphins – all of which are easily visible and not in short supply – feel like the warm-up to the main event.
And, after a surprisingly short time, we spot one – it isn’t too near and is swimming away, but it is unmistakable. It looks the size of three lorries and I can just about make out the huge mouth that probably wouldn’t notice a 13 stone fully grown man pass through it. It is awe-inspiring and I am stunned.
Even if I die, I know that being killed by one of these creatures is quite a cool way to go anyway.
And a Couple Go Scuba Diving as well!!
Pete and I had previously done an introductory scuba dive in Seychelles just to see what we thought of scuba diving and we loved it. Now our plan was to get our PADI diver certification while doing a cruise on the Great Barrier Reef.
Our course commenced at the Cairns PADI diver training center where we had 2 days of pool and theory training with a fantastic instructor called Phillip and 8 other students. At the end of the 2 days, we had to do an exam on what we had learned before progressing to our open water dives.
The remainder of our trip was spent aboard the Scuba Pro – a liveaboard dive boat. We went to different reefs way out on Australia’s continental shelf out from Cairns. We would spend the next 3 days and 2 nights onboard along with the other members of our dive course class and 20 other certified divers. The boat itself could host up to 32 individuals on board.
We had a private double room with an en suite. All the cabins are either double or twin share with ensuite. There was also a large comfortable lounge/dining area and sun deck. The back of the boat was set up very professionally for scuba diving with lots of near-new diving equipment, wetsuits and a tank filling facility. The boat was quite magnificent and almost like new.
We woke early each morning to prepare for a 6:00 AM dive. The reefs are absolutely amazing at this time of the morning – they really did look like that first scene out of Finding Nemo when Marlin was taking Nemo to school. The colours in the coral were breathtaking and there were hundreds of different varieties of fish everywhere. Sharks and rays still sleeping on the bottom of the ocean, and stunning coral that changed colour with the sunrise. Our dives were sometimes up to almost 90 feet deep and depending on how deep we went (and how long Pete’s air would last) were sometimes as long as 60 minutes each!
By the end of the trip, we had completed 11 dives and 3 snorkeling trips, all at different times of the day – including the night dive (which was awesome). We always buddied up together on our dives and occasionally we were joined by other divers. In fact, after we had qualified as PADI Open Water Divers we even got to do the rest of the dives entirely on our own!
It’s impossible to list all the animals seen over the few days of diving because there were so many everywhere (and many we still don’t know the names of). The sea turtles were really special and it was cool that they were close enough for us to pet them on the backs of their shell which didn’t bother them a bit. All the “Nemos” were quite cute, along with butterflyfish, angelfish, parrotfish, flute fish, crabs, and starfish. We both enjoyed seeing all the barracuda, stingrays, and reef sharks – these were the obvious predators in the water but none of them posed any danger during our dives.
Our time in Australia is officially over now as we leave for New Zealand in a few short hours. We have absolutely adored this beautiful country with good food, nice people and fantastic experiences that we have had.
Definitely on our list for a return trip in the future to dive the Coral Sea which some of our friends have told us is the ultimate dive liveaboard to do.