Living the High Life on Land and Underwater

Days 430-431

I woke up in my penthouse in a beautiful resort in Airlie Beach, Queensland. The bed was so comfortable and plush, I curled up, resisting leaving the coziness. Once I finally got up, I walked into the living room, opened the curtains to the balcony doors, and was treated with incredible views! 

I walked outside, and below me was the blue pool. We were on top of a large hill, and I had the top unit, giving me sweeping views of the ocean and surrounding area. There were parks and a harbor. Mountains appeared across the bay as the sun shone on the whole site. The bright blue sky filled my heart with happiness. 

I ate breakfast while soaking up the view. I researched tours and felt overwhelmed with options. I walked down to the lobby and spoke with the woman who had checked me in the evening before. She made some recommendations and helped me sort through brochures, and she even booked a couple of tours for me.

The woman was from Croatia and had been in Australia for 26 years. She appeared to be in her late 50s and had long gray hair in a ponytail. The woman spoke in such a dramatic way; she made me laugh many times. She told me that she and her husband go back to Croatia often to see their family. She said, “The first visit was for three weeks, and that wasn’t enough time. The next time, we went for six weeks. That still wasn’t enough time, so then we went for two months. We’re saving, so hopefully next time we can go for three months.”

Once we booked everything for the next few days, I decided to take that day as a rest day because I desperately wanted to enjoy that incredible pool. I put on my swimsuit and was the only person there. I laid on a lounge chair to warm up in the sun before getting into the water. 

It was an infinity pool, so I hung on the edge, looking at the town and ocean below. I felt like I was in a magazine! I felt very fortunate for the opportunity to be there. 

After being at the pool for a couple of hours, I showered and walked downtown. I hadn’t gotten a chance to see much of Main Street and the cute shops yet. 

I browsed the shops, enjoying the perfect holiday town. There was a beach walk with a sidewalk that snaked its way around a park and the ocean. I walked around that too. The sun was starting to go down (it was winter and set early), so I also enjoyed the sunset. 

I found a café and ordered a chicken burger. Next, I walked to Woolworths (the grocery store) to buy some personal items. Then I got some exercise by walking up the super steep hill back to my resort. The next day would be more diving, and I wanted to get a good night’s sleep. 

Unfortunately, sleep eluded me once again. I kept hearing one of the doors slightly hit the frame because I had the fan on. I am still a new diver, and I always have a hard time sleeping the night before because of nerves. 

In the early morning, I walked 20 minutes to the dock, grabbed a coffee, and boarded the boat that would take us to the Great Barrier Reef. I went diving at the reef a week earlier when I was in Cairns. The reef is 2,300 kilometers (1,430 miles) long, so there are a few places where you can access it. Unfortunately, it’s not a drift reef, so you have to take a one to a three-hour boat ride to get there (depending on where you depart). Cairns is the most popular place to access the reef. 

The boat was large (fits 200 people) and had two stories with tons of seating. Most of the people were going to the reef to snorkel. I sat on the top deck to feel the sun. We left 15 minutes late because they had problems with the engine starting. 

When we finally left, the top got very windy! Because I signed up to dive, a guy came to talk to me about it and to get me to sign some paperwork. He was from Argentina and was super friendly. 

We made a stop at Hamilton Island to pick up more people before heading to the reef. The island had mega-yachts in the harbor, and I loved the life of luxury. 

On the way to the reef, my diving guide, Robin, came to speak with me about the two dives. She was from Scotland and had a lot of experience. There was another guide from Boston, USA, who was training to be a guide. They both had blonde hair and looked similar, so I got them confused with each other sometimes. I was the only certified diver – a few other guests were doing the “try-dive.”

I felt terrific. I was thrilled to be diving at the reef again. I got certified to dive (and did my very first dive) in Thailand six months prior. Then I went diving in Vietnam where I was stung by a Sea Urchin. Then, I had a terrible experience at the Navy Pier on the west coast of Australia. Thankfully, the experience I recently had at the Great Barrier Reef was much better. 

We arrived at the reef after a few hours, and there was a giant floating platform with different sections for snorkelers and divers. There were plenty of wetsuits in every size, and dive tanks were ready to go. The people on the boat were doing various activities – snorkeling, helicopter tours, and glass-bottom boat tours. 

I followed Robin, and she had me put on a thin wetsuit and then a thicker one. Robin said, “This thinner one is in case we encounter stingers.” By “stingers,” she means the world’s most poisonous box jellyfish. 

Once I was fully suited up, I checked my equipment and put my tank on. Then I walked down the stairs. I was glad to have two wetsuits because of the cold water! The platform we were on had stairs leading into the water that ended on a grated metal platform. The tanks are very heavy, so I was happy when I hit the water, making it weightless. 

The platform at the bottom of the stairs was like a cave. The water was waist-high, and fish swam around us. We used the rope on the anchor to help us get down farther into the ocean. I felt confident and reminded myself that I could do this. 

Robin was great from the start and helped ensure that I had the proper amount of weight on my belt. When we reached about 12 meters (40 feet), we started swimming north. The reef was to our right side and looked like a massive wall. We could sometimes see the bottom, but other times it disappeared into oblivion. 

I followed Robin, and the girl who was in training was behind me. My breathing and buoyancy were much better as I remained calm. As we cruised along, we saw lots of fish, some that were two-three feet long! The conditions were semi-clear. The colors weren’t as bright as they were in Cairns, but this was still incredible. 

The three of us swam along the massive coral wall, enjoying all of the things to see. Robin pointed a few things out to me, like the plant that hides when you touch it. 

