Tag Archives: Diving

Great Barrier Reef & Surf School

The first thing that I have to say about the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), is that it was stunning! From varieties of coral to fish, this was by far one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen.

We were all pumped up and ready to go diving when, there was a problem with the boat and we had to switch. Luckily, the boat we went on, Calypso, has a backup although it wasn’t as nice. But who cares when you’re going to the GBR! The boat ride went by really fast and in the blink of an eye, we were down under the surface. I have to admit that I was really scared; so much that I was shaking! When we were still on the boat, mommy said to me, “If you are really scared, Louisa, you can stay up here and you don’t have to go.” Of course for me, that wasn’t really an option. You go to Australia and Port Douglas and you don’t go diving?! No. Even though the outside of me wanted to do exactly that, the inside of me kept saying that I can’t bail out. I powered through and soon enough, I was in the water ready to go. We started going down under and everything was going well. Sebastian had the GoPro and was taking multiple photos and video. We saw Nemo and Dori along with a variety of schools. The coral was indescribable. From blue to even neon green, there were so many colors you could NEVER name them all! In the middle of the dive, mom, Sebastian and I find ourselves going up to the surface when we should be 40 to 50 feet under. ScubaDave grabs mom’s fin and we slowly all go down under again. By the end, my max depth was 10.6 meters. Yay!

We all hop back onto the boat and now it’s time to go snorkeling! To be honest, I was a bit relieved that I didn’t have to do a dive back to back. The snorkel was very nice, but not as nice as the Low Isles snorkel! We saw a barracuda family, sea cucumbers, schools of fish, anemone, and coral of course! We didn’t see dozens of sea turtles like the Low Isles also, but I really enjoyed it!

After the snorkeling, we ate lunch. I had a roast beef and cheese sandwich with a pasta salad on the side. Yum! During lunch, there was a snorkeling guide who gave a reef speech! It was very good and I learned a lot about clownfish. In Finding Nemo, they got something wrong. When Coral (Nemo’s mom) dies, and the barracuda eats all the baby fish, except Nemo. What Marlin (Nemo’s dad) would have done in real life was change gender and create more babies. Isn’t that funny?!

Soon it was time for our second dive. It went pretty much the same as the first except, I think we all were a little more calm and not so nervous. And also, this time Sebastian and I did not follow mommy up to the surface. ScubaDave and the rest of us (except for me) wanted to see a shark! ScubaDave said that when he gives the shark signal, I can close my eyes or look away. Luckily for me, we didn’t see any!

Later, we made our way back to the dock and arrived again at the Outrigger. Boy were we tired!


Tongue Reef GoPro photo


We are now in a place called Agnes Water and today, Sebastian and I attended a surf school called Reef 2 Beach. I learned a lot by the end of the day and had a ton of fun! First, the surf instructor ran through what we would be doing and how we need to do it. Next, we practiced it on land to get a feel for it. And soon enough, we were in the water applying what we had learned on land. It was a bit tough for me to get out to the ocean because big waves, little person, don’t go so well together. So, the waves were taking me back of what I had just paddled. Finally I get out there, waves are coming, (not too big) and I start paddling for a few waves but don’t quite catch them. Surfing is a patient kind of sport. You need to practice a lot to get good. Now, the instructor came over to help me out a bit. He told me when to start paddling and gave me a little push to get the wave… and I caught it! For the first time, I stood up and stayed up until I got to shore! When I went back out, I had a lot more confidence in myself. Pushing through the waves to get out with all my might, I hop onto the board and leave just my toes hanging off. I look over my shoulder and see a wave heading my way. I start paddling and the wave gives me a bit of a push. The nose of my board (the top) goes straight into the water and I’m under water, covering my head in case the board lands on it. That happened several times until my mom and dad helped me figure out what I was doing wrong. I was leaning forward too much and that is what was causing the nose to go straight into the water. I worked on improving when I went back out after my break and soon enough, I was like a professional!


Surfin’ Safari


“The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun”

Port Douglas and the Great Barrier Reef

Leaving the Blue Mountains, we headed by train to Sydney for our flight to Cairns. The trains are operate like clockwork and it was very smooth travels. We spent one night in Cairns before heading north to Port Douglas for a week to visit the tropical forests and, of course, the Great Barrier Reef.

