3 day Liveaboard Dive Trip on Great Barrier Reef

We always knew we wanted to dive the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) but after talking to divers in Indo, Thailand and Philippines, we were not expecting much. I think GBR was at its best about 10 years ago and has since been abused and partially destroyed. We actually contemplated skipping it altogether and re-allocating the budget to diving in French Poly. But in the end, we couldnt leave Cairns without at least seeing it. So after hunting around for the best deal, we settled on a 3D/2N liveaboard with ProDive. We boarded early the first day and had a really rough 3 hr to the outer reef- sea sickness was barely averted!
The weather at sea was sunny and beautiful which made the water a gorgeous see through blue. But its soooo windy. The first dive was a real surprise for 2 reasons: first it was FREEZING 24C. We both wore 2 wetsuits but I shivered the whole time and did not particularly enjoy it (I know, we are really spoilt to have become accustomed to 28-29C water). The second surprise was the state of the reef which was better than I thought it would be- we were on Milln Reef which hosted several sharks and turtles and loads of fish. Also several sand sting rays and both hard and soft coral.

The diving here is without guides so there is a thorough briefing w compas headings then we are on our own. Its not worrying though as the diving is shallow and we almost always ran into other divers. And we had good kit including compases and safety sausages.

We did 3 dives the first day (skipped first night dive), 4 the second and 1 the last. The second night dive was pretty cool and very easy- we hung out under the boat watching the grey reef sharks (2) hunt the long tom fish that were attracted to the boat lights. There were so many fish under the boat and the shark just swam around at its leisure, sometimes coming within a few meters of us!

The reef definitely appears to be recovering and whilst there is plenty of dead coral, there is also loads of growth and health coral. Generally more hard coral with lots of table coral, staghorn and finger coral but soft coral is also fairly common. I was pleased. However, there is still a lot of work to be done including stopping the shark fishing which is not actually illegal in Australia. The dive leader was explaining that its not illegal unless you just take the fins. So- the fishermen take the whole shark and dump the body on land:(

Our friendly whitetip:

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One of the many turtles we encountered:

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Plenty of good hard coral provides a nice backdrop:

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Yangshuo

We arrived in Yangshuo on Saturday, 5 May after a nice overnight train journey. We lucked out at got 2 shy and quiet Chinese berth mates. Our first impression was that the town was bigger and more touristy than expected – there is even a KFC and McDonalds. The landscape is beautiful with towering karst mountains in every direction. The main street is crowded with the usual street vendors and kiosks selling textiles, calligraphy, jewelry etc. There are so many restaurants and cafes and it’s hard to see how they all survive. We made our way to the ShowBiz hostel and settled in.

Our primary objective on arrival was to sort out language classes for ourselves. We intended to study with Janie but she was busy with a camp and recommended her friend Lucy. We emailed and arranged to meet the following morning. We spent 3 hours with Lucy on Sunday customizing our next 3 days (we decided we couldn’t spend a whole week as we have too much to pack into a month). That afternoon we took a bamboo boat ride on the river, then enjoyed a 5 yuan beer on the roof.

The next 3 days were really long but really good. We met up with Lucy at her classroom (about a 10 minutes walk from the hostel) at 9:30am everyday and finished around 10pm. It was a great combination of classroom learning, cultural activities (calligraphy, cormorant fishing show), applied practice and of course, a few breaks. On the second evening, we went out to eat with her Chinese students and we all practiced speaking over noodles and beer. And on the last night, Lucy hosted a good-bye tea at the classroom where our new Chinese friends joined us for a tea ceremony and more practice!

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John and Lucy showing the work of the morning- learning traditional Chinese characters

Whilst we are still beginners, we are now able to order things, introduce ourselves and engage in basic conversation which has already come in useful- and we met some really fun people. This will definitely help us continue to avoid the ‘western touristy’ places and get to the local spots:) We anticipate that there will be many places where no English is spoken so we should get a chance to practice- a lot!

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Overall, our stay in Yangshuo was excellent. The Showbiz hostel was nice – we had a double private room which was clean and comfortable. They had laundry facilities and drinking water (free!) and it was in a great location. There were plenty of options for food and drink- the best food was the $1 lamb noodle soup at a local shop that Lucy showed us which was a real gem among the $20 popular restaurant options lining the main street. Even McDonalds was too expensive for us (we always keep it as a back up and they have AC). But the best thing was the language class and getting to meet some new friends- thank you Lucy!!

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Lucy and her students- a great learning experience & new friends!

Beautiful Khao Sok National Park

We headed out of Khao Lak in the morning after a great English breakfast at Walker’s Inn. We heard a bus was due to arrive so we went to the bus stop and waited. And waited. And waited. Allegedly, the buses run every hour, but we saw no evidence of that! After 3 hour, we did manage to snag a bus and arrived in Khao Sok 90 minutes later. The town is quite small, with a few restaurants, 2 mini marts and several bungalows. We stayed at Palm View which turned our to be an excellent choice. Palm View is run by Mama, Papa and their son, Kong who immediately welcomed us as family. Their rooms were clean and spread apart – and the food was outstanding. Mama makes it all so we sometimes waited a little longer than we were used to- but it was worth it! They also helped us book a 2 day/1 night stay in the Park on the lake which was amazing. We were picked up in the morning, drove 1 hour to the Pier and park entrance. Then boarded a long tail boat and took another 45 minutes ride to the floating bungalows on the lake. The view is breathtaking, with towering karst mountains, lush green jungle and beautiful blue water. I was pleased to see there were no resorts, very few boats and for the first time, pure, untouched land the way it must have been for hundreds of years.

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Our floating bungalow was very simple and in a general state of disrepair but it was still awesome. On arrival, we were shown to our room, then ushered to eat lunch before jumping in the lake for a swim. Our group- there were 7 of us staying the night, took a long tail about 15 minutes to the edge of the jungle where we hiked to the cave. The jungle hike was about an hour until we reached the mountain side and a small entrance to the cave. I thought there was no way anyone was going to get me in there but after peeking my head in and finding a much more open space, I braved it and with everyone else, headed through the cave with my head torch! I’m so glad I did- we hiked/swam about 30 minutes to the back of the cave then turned around. The water was sometimes 2m deep but never a dull moment as when our eyes adjusted, there was quite a lot to see.

We headed back for some more R&R before dinner which primarily entailed chatting with our new friends over a few Chang beers. We slept surpringly well in our little bungalow but were up at 6:30am per our guide to see some morning wildlife. We saw monkeys, a gibbon and a deer but they were pretty far away. The morning mist blanketing the mountains was beautiful and we took about 60 pictures in an attempt to capture it- none of course could do it justice. We packed up our stuff then headed by boat for another jungle hike to the View Point. We were dropped off at the edge of the jungle and climbed for about an hour to the view point overlooking part of the lake- the view was okay but I enjoyed the walk and the swim at the end more. On the other side, we arrived at another floating house and jumped in the water to cool off. After a quick lunch of fried rice, we were off to the pier once more and heading back to town.

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DSC00775We returned to Palm View and Mama’s delicious food, my fav- Kuay Tiew Rat Na. Met the guys in the town for a beer then headed to bed. The bus journey from Khao Sok to Phuket airport was even worse than the previous one but it was cheap! Arrived in Phuket in time for a sunset dinner at the beach. Next stop: Singapore

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