Saturday, 26 July 2014

Australia, Great Barrier Reef (Hook Reef on the Whitsundays) - 19-07-14

I am an idiot. Unfortunately there's no way to deny this, as I keep doing idiotic things. I've actually managed to seriously injure myself this time, which I guess isn't surprising to anybody who knows me well.

We're in the Whitsundays with Tom, Sarah and Sam. Which is awesome. On our first morning we went snorkeling at Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island, after enjoying ourselves immensely there the afternoon before. We went onto the beach after a long swim and I followed Sarah very carefully onto some low rocks covered in oysters. I guess the ending to this story is pretty obvious.

We hung out enjoying the view for a while, then we went to leave. "Be careful Tom," I said as he navigated the rocks in front of me. "They're really sharp and they'll cut your feet up.""I know, they're lethal," was his reply. Before he even finished his sentence I was sliding down over the razor sharp shells. The rocks weren't big, so I didn't have time to jump or move. I just slid down the side and landed on my feet in the shallow water, slicing my heels up deeply in seven places with numerous other smaller cuts all over my feet. On our first day in the Whitsundays.

I managed to swim back to the boat without attracting any sharks and Garth bandaged me up really well. They weren't quite deep enough to need stitches or a hospital, but I was completely bed ridden for 3 days while we waited for them to close up a bit. We couldn't get steri strips to stick to my heels so all we could do was put strapping tape over my feet to try and close up the cuts. I couldn't walk, run, climb, jump, explore or swim. Which is problematic because I like doing all of these things. If you take them all away I'm just left sitting on a boat incapable of moving and feeling very, very sorry for myself. Which wouldn't have been that bad if I wasn't in pain and I had Internet reception. But we were out of range and I didn't want to take pain killers - standing on the cuts opened them up more and meant they wouldn't heal as fast. So I wanted to know when I stood on them. 

Feet are a lot more important to my life than I had previously realized. And it's kind of impossible to move at all with sore feet - I can't balance in a moving boat and there's so many things to navigate around. If we hadn't had so many helpers it would have been really hard for the two of us to look after a yacht with me unable to move. We have to be more careful.

Before I ruined everything, we were having a lot of fun. The reef at Blue Pearl Bay was one of my favourites... Though I know I say that about all of them. We pulled up a mooring near the shore and jumped in. Straight off the boat we were surrounded by big fish - I have no idea what they were but they were awesome. It looked like they were chowing down on all the bits and pieces growing on the mooring lines, so they were just swimming around the boat. They were about 50cm long and a few cm wide, which made them scary and comical all at once. So it was pretty amazing being surrounded by giant friendly fish straight off the boat. We went snorkeling on the southern side of the reef the first day.

I later heard somebody call these 'Bat Fish'

The reef itself was interesting but not amazing. It was pretty and there was a lot of soft coral as well as the hard stuff, which was different. But I think the fish were definitely the highlight. They weren't scared and there were big schools of quite large fish absolutely everywhere. I thought the middle of the reef was the best, where there were poles marking a path to shore. The northern side of that path was just packed with fish. We found some parrot fish which were really cool, but there were so many different kinds of interesting things swimming around. I loved being surrounded by so many fish - they would come really close and envelop you. I'd go to swim through them and instead of scattering they just looked at me as if to say "what the hell are you doing?" Or I'd stay in one spot for a while and they'd all come up behind me so when I turned around there was a giant school of fish all huddled up next to me looking over my shoulder.

Unfortunately I don't have a dive case yet, so nothing underwater is in focus

We moored on the northern side the next day and I found a big turtle around 100m from the boat. He was so chilled out - I followed him for ages and he just didn't seem to care. So I dived down next to him and he just kept going about his business. I eventually lost him later on when he disappeared into the depths. I was swimming in some shallow water near the shore later that day, making a video with the go pro (sans diving case, so it's bad quality). I looked down and nearly had a heart attack - there was another turtle hanging out just underneath me about 1m away. He was smaller and much more skittish than the other one - he didn't stick around for long. I guess when you're a young turtle you're afraid everything will eat you.

Spot the blurry turtles

So that was Hayman Island. A large portion of it is taken up by a resort and our cruising guide says they are not welcoming of yachties, so we just steered clear of the rest of it. We headed to Langford Reef next, and everybody went snorkeling while I laid in bed for another day. They said it wasn't that great, but they didn't see all of it - we were moored right next to the island so that's where they went swimming. If we head back we'll try further away from the island, on the other side of the sand bank. At least I was allowed to watch the pretty sunset, although it took me a while to maneuver my way into the cockpit.

