Don a tank and fins for a day; resurface a diving addict
When exploring the world beneath the waves, anatomical evidence doesn’t exactly side with humans (i.e. fins, gills, a palate for plankton). Like all the best adventure sports though, it’s that very strangeness – the logic-defying, superhuman quality – that makes scuba diving so exhilarating. Conveniently for hesitant first-timers, the time-consuming certification process isn’t required to partake in an introductory scuba dive. If any site is likely to convert you though, it’ll be Queensland’s own Great Barrier Reef.
From the postcard perfect resort town of Port Douglas, a catamaran called Calypso ferries snorkelers and divers to Agincourt and Opal Reef, whose relatively shallow sites and excellent visibility are ideal for intro divers to, well, test the water. Under the direction of Calypso’s team of PADI-qualified instructors, the journey is spent being schooled (and tested) on the basics of Self Contained Breathing Apparatus. Science class aside, the two skills essential to a successful dive are remarkably simple: breathing and equalising (popping your ears). The hardest part? Walking with any semblance of grace in your tank and fins.
Fortunately it’s only a short struggle and less-than-elegant tumble into the water, upon which the once-cumbersome gear all but vanishes into weightlessness. One by one, buoyancy controls are deflated, and, while adopting a slow, meditative breathing style, you’ll be gently swallowed by blue. The first few seconds are flooded with a surreal mix of relief, euphoria and disbelief. Air rushes in generous, comforting gusts. Physiology is seemingly defied. Drowning is happily absent. Childhood Ocean Girl dreams are realised. Bucket lists are mentally, perhaps even a little smugly, ticked. And on this particular day, a monstrous Maori wrasse loitering by the hull signals the magnitude of marine life to come. But before sinking further, each diver must first demonstrate their safety skills – a ‘watch and copy’ exercise that’s over within a few minutes, several OK signals and a congratulatory handshake.
A slow hand-over-hand descent down the anchor rope sets a leisurely pace for the next 25 minutes. Be patient, respectful and humbled by the delicate ecology that surrounds you. This is, after all, an extreme sport for the soul. Calypso’s dive instructors are highly attentive, vigilant in keeping the group close, and using only hand signals, surprisingly articulate underwater. Amidst parrotfish munching methodically on coral, butterfly fish sashaying beneath overhangs, clownfish courageously guarding their young, whose tiny faces peek from the arms of anemones, the instructor’s vast knowledge of marine life (with creative hand signals to prove it) adds to the wealth of what’s already a thoroughly unforgettable, other-worldly experience.
By Suzanne Chellingworth
Suzanne experienced an introductory scuba dive with Calypso, which cost $280 and included all equipment, morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea. Up to two additional dives can be purchased at $50 per dive, or you can snorkel for the rest of the day.
Calypso Reef Cruises
t: +61 7 4099 6999
a: Shop 44, Marina Mirage, Port Douglas, Qld 4877