Week 19 - July 23, 2018 - July 29, 2018

Time for Queensland!  Yes, we worked our way eastward and dropped into Cairns after passing through some beautiful mountain country.  What a contrast to find ourselves immersed in lush green valleys after all that red-dirt desert.  Alas, it will be a long time before we truly can leave the red-dirt desert behind as it will take weeks to clean it out of Cinderoo.

  Waking up to a misty morning                    Coming over the Tablelands and into Cairns

Our time in Cairns was not so much for anything to do with the city, but rather, for its famous neighbor, the Great Barrier Reef.  We reserved a four-day liveaboard dive trip that would give us the opportunity to explore the GBR and just enjoy being surrounded by this natural wonder.  The Ocean Quest was large enough to have 50 people on board and yet, with three decks, a large lounge, a dining room and your own ensuite bedroom, we never felt crowded.  If anything, we all had the same purpose and were all excited for everyone's discoveries.

   Gerson readying to board the Sea Quest (shuttle boat to the Ocean Quest)                   Leaving Cairns in our wake
   The Ocean Quest awaits                     Our ensuite bedroom and Gerson checking out the dive equipment

The liveaboard 'tour' is quite the arrangement as people can join the boat any day of the week, they just get shuttled out to the Ocean Quest and the people departing, leave with the Sea Quest.  You can stay for one night or more, as many as you want to pay for.  We chose the three-night, four-day dive experience and it allowed us to not feel like we had to dive every single time and gave us the opportunity to enjoy a bit of snorkeling when it was low-tide.   As it was, we logged in a total of 28 dives and two snorkels between us and that included sunrise dives and night dives as well.  What an experience!

Our first reef to explore was the Norman Reef and every place the Captain anchored the boat, it was like a different undersea world for us to explore.

  Cuttlefish - a Cepholopada (like an Octopus, it changes color)         Cool fish, weird sea cucumber and one grumpy puffer

  Gerson and his dive buddy (followed him for quite a bit)             Easy to see why this is called a Giant Clam

Although we were on the verge of exhaustion after two dives the first afternoon, we could not resist enjoying the beautiful sunset, a good dinner and a great night dive. 
    Lovely sky over the GBR            Two difficult critters to find at night - the Lionfish and a very robust eel (and very fast)

The Great Barrier Reef is considered to be the largest living organism (looking past the fact that it is comprised of billions of living organisms) and includes the reefs, the habitats between the reefs, over 900 islands and coral cays, not to mention a substantial number of coastal beaches, headlands and estuaries.  The 2900 reefs support over 1500 species of fish, over 400 species of coral and hundreds of species of molluscs (clams, snails octopuses), echinoderms (sea stars, sea urchins), sponges, worms, crustaceans and seaweed.  Add a number of marine mammals (dolphins, whales, dugongs), dozens of species of birds and include six of the planet's seven species of sea turtles and you have one magnificent and vitally important 'organism' in our presence.

   My view upon descending for the sunrise dive              Coolest:  Pineapple Sea Cucumber         Great camouflage - Grouper
   Obviously, not a morning-fish         Just a turtle passing by                  Our morning dive smiles      

  View to Norman Reef - stunning above and below                  A passing Spotted Ray
   A rarely spotted Black and White Lionfish              Not sure what fish but nice spots and some colorful giant clams

We had the opportunity to do three dives in the morning, one in the afternoon and then a night dive.  And, if dancing with all these beautiful creatures was not enough, we witnessed a large pod of Pilot Whales round up their lunch while we were waiting on ours.  Pilot Whales are among the largest of the oceanic dolphins (exceeded only by the Killer Whale) and have a distinctive snub nose.  At first, we did not realize that we were seeing Pilot Whales and thought they were some sort of dolphin until I reviewed my photos, and there they were.

   Quite the efficient Pilot Whales using teamwork to rustle up their lunch
   Afternoon dive time              Time to explore more of the Norman Reef
   Another Black and White Lionfish!              Inside of one of the ocean's most efficient filter, the Giant Clam

After a bit of a rest and another nice dinner, we opted out of the night dive and instead, opted in to participate in a platform immersion with a lot of big fish and a couple of sharks.  If the ocean cooperates, the captain lets the guests lay on the dive platform and 'snorkel' under a few inches of water to watch the rather large fish and the sharks that like to hang out in the light at the back of the boat.  We hung on through the tossing swells and had the visitors careening by within inches of our faces.  Quite the rush!

   Just another beautiful sunset over the GBR                Our visitors - Gerson and me at far right (I had to sit up and take a  
                                                                                        break as the tossing on the platform was a bruising experience)
And we woke up to do it all over again, this time on the Saxon Reef.

   Sunrise did not disappoint                      White Tip Reef Shark       Early morning luminescence by the coral
   Lovely and graceful fans and soft coral                          Never get tired of Giant Clams or Green Turtles

We were in  good form for our mid-morning dive     Love the spots      Unicorns do exist!  Unicorn Fish is just weird looking

The only drawback to staying on a dive boat for many days, is that you will meet people and they leave before you do.  We met quite a few wonderful people; however, we had much too short of time to enjoy their company. 

   Saying goodbye to Jon and Gorka (from Spain) and new BDFs (best dive friends)               Saxon Reef

Low tide meant the reefs were accessible in a few feet of water and we could not resist taking the time to snorkel.  There are many people that would look upon snorkeling as the lesser of the two activities; however, when it comes to a low tide on the reefs, snorkeling is the best way to observe the incredible life-system on top and around the reef.

