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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

Australia: Great Barrier Reef

Humpback whales off Cairns
Humpback whales off Cairns

The Great Barrier Reef is like another world. I don't think anything can replace the feeling of your first scuba dive or reef exploration, but they say that the Barrier Reef has some of the best diving in the world, and I wanted to find out what the buzz was all about.

Dive One, , Ribbon Reef 10 (Cod Hole)

The first dive of a three-day trip to the Great Barrier Reef, and those of us who hadn't done umpteen zillion dives already had to do a quick 'check out' dive. Memories of New Zealand came flooding back, quite literally, as I had to clear a partially filled mask, recover my regulator and so on. This was followed by a hop down to 30.5m, the deepest I've been yet (allowed under Queensland law as I had a dive computer; for those on tables the deepest allowed is 18m), and by the time I got back to a reasonable depth, my air was running low. A short dive.

Dive Two, , Ribbon Reef 10 (Cod Hole)

Mark kissing a cod on the Great Barrier Reef
Kissing a cod in the Great Barrier Reef's Ribbon Reef 10 (Cod Hole)

More time to explore the reef, the 'first dive' jitters being consigned to the bin. Buddy Molly – har-dee-har – and I queued up (after all, this is a tour) to kiss a bloody great cod. These fish are a wonder to behold: before scuba, the only cod I knew came with chips. Behind the doleful eyes and low slung, thick-lipped mouth lives a curious, graceful creature. For some reason fish feel more alien to me than land animals, and the cod makes you feel like a temporary guest rather than a distant relation. Kissing the bugger didn't change a thing.

Dive Three, , Pixie's Pinnacle

Circling a tall bommie, spiralling upwards, is a good thing if everyone is going in the same direction. We – Molly and I, and another couple called Caroline and Amanda – headed off clockwise, seemingly the opposite way to everyone else. Still, it added a challenge to the proceedings.

Dive Four, , Challenger Bay

The progression: swimming in clear, cool rock pools in Karijini; swimming across a muddy and wide river in Millstream-Chichester; walking through a waist-deep, freezing, mountain-boring river in Tunnel Creek; snorkelling off a yacht in the Coromandel; learning to scuba dive in the Poor Knights Islands; exploring coral reefs in the Gambier Islands... and the final piece in this phobia-shattering sequence, a night dive on the Great Barrier Reef.

Dive Five, , Clam Gardens

The first dive of the day – and therefore the deepest – and, I am glad to report, no longer the air-guzzling experience it was before. Molly and I had to stop for a breather or two while heading back from 30m up to the reef, but the blood, sweat and tears were all well worth it: clams the size of sumo wrestlers were littered around the site like boulders on Mars.

Dive Six, , Steve's Bommie

Mask clearing, probably the most annoying part of scuba, became a real burden round Steve's Bommie. For some reason known only to him upstairs, only my right eye had a problem with flooding, and clearing a mask by blowing through just one nostril makes the sort of thing you see in American 'Frat Pack' movies look positively innocuous. I still don't get it: the two sides of a mask are connected, aren't they?

Dive Seven, , Temple of Doom

Seven dives into this marathon three-day trip, and they're all beginning to meld into one. A hectic 'three before lunch' schedule ensured a rush of experiences without much time for reflection, a bit of a shame – but more than made up for by the opportunity after this dive to snorkel with a minkie whale (but that's another story).

Dive Eight, , Beer Gardens

Another night dive, and this time no qualms about jumping into a pitch-black ocean – it's amazing how quickly your phobias become your friends. In fact the only thoughts were of the water temperature rather than scary things lurking in the murky depths.

Dive Nine, , Hog's Breath

Up at 6am, in the water at 6.30am, and I do sometimes wonder if this is for pain or pleasure, this trip. Immersion in cold sea water while the sun makes its feeble attempt to make the already-wet suit less freezing isn't my idea of larf-a-minute.

Dive Ten, , No Name Bommie

Ten dives in two-and-a-half days, two early mornings, and I'm out for the count. The best fun was finding big blobs of Christmas worms with their 'trees' out, and waving a hand to make them disappear like some corny magician.

Minkie Whale

So, those were my dive log entries for the trip. One thing they didn't mention (well, only briefly) was the minkie whale who turned up on the penultimate day and who let us snorkel right above him. These whales are simply huge, and they move around with a lack of effort that has to be seen to be believed. We also came across a number of humpback whales on the last day, while we were heading back to Cairns, and they put on quite a display of tail slapping and fin smacking. Not a bad bonus...

1 A wish that came true the next day, as the clouds cleared and the sun came out in all its skin-bubbling glory.

2 I found out later this was called the Christmas worm, because the brush it sticks out is shaped like a Christmas tree.

3 This was my 17th dive overall.