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A night on the reef (and meeting a hammerhead!) with Coral Sea Dreaming

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You know when you walk in a room and forget why you got there? I think I do that with blogging, opening up fresh new posts and then scratching my head wondering what I was supposed to be talking about.

At least that’s the only reason I can think of to justify why I still haven’t talked Coral Sea Dreaming (CSD), one of my favourite ever reef trips and not just because I came face to face with a hammerhead shark and lived to tell the tale…

 

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It was the first time I’d been diving since my equipment-malfunction-could-have-been-much-worse faux out of air situation the month before and, yes, I was apprehensive. My previous nights stay on the reef had been with Rum Runner (RR), the cheapest live aboard in Cairns at only $360 for 2 days and 6 dives, and I really saw that you got what you pay for. Not only because the cost cutting on equipment was probably why my tank jammed!

On paper the two trips look similar: both small sailboats with similar amounts of people (CSD has 12 to RRs 16) and 3 crew heading out to the reef for two days and one night. But as I discovered my two outings couldn’t have been more different.

 

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People often underestimate just how big the reef is and how many spots you can visit, even just from Cairns. That’s why despite having nearly 50 dives on the GBR under my belt there was one reef that I’d yet had the pleasure to visit. A reef so beautiful and teeming with life that even the most experienced divers get a thrill when the course was plotted for a visit…Milln reef. And guess what? That’s where we were headed.

The trip out took around four hours which gave us ample time to settle in to our bunks and relax. After chatting to my fellow guests for a while I found a spot on the deck and lay down for a much needed sunbathe/nap. There’s nothing quite like feeling the sun on your face and wind in your hair, knowing that you’ll spend most of the next 18 hours underwater on a reef you’ve been desperate to dive. In short, I was happier than a kitten under a leaky cow.

 

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The diving itself was breathtaking and still ranks among some of the best I’ve ever done. I experience severe diving FOMO, always convinced that if I miss a dive I’ll miss something amazing and I was surprised that not everyone wanted to take advantage of every opportunity to get wet. It meant that on more than one of the seven available opportunities to strap on a tank I found myself in really small groups. As every diver knows more is most definitely not merrier so I was quite happy to leave a few buddies back onboard, lovely as my new friends were!

Anyone who’s spent a day out on the reef knows one of the most common side effects: all encompassing, raging hunger. Thankfully all the food (prepared fresh onboard by the lovely hostie Libby, diver extraordinaire and also trained chef) was ridiculously good and I definitely managed to eat more calories than I consumed.

It was a shame that alcohol wasn’t sold on board because I really missed by post-dive beer but you can bring along your own if you wish, although I didn’t realise and turned up empty handed!

 

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That does make me sound a little bit like alcoholic, doesn’t it? But beer tastes seriously good after diving, mmm.

 

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Thanks to the location of Milln Reef I was told you are almost always guaranteed excellent visibility, which was something of an understatement! The first dive on our second morning was astounding. A site called the Pinnacles has huge…you guessed it…pinnacles of coral rising from the seabed at 25+ metres right to the surface. Swimming towards them we could clearly see them from top to bottom, along with the resident grey reef shark cruising along between them.

 

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We explored one bommie that was absolutely covered in turtles, about 4 by my estimation, the most I’d ever seen in one spot. The coral itself was pristine and healthy, a far cry from some of the examples you sadly see when on cheaper day trips from Cairns. CSD had just spent $20,000 on new moorings and it showed, this is where the price difference starts to show and it backed up my long held assertion that you get what you pay for on reef trips.

 

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A highlight of the trip? My twilight dive which everyone else decided to miss. Libby joined me and the two of us had a nice, if not out of the ordinary, dive along a coral wall. While snapping some pictures of a bommie I heard Libby squeak through her regulator and proceed to start having a fit. Well, that’s what it look like anyway! She was waving her arms wildly which I soon realised was supposed to indicate “REALLY BLOODY BIG SHARK OVER THERE” In her excitement her brain had somehow removed the memory of how to signal hammerhead shark.

 

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Yes, that’s right. HAMMERHEAD. Only my favourite bloody shark, and way way waaaaaay at the top of my list of creatures I wanted to encounter. When doing my open water in Egypt I’d sat out an afternoon dive after getting a nasty reverse block in the morning and was horrified when the group surfaced chanting the Jaws theme and signalling a hammerhead sighting. I’m pretty sure that’s what led to my diving FOMO – I’ll never sit out a dive again!

 

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Thankfully the balance was now restored and I could be the one smugly returning to the boat with tales of monster sharks swimming metres away.

I did take a picture but the declining light and fact that it took me a good few seconds to slow my heart rate and fumble for the ‘on’ switch meant that it’s not exactly the best. i meant you can tell there’s something big there, but it’s not immediately recognisable as a hammerhead. But, guys, trust me on this. It was, and it was a dive I will never forget.

 

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The next morning I watched the sun rise over the great barrier reef and reflected that even if we were headed right home rather than having  more hours of play time, I would be happy. And that sunrise? Well, I proved that clouds don’t always ruin things and also that I had no idea how to use my new camera. Most of my snaps were blurrrrrrrry!

 

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But of course I did have more dives to do, dives that took me to places that took my breath away. And I snorkelled too, properly. Not duck diving (we went a bit deep and I didn’t want to bend myself) but pure, on the surface floaty loveliness. I saw an eagle ray, insanely huge schools of fish and a turtle. Unfortunately by this point my rental camera had fogged (grr) so I have no photographic evidence but, trust me on this, non divers would not be bored on this trip. Not one bit. It’s still some of the best snorkelling I’ve done out of Cairns.

 

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When I hit the surface for the final time my heart sank, the thought of leaving that beautiful underwater world for the time being. My two days out with CSD had been flawless. All my dives had been conducted safely, the equipment was excellent and the reef sites pristine.

 

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In short, I loved this trip because after a pretty nasty incident that shook my trust in my equipment I remembered exactly why I love to dive.

Can you see why I’m baffled by my inability to blog about this yet? Slap on the blogger wrist for Cheskie…

 

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So thank you Coral Sea Dreaming and all of my new fishy, shark friends! I went home with a huge smile on my face.

 

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