   Low tide for the afternoon dive                  Just clowning around with Clown Fish

   Beautiful bright blue fish everywhere              Gorgeous colored fish

  Something's a bit off in the first picture, I wonder which fish does not belong         More Giant Clams - their 'filters' are amazing
    Gerson taking a closer look                         I love the Giant Clams

Then came time for our last night dive.  We were still on the Saxon Reef and anchored in an underwater sandy bay area with a few 'bommies' (coral clusters that can look like pinnacles or large rock formations) and a bit of a long reef ridge with tentacles of reefs stretching outward along its length.  We were told there may be a shark or two and definitely our lights would attract the Giant Trevilly, a rather nosey fish that will sit right on your flashlight to see what you are looking at just in case it's 'food'.  What we did not anticipate is that we attracted much more than the Giant Trevilly pests in that we must have had 25-30, various sized, White Tipped Reef Sharks cruising around, under, over and in one case, through (my legs) us.  Well, needless to say, our 40 minutes of air was used up in 15 minutes and we, at an accelerated swim, returned to the boat. 

The Captain, upon hearing why we depleted our air so fast said that he had not seen that many sharks in this area before.  He stated that there must have been a dead creature nearby and that brought the sharks (and a lot of Giant Trevilly - but then, who's counting when you are dodging sharks) and that it was probably a good thing we quickly exited stage left.

   The hardest part of taking these photos was to not be photo bombed by the Giant Trevilly (pest fish) - but lots of sharks!

Our final day diving allowed us three morning dives, a mad rush for a hot shower and a lazy couple hour wait for the shuttle boat to take us back to Cairns.  We were fortunate as a man from France, Max, needed a buddy and we two became three.  The amazing thing is, is that Max is somewhat deaf and underwater, that really does not mean anything.  Although he recently received his dive certification, he was a very good diver and I enjoyed sneaking in a bit more dive time with him. 

  Gerson entering the water with Max nearby            Gerson watching a turtle cruise past   

    Yet another shark and pretty Parrot Fish                             Purple contrast to the coral with these polyps

    Enjoying all the dive had to offer, including sitting on a tree wedged in between bommies                   Max having a sit as well

We made it back to Cairns and just flopped inside Cinderoo as we were pleasantly exhausted.  As we were leaving the next morning to head up north to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree National Park, we had just enough time to hang our stuff to dry, eat and go to sleep.  And, sleep we did, like the dead!

   On the way to Cape Tribulation - nice lookouts and a dial showing the distances to recognizable places
  Cinderoo's first ferry ride across the Daintree River        Gorgeous views and tree-lined roads where the rainforest meets the ocean

One of the special things about the Daintree National Park is that it is home to the endangered Cassowary bird (less than 1000 in Queensland).  This flightless bird is something out of Jurassic Park and like so many of Australia's animals (platypuses, bilbies, kangaroos to name a few) looks like it was pieced together from several other creatures.  The Cassowary can be as tall as Gerson, has three razor-sharp, dagger-styled clawed toes, a bright blue head, red wattles, a helmet-like horn and shaggy black feathers.  But, this odd, endangered bird is vital to the rainforest ecosystem as it can disperse the seeds of more than 70 species of trees that depend on the bird 'fertilizing' their seeds by passing it through its digestive system.

   Signs everywhere but no Cassowary in sight, until....         We saw Cassowaries!   A momma and baby - fascinating bird!

Cape Tribulation was truly stunning and we took advantage of a day of downtime to relax.

    Cape Tribulation at low tide                 Gerson strolling the beach

  Our short walk from Cinderoo to the beach was itself beautiful                  Where's Louise?

   Mangroves at the point of Cape Tribulation                                Perfect companions

We opted to just spend the time at the beach until I saw a 'tour' wherein you visit the Cape Trib Farm and get to spend an hour tasting various tropical fruits grown on the 88-acre farm.  The farm was literally grown by the parents of the present owner, Merran (and her husband, Jeremy) and every tree was planted by the family.  Thirteen acres are devoted to tropical fruit trees from around the world and we had the absolute indulgent pleasure of tasting 12 of the seasonal blessings. 

Although there was not a bad tidbit in the bunch, there were clear standouts as our favourites:  Citrus Maximus/Pommelo (a cross between a mild grapefruit and a different citrus taste, and huge!), Yellow Mangosteen (a cross between a potent passionfruit and a tangerine and no matter how you tried to avoid it, the taste would pucker your entire face and we loved it), Cuban Fibreless (a mild, almost flowery taste that just hit the spot).

Go here to read more about this magical place:  https://www.capetribfarm.com.au/

   We walked a couple of kilometers to the farm and had fun with these 'parasol' palms      Cassowaries love these bitter fruits

   Our samples for the day and Merran preparing our tastes        Loving the Canistel and the Citrus Maximus/Pommelo

  Green Star Apple                 Rollinia                   Just a lovely farm

   We had to eat all the samples, just had to  (Yellow Mangosteen, Citrus Maximus, Black Sapote, Sapodilla, Soursop)    

And to top off the day, it was 'eat whatever was in the freezer' night and that meant we had to dig into our Barramundi, scallops and prawns and make use of the campground's BBQ kitchen area.  It was the night cap on a perfect day.

  Nice view from Cinderoo           Gerson doing what he loves and I did too!  Barramundi (delicious fish), scallops and prawns

Cape Tribulation was an absolute success and we debated whether to stay another day but alas, we wanted to start heading south and lazily meander through eastern Queensland.


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