After 20 minutes, we turned around to swim back towards the platform. The current was so fast; I didn’t even need to swim. We used the rope to get us back up to the platform. When we surfaced, the girls said that I did great and my buoyancy was just as it should be. The total dive was 32 minutes. 

I was scheduled for lunch on the boat, which was a nice spread of buffet-style food. I looked across the reef and watched everyone doing various activities. 

Helicopter Tour

It was time for my second dive, so I got my wetsuits back on and then checked all of my equipment. Robin said that because some construction was going on with a new platform, we had to do the second dive in the forbidden place, which was the opposite direction that we went during the first dive. 

Construction

We used the rope to get us down again and headed south. There was a giant “pet fish” that was hanging around at the top. Robin told me that they feed that fish, so he keeps going there. Snorkelers were hovered around to see him. He must have been three feet long and at least a foot wide. 

Massive fish!

The coral wall was now on our left side. The current was so strong that it rapidly pushed me along. I understood why it was called the forbidden place. I could see particles racing past me, and it was the first time that I could actually see the current underwater. It was like watching a river, and I was stuck inside of it. 

I tried to slow myself down, but I passed Robin. She grabbed my hand and helped pull me towards her, where the current wasn’t as strong. 

We saw a turtle swimming above us, and I tried hard to focus on what I was seeing instead of overthinking my breathing. It was so much better this time because I was in the right mental headspace. Days before, I listened to an audiobook, 12 Rules For Life, and it helped me. Jordan Peterson talked about how chemicals in our brains can ruin and defeat us if we let them. 

It was time to turn around and head back towards the platform. Unfortunately, we were now swimming against that strong current. I kicked my legs and moved my arms to no avail. I looked at the wall of coral and realized I wasn’t moving at all, regardless of how much I swam. Particles flew past me, and I realized this was a super strong current. 

Thankfully, there was an anchor there, and I quickly grabbed the rope. I started to fear that I’d be swept away. Robin turned around and looked at me like, “Are you coming?” I was too afraid to let go of the rope. I motioned that, “The current is going to sweep me away.”

Robin locked arms with me and held my hand. I tightly gripped her hand back. We swam together for a couple of minutes, arm in arm. Then the current let up a bit. We continued floating around, checking out the coral and fish. The fish that I kept seeing had blue bodies and yellow tails. 

We climbed up the rope, which was full of coral and little barnacles. When we reached the underwater platform, we stood on the grate and took out our air regulators. The water was still waist-deep. I told Robin about the current and how I was afraid that I would get swept away. I had never felt a current like that before. 

Robin said, “It was one of the strongest currents that I’ve experienced. I actually thought we were going to have to surface and call for a rescue.” 

I had rented their Go-Pro camera and bought an SD card to record the footage. I was mostly focused on diving correctly that I didn’t pay much attention to the camera as I swam along – I wanted to enjoy it with my own eyes. I didn’t get a chance to review the footage for just over a year. As I went through it, I noticed a shark swimming below us as we climbed the rope! Thankfully, I didn’t realize he was there at the time. 

Shark swimming below me

I changed out of my wetsuit and boarded the boat. It was time to leave the reef, and we finished just in time. I sat on the top deck again in the back of the boat, and we drove away. Within minutes, I noticed that there was a massive black smoke cloud coming from the back. 

Ten minutes later, they turned off the engine so that it could cool down. We could feel the waves a lot more at that slower speed. Instead, they turned on a small engine, which very slowly moved us along for the next hour. I found out later that there was a small fire in the engine, which caused all of the problems. 

We were moving slowly, and the boat ride was already a few hours. We stopped at Hamilton Island to drop people off, and the sun was setting. I enjoyed the views and felt on top of the world. The clouds above were very unique. They were small circles and squares. The sun illuminated the orange and red design, making it look like a piece of art above us. 

Enjoying the high life

Most people moved inside because it was getting cold outside. I sat there, enjoying the breeze with my wind jacket on. I saw a couple at the front of the bow. The man had his arm around the woman, and it made for a beautifully romantic picture. I snapped it and then walked over to them to ask if they wanted me to send it to them. 

I airdropped it to them, and we started chatting. The couple appeared to be in their 30s and were from Ohio, USA. They were about to move to San Francisco, California but were on vacation for a few weeks first. We talked about their travels, and they rented a car so they could drive from Sydney to Cairns. They planned to drive to Townsville that evening, which was crazy because we didn’t even get back until 7:00 pm because of the boat problems. 

I continued talking with the couple in the parking lot for a little bit. As Americans, we talked about the differences between Australia and our country. We all agreed that we could learn from Australians on some things, like shorter working hours and more vacation time. 

We talked about our travels and explained that they underestimated Australia’s size and how much driving they had to do to get from Sydney to Cairns – 1,600 miles (2,575 kilometers). This was a common underestimation from foreigners. I had a blast talking with the couple. I could relate to their experience, and I was surprised by how much I missed Americans. 

I wished them well on their journey to Townsville, and then I walked to get a pizza. I placed a takeaway order and climbed up the steep hill to my resort. It was such a fantastic day, and I couldn’t wait to explore more over the next couple of days.  

To see a video of the two dives, click the link below. 

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Published by Christy

I quit my corporate job and sold my house in Los Angeles so I can travel and write. I grew up in St. Louis, MO and moved to the Los Angeles area after college. I worked in the business world for 15 years. Follow along to see pictures and hear stories of people I've met along my journey so far - driving to Alaska.

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