Friday, 1 August 2014

Australia, Whitsundays (Bait reef - Airlie) - 29-07-14

We're all alone. All of our people have gone home and we're parked up outside Airlie Beach. We've decided not to be sad about losing all our friends or dwell on all the things we'll miss about having company (like the way Sam always gets sick of snorkeling first and then has hot milo waiting for us. Or how excited Sarah gets about everything. Or how wonderful Tom is for chefing us up a meal every single day. Or how helpful Garth's parents are with absolutely everything. Or the fact that now I actually have to do things instead of just passing out instructions). Instead we've decided to be excited about all the things we can do again now that we're alone. Like never having to wear clothes again. Ever. And not having to whisper when we wake up in the morning. And restoring our home to normal now that we have all the space back. But we're definitely going to miss having our friends and family around all the time. It was actually really amazing that they were all able to come out and visit us at all. Boat time works very differently to land time and 'sometime in the beginning of July' or 'when there's wind' aren't that helpful when you're trying to book flights.

Sarah and Tom

Our last few days with everyone were a lot of fun at least. Once the wind calmed down a bit we headed over to Bait Reef, which was just round the corner from Hook. We were worried about going in while there were strong winds which is why we waited, but the entrance was actually really easy. You could clearly see all the patches of coral (though Garth was up the mast to make sure) and as long as you keep the yellow marker on your starboard side it's a piece of cake. There's actually a really wide space to go through, unlike at Lady Musgrave which was really narrow and scary. Just don't try and cut in between the stepping stones that border the anchorage. Just don't. One of the gaps looks wide enough to squeeze through. I'm pretty sure it's not.

Bait Reef

Bait reef was awesome. We looked up where to go before we lost our Internet reception and this is all we could find. Which was pretty helpful. But irrelevant, because the whole place is really awesome so it doesn't matter where you go. We did try to hit up a few of the different areas that were listed though. We moored on the buoy straight in from the entrance (the most easterly mooring). In case that's helpful to anyone.

Sarah is really, really scared of sharks. The dive site I found said there were a few resident reef sharks in the area so she was really nervous. She spent the whole day before and that morning worrying about being eaten alive while Sam innocently hummed the Jaws music. We finally convinced her to get into the water so we could go exploring. She was back on the boat screaming about 15 seconds later... When she jumped in and looked down the first thing she saw was a big reef shark heading straight for her. Except reef sharks don't look like the cuddly, friendly fellows that they are. They look like sharks. With sharp teeth, a pointy nose and that distinctive fin that comes to mind whenever anybody yells 'Shark!' She grabbed the fish book (which has been super handy, thanks Mike!) and flipped through all the shark pages. It was definitely a white pointer. It was going to kill us all.

Garth went looking for it and confirmed that it was a reef shark, so we all got back in and held hands as we swam towards the reef. Another shark swam under us on the way over, but it was smaller and the distinctive tips to mark it as a reef shark were clearly visible so the frightened girl section of our group calmed down a bit (I'm not keen on the idea of hugging a shark either).

Just swimming around the boat was pretty epic on its own. There was a massive Maori Wrasse hanging around, at least 1m long. And he had lots of massive friends, including a few of the tuna looking guys who stole Sarah's flipper at Manta Ray Bay. They were huge! I don't know why huge fish are scary. They're just fish. They're not going to eat me. But we both know they could if they wanted...

Big Fish! These are the ones that look like tuna but probably aren't

The most amazing thing about this reef was definitely the coral formations. The coral itself was really corally, with an interesting variety of soft and hard. But it was the way it had grown that made this place so epic. The first place we went was straight out from the boat, further east. The whole place was made up of big walls with deep crevasses in between them. It was like a huge maze with little pathways everywhere! There were lots of outcrops to dive under and tunnels to swim through. Then we'd stumble upon a lagoon and you'd have to find the next pathway in the maze. So that was a really interesting snorkel. It was the first time I've wished I could dive - you could see the bottom the whole time but it would have been cool to have more time under water to explore the walls and crevasses.

Pathways through the coral

Looking towards the eastern side of Bait Reef

Later that afternoon and again the next day we explored the southern side of the reef. We took the dinghy all the way over to the buoy for the 'Manta Ray drop off,' and were immediately kicked off by a big tour boat. They were the only tourists we'd seen in ages though, and they were a long way away from our anchorage. The reef there was similar to the maze section on the eastern side, but this time we paid more attention to the tide and went in between high and low. So we had enough water under us to swim over the top of the coral... At low tide the reef is too close to the surface.