Port Douglas is in the northeast of Queensland, the Sunshine state (just like Florida!). As we drove north from Cairns, the ocean color becomes bright blue and the pretty coast is low lying along the water. We rent a great apartment at the lovely Port Douglas Outrigger, which is a 5 minute walk to main street and the beach; we even got up for sunrise walk to the beach one morning! As we checked in, the kids immediately went to change and jump in the refreshing pool, surrounded by trees filled with birds singing at all hours of the day. There are even gigantic bats! The apartment has 2 bedrooms, a full kitchen, balcony, and the wifi worked really well, so everyone was able to catch up on studies, news, emails, and Skype calls to family.

We all loved Port Douglas; the town is charming with cute stores and plenty of restaurants to go with a laid back atmosphere.  As November is the start of stinger season (box jellyfish), we kept our swimming limited within the swim net at the beach and suffered no deadly box jellyfish stings, huh! They take it very seriously here, and so did we.

The highlight of our week was the Great Barrier Reef.  The first trip was to Low Isles, where we snorkeled with an Aussie family that we befriended at our hotel. Low Isles is about 45min from Port Douglas by boat. We had to wear stinger suits (full body lycra suits) that protect us against stingers (we never did see one).  The water was so clear that we could see the colored reefs. To me, the beauty is hard to describe but it looks like they have been hand painted with dozens of colors. We also saw a dozen sea turtles graciously swimming around, and many colorful fish including a reef shark and blue spotted sting ray. After the snorkel introduction, we had our big diving adventure the next day via the Calypso boat and our awesome guide, ScubaDave. Louisa and I were somewhat nervous as it has been several months since our last dive but ScubaDave made us feel very safe and stayed with us at all times during our 2 dives. Gladly nobody had any issues with the dives and we all agreed that Sebastian is the best diver in the family! This life experience of the Great Barrier Reef was nothing short of amazing and our respect for this unique area (and the undersea in general) has been solidified as  there is just another set of dynamics where we can only be respectful observers.


underwater coral


Sebastian & Louisa


Sebastian, the diver

We also celebrated Louisa’s 12th birthday in Port Douglas with a special day trip to Cape Tribulation and its pristine beaches. Unfortunately, we could not go swimming because of the stingers and…salt water crocodiles.  There were signs everywhere but we did not spot any crocs in the wild.  The best part of the day was getting back to the Port Douglas beach to swim in safe waters, phew! Louisa chose a special dinner and family favorite of rice with beef stroganoff and black beans to go with brigadeiro for dessert. Happy Birthday to my world traveler girl!

After 7 nights in Port Douglas, we were sad to leave. We said our goodbyes to the scuba and outrigger families as we headed south to Mission Beach for a relaxing afternoon on the beach. As we were leaving Mission Beach, we had a chance encounter with 3 cassowaries walking around the road, a male and 2 chicks. There are less than 1400 cassowaries living in Australia, and only 40 living around Mission Beach area. We were pretty lucky to spot 3 of them casually strolling around in the wild. Obviously we thought that it was the mom and 2 chicks but, as we later learnt, the male cassowaries are the ones who hatch and stay with the chicks for about the first 18 months of their lives.  Interesting! We then crashed the night in Townsville so that we could pack in a day at the Billabong Sanctuary (just outside the city). 

The Billabong Sanctuary, recommended by the Lonely Planet guide, is not to be missed. Sanctuaries are friendlier than zoos, as you can get really close to the animals and even touch and hold some of them.  Both kids took pictures holding a koala and we all got to feed kangaroos.  The best part was watching the feeding of the crocodiles and the interesting stories the handler shared with the visitors. Now we can definitely tell the differences between an Australian croc and a Florida gator!


A male cassowary


Louisa and the koala


Cuddly koala


Billabong Sanctuary




Tonight we started to pack. I made a list of things for each of the kids and let them choose the clothes they want to bring. Both are very excited and reminded me that we may need rain gear (argh). The kids backpacks are full but still managed to have some space for extras. My backpack is pretty full and heavy, I have a feeling I will have to re-evaluate some of the clothes I’m bringing, and still missing our medicine kit and toiletries. Chris has yet to pack anything but keeps warning to “keep it light!”