Garth tried kiting there and it was a good spot, but the wind died after he got the kite up and started moving. Which always happens. The wind hates us.

Hook island is the main island that all the little islands are scattered around in this section of the Whitsundays. So we'll be exploring more of it in the weeks to come. We spent a day at Pinnacle Rocks and Manta Ray Bay, which are on the northern side of it. I missed out again. Garth wrapped my feet up in plastic bags and took me out on the kayak though, which was fun. The rest of our crew loaded into the dinghy and we headed round the corner to a spot where you're actually allowed to fish. There were no fish there. Garth got to try out the spear gun though, and we found some cool caves to take the kayak into.

I missed out on Manta Ray Bay as well. I'm pretty sure we'll go back, because Garth had a lot of fun there. So this is a second hand story from everybody else's adventures.

They took the dinghy around the corner from where we were moored at Pinnacle Rocks and tied it up at Manta Ray Bay. There were no manta rays, but a lot of really huge fish chilling out and enjoying themselves in the no-fishing zone. A Maori Wrasse and something that may or may not have been a tuna were the ones they were paying the most attention to. Everyone was taking a break in the dinghy when Sarah decided to get back in for another swim. She jumped into the water and Tom handed over her flippers. To the tuna. The huge fish came up to the surface and grabbed it out of Toms hand, then swam off with it. Garth had to dive down and retrieve it from the cheeky little bugger, who eventually realized it didn't taste good and let go of it. So that was the excitement for the day, and I guess a lesson in what happens when people have been feeding giant scary fish from their boats - they steal your flippers.

Langford Reef

On the way back to Langford Island we had some more excitement as some whales passed us. First there was a few big whales with a baby quite close to our boat. They were just chilling out. Then there were dolphins. Then the dolphins were swimming WITH the whales. Then MORE WHALES started breaching right next to Hayman Island, throwing themselves in the air and making a big scene. It was spectacular. It was the closest we've seen them breach and it was truly amazing. For the past few days Garth had been saying he could hear whale noises while we were snorkeling and we were beginning to think he was crazy. I guess not.

We really want to see the outer reef. Which is hard. It's a two day passage and there's not much information available on it, so we don't know where to go or where to anchor or what not to crash into. Plus we don't dive - most of the good places are meant for divers, not crazy boat people with snorkels. So we decided to come out to the middle reef instead, which I think is still part of the Whitsundays.

We sailed over to Hook Reef, which was quite a rough trip in some crazy waves and strong wind. The wind was supposed to be strong in the morning and then die down in the afternoon, which was ideal for sailing then snorkeling. It never died down. We're essentially anchored in the middle of the ocean, with nothing around us to block the wind. So last night and tonight we're being knocked all over the place, which isn't great fun. It calmed down this morning long enough for us to go snorkeling though, which was amazing.

We couldn't find any information about snorkeling here, so didn't know where to go. We just headed straight over from our anchorage and jumped in. It's amazing! The water is crystal clear like the jelly water in Fiji - it's definitely the nicest water we've found in Australia so far. I nearly died heading over to the reef in the dinghy - it was just so beautiful. It was shallow enough on the edge of the reef for us to anchor in, which was convenient. There weren't many fish compared to Blue Pearl Bay, in that they weren't as concentrated. But there were lots of different types hanging around the coral.

Memorable discoveries were a clown fish, some rays and a heap of giant clams. Sarah found a few squids but I couldn't track them down again. The highlight of Hook Reef was definitely the coral though. It was beautiful. It looked exactly like you'd expect the Great Barrier Reef to look, with so many different colours sprinkled around through the shiny water. I really love it here - I can't believe not enough people come out here for there to be any information floating around on the net about it. There's pontoons at shark alley for divers, which is on the edge of this reef and another, but we've only seen one other boat in two days. Not that I'm complaining.

Aside from finally letting me swim again Garth allowed me to climb the mast, messed up feet and all. The view was just spectacular. I didn't want to come down! Sarah had a go after me... I really hope we find more places as beautiful as this.

Xxx Monique

Sarah thinks we're THIS big

Looking up at the cliffs at Langford Island

Garth really loves walking along the edges of things and causing mini avalanches. These bits of coral even made a pretty tinkling noise as they fell

Sam. Reading is serious business

Sarah refused to take off her togs the whole time. This trip was for swimming!

Langford Island

Sarah eyeing up a Bat fish at Blue Pearl Bay

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