Swimming over this reef was actually a bit scary, if you're the kind of person who is easily frightened by unknown sea life. There were lots of deep caves and crevasses, with huge fish lurking in them. But aside from that the whole top of the reef was made up of twisty curvy coral, with tiny holes and caves everywhere. Fish were swimming in and out of them all over the place and you'd often just see a pair of eyes or a dark hole underneath you, unsure of what might pop out.

A blurry pic from the southern side near Manta Ray Drop Off

That area had heaps of sea anemones with clown fish hiding in them, which was pretty awesome. There weren't many nemo looking fish - each one was a different colour. But they were really cute!

The current out there was really strong and it was impossible to swim against it. We spent a lot of time and energy trying to go in the wrong direction as we looked for manta rays in the deep, but we eventually gave up. Garth ended up towing the dinghy behind him and we just let ourselves be pushed back over the reef towards the boat. We found two turtles on the southern end - one on top of the reef in shallow water and another swimming in between two walls. We saw one more pop up next to us as we were heading over there in the dinghy. Yay, turtles!

The southern end

As we were swimming along the edge of a shelf we found ourselves in amongst a massive school of tiny fish. They went as far as we could see and took at least five minutes to pass, so we were just engulfed by them. The water around us looked like it was full of glitter, all shimmery and shiny. Then as we were playing in amongst the fish a manta ray swam under us. We couldn't see it very well because of all the glitter, so we both dove down to investigate. It was only small but was moving fast. I thought it looked a bit bigger than a normal stingray, but Garth said it was quite far away and about 2m wide. So definitely a baby, but exciting nonetheless!

Glitter water from thousands of tiny fish

A very blurry, very far away manta ray

Garth discovered that when you dive down in a passageway you can hear whale cries echoing through the water - in some places the passages amplified the noise. Which was really amazing. So we spent ages diving down and floating up to listen to the whales singing and crying and just generally making noise. You could hear them near the surface as well, but the further down we went the longer you could listen for - you had to wait for the bubbles and other noises to stop in order to hear properly. I hadn't noticed the noises before that, but when I watched the gopro videos from the day before on the eastern side you could hear them really loudly as well.

The stepping stones were really interesting, and I guess what all the divers go out there to investigate. They're really different to most reefs and are exactly how you'd picture them - big long columns of various widths coming up from the ground. They're quite big (15 - 50m across, according to the dive site), and they're all covered in coral. Swimming over the top is just like swimming over a normal reef, except everything is quite flat and even. The sides have bigger coral on them, and are equally as interesting. So they were pretty cool and we explored all the southern ones really well.

Looking towards some of the Stepping Stones on the southern side of the reef

So that was Bait Reef. We would have liked to explore the stepping stones around the entrance and look at the other side of the reef on the southern end (there's a mooring buoy there so we could have gone over in the big boat) but we ran out of time. I'm so glad we had the opportunity to go over to that area at all - Hook and Bait reef are much further away from land and a lot less populated with tourists. Plus I got to swim with turtles, sharks and a manta ray all in the same day, so I'm pretty happy.

We went back to Airlie via a rocky anchorage on the east coast of Hook Island and then Cid harbour, but we only stopped there for lunch. Then everybody took off for their real lives, with work, Uni, families and bills to tend to. While we parked up in a nice bay and watched the sun set. It's a bit surreal remembering what life was like before the boat.

We did a lot of our provisioning for the South Pacific from Cannonvale, which is round the corner from Airlie. The anchorage there was just down the road from the supermarket, which is a lot closer than anywhere else we'll end up on the way down the coast. The only other convenient place to provision from is Yepoon because they have a complimentary car if you stay in the marina. But we can't afford any more marinas! So we're stocked up on food. We also got a heap of things we needed to start tackling our list of repairs, along with 10L of antifoul paint (We got 10L for almost the same price as 8L when it's on sale) The guy even had a nice dog and he said he could ship us more if we needed it. Just in case that's helpful to anyone - I prefer to buy stuff from nice guys with dogs than from big companies. His name was Sean). So we're ready to start thinking about leaving the country! We just have to explore the Whitsundays a bit more first...

An afternoon yacht race near Airlie Beach

Xxx Monique

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