Saturday, 27 June 2015

Welcome to Australia - Cairns

Almost 24 hours, copious time zones, one day of my life lost in the clouds somewhere and a complete culture change later, I arrived in Cairns, Australia to begin my month long journey down the East coast to Sydney. Cairns is a destination where travellers tend to begin or end their trip lending to a transient atmosphere with a constant flow of people coming through the city. 
After a day trying to shake off the jet lag it was time to get the ball rolling with my first activity... Skydiving! It is possible to skydive all over Australia but I chose the beautiful Mission Beach as my location, a decision concreted by the fact that it is possible to see the Great Barrier Reef from the plane too. After lots of nervous waiting around at the dropzone, it was time to get harnessed up and make our way to the aerodrome where a tiny propeller aeroplane was ready to take us all the way to 14,000ft. Once we had broken through the cloud cover we were rewarded with extraordinary views over the glimmering cobalt blue sea dotted with beach-lined islands. 
The heart-stopping moment came when the shutter opened exposing us the the rush of wind and roar of the propellers as you're face to face with an entirely unnatural experience of throwing yourself out of a plane. Thankfully my divemaster gave me no time to dwell as we shuffled down the plane, perched on the edge and tucked our legs under the aircraft door and tumbled out into a euphoric state of nothingness for 60 seconds as we fell 10,000ft. Once the parachute had deployed and it was possible to get a very small hold of your bearings, the adrenaline kicks in and flows through every vein in your body as your marvel at the wonder of the beautiful nature laying below you so majestic in its glory. 
All too soon the landing is becoming a reality so after some stomach-churning swoops in the air to control the descent, the beach was upon us. The landing is dangerous in itself if done properly so somewhere in my boggled mind I had to remind myself of the safety instructions and thankfully we made a clean landing onto brilliant yellow sand. The feeling of absolute ecstasy when you realise what you've just accomplished can never be matched and I definitely felt a sense of achievement and pride for being brave enough to complete it! 
Absolutely without a doubt the best thing I have ever done in my life. I hope to do a second (third, fourth...) but I know that nothing can be quite as special as my first skydive.
After an exhilarating first day, the second day had a lot to match up to. Luckily I had chosen to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef so I was quite confident that it would be another great day. 
The boat that would take us on the trip was an impressive 30ft catamaran which swiftly took us the two hour journey to our destination on the world's largest coral reef system. As I had never scuba dived before, I had to take part in a safety briefing detailing everything from the basics of breathing with a respirator and mask to the hand signals needed for life underwater. Our intended 
depth was 10m below the surface so it was imperative to learn how to 'equalize' or in other words learn how to 'pop' our ears on a regular basis to accommodate for the changing pressure the lower we got. Once kitted out in wetsuit, weight belt, oxygen tank, respirator, breathing apparatus and tools, mask and flippers we were struggling to stand beneath the weight and walk in the flippers but were reassured those troubles would disappear once in the water. The weight belt is used to keep us from surfacing so upon first entering the water we dropped to one meter below to become accustomed to breathing through a respirator and to adjust the weight balance. Before us the reef loomed like a big black mass which was a little daunting for someone who is not so keen on the open water! However as we slowly descended into the underwater world the reef suddenly became sharp and clear infront of us and for a second, my breath was taken away (not such a good thing 10m below the surface!). The Great Barrier Reef is absolutely magnificent; the further we went the higher it rose around us until we were completely surrounded by a living breathing natural wonder. Everywhere you turn, fish are eating, scavenging, idling, fleeing, playing, cleaning... you name it, they're doing it! I have never seen or known such a variety of life in one place. The fish alone are abundant in species in colours from every palette and then there's the reef itself. The hard coral sits rigidly whilst the soft colour wafts in the waves all around it, in a spaghetti-esque fashion. In amongst the coral are clam shells that were bigger than me, some with fluorescent colouring on the crusty waved edges. And then to top off the already superb experience, a Loggerhead turtle floated serenely past me in a particularly nonchalant fashion. This absolutely was the highlight for me to see this magnificent, special, important creature in its natural habitat, just as it should be. 
I couldn't believe how incredibly lucky I had been to witness all that I had. Climate change is perhaps the biggest threat to the reef amongst other potentially harmful influences, sadly most created by man. Whilst it is not too late to make a change, awareness is definitely key so people know just how important this wonder of the world is.