The Backpacker Diaries
Cairns: night diving and a shark encounter
This week JOE's backpacker down under, Ciarán O'Connell, builds up his confidence in the water and comes face to face with a shark in the middle of the night.
How are you this week? Week fourteen already, and time for me to fly east from muggy, overcast Darwin over to the party town of Cairns in north Queensland, a place where the sun splits the rocks. Cairns is the first stop on my east coast trip, hopefully I can plan the trip here and maybe get in a dive or two on the Great Barrier Reef.
On arriving in Cairns, I booked into Gillian’s Hotel, a famous haunt in these parts. Gillian’s is like no hostel I’ve ever seen. It was purpose built seven years ago and is a huge 700 bed place that is part of a massive nightclub/bar/pool/restaurant complex.
It’s an unreal spot. I hated it as much as I loved it because on the one hand it’s a money-making factory, but on the other hand it draws a great crowd for a night out.
Back in Thailand I tried to get over my fear of deep water and completed a PADI diving course in order to be able to go scuba diving on the Barrier Reef. Despite completing the course, I wouldn’t say I’m 100 per cent confident in the water. But I’d heard that Cairns is a great location for diving, so I booked to spend two days, and the night in between, about a sail boat.
The whole experience was fecking unreal.
Early Monday morning I joined seven other enthusiasts – five girls and two lads – on board the Vagabond. We headed about 20km out into the sea, to the outer reef where the captain has his own dive locations.
Under the beaming Aussie sun, I suited up and dove into the sea. Wow. Words can’t describe the experience. Surrounded by the beautiful reef, I saw so many different things. Stingrays, turtles, blowfish just to name a few. Even a little clown fish just like in the movie Finding Nemo.
The highlight of the diving trip came on my second dive, during the night. It took some convincing to do this because of my fear of deep water, even more daunting in the dark.
When the sun went down, three of us did the dive. We descended into total darkness, the only light coming from our flashlights. I only hoped that nothing too dangerous popped into my view. The reef was a different picture at night, so many more fish out in the dark.
The light from our torches looked like light sabres cutting through the water as we scanned the surroundings. My initial nerves soon settled and the dive was amazing. After exploring the reef, we found a sandy spot to settle on and turned the torches off. What happened next was a sight to behold.
By waving our hands in a vertical motion, the energy caused the plankton to illuminate and follow your hands movement. I’d compare it to the tail of a comet in the night’s sky. It was unreal.
But that wasn’t it for the dive. As we reached the edge of the reef, what did we see next? A SHARK! Now, I’ll be honest, I was cool at first when I saw it, but what then happened put my heart in my mouth. The shark came charging right towards us… then disappeared out of sight in the blink of an eye. What a rush though.
I can honestly say that the diving trip is the absolute highlight of my 14 weeks so far. I can’t do justice to the experience, no matter how I try to describe it! To top it all off, when we returned to Cairns, I discovered that there was a jelly wrestling contest at our hostel that night. (You’re my boy Blue!)
In the hostel we heard about the horror of the floods that had been ravaging another part of Queensland. We watched the horror unfolding in the floods and we found out that the worst hit areas were only 18 hours away (Not too far away in Australian terms). From the idyllic spot where we were, it was hard to imagine the intensity of the tyrannical rain showers in Brisbane and the surrounding area and the destruction that a natural disaster can cause.
Although the worst hit areas where still an 18 hour drive from us, we had heard that all buses going to Brisbane had stopped, but we decided to make our way slowly south anyway and, hopefully, by the time we got there it would have passed.
So along with Charlie and Jody, who were two new travel buddies I’d hooked up with, I started to head south along Australia’s east coast not knowing how far we were going to get.
First port of call was Mission Beach where we stayed for two nights and got a day trip to Dunk Island in, on the island we got to go speed tubing where a speed boat tows you behind it on a tubing ring, we did some kayaking, some snorkelling, and witnessed a massive 2m big chub at the end of a pier.
The icing on the cake was when we met a Aussie family who were on vacation with their own speed boat and they were good enough to bring us for a spin in it!
We kept heading south, first to a place called Townsville and then out on to Magnetic Island. Both were extremely quiet due to the flooding. Out here we cycled and climbed to the highest point on the island where there are two intact World War Two lookout gun stations.
It was possible to imagine back to the people stationed up there, ready to be the first line of defence on the east coast against the Japanese heading towards them from across the Pacific.
Well I think that’s about it for this week and oh boy what a week. Next week I’ll keep heading south down the east coast with my two new buddies.
See you after kid.