Dan and Justy Down Under


January 28, 2005

Dan or Justy

The isolation: our land surrounded by white, whitecapped foam and airborne watervapor, divorced from reality. Here we could be anyone, lonely shipwrecked steerage passengers (over 120 ships have wrecked on LEI's reef: see it at low tide, almost 10 meters shallower and you'll understand). We could be the resentful family of the lighthouse keeper: one wife donned her sunday best and walked irretrievably into the water. We saw her grave. As well we could be the young woman born here, who died at the age of 30, still never having left. The island shelters all spirits.

Animal spirits especially. There are about 110,000 birds on the island. You can walk from one side to other in 20 minutes. Take it from me, that's a LOT of birds. They are always there. Everywhere. Always. Flying past you way too close. Bumping into you in flight. Shitting on you occasionally. Squawking, screeching, squeeking, chirping, caw-caw-ing, clucking, running hither and yon underfoot, begging for food, reproducing, blocking the sun.

There are a lot of birds.

But I liked their company. They were not territorial. They shared their island with us and allowed us to go about our business unmolested (except as previously mentioned). I think we were a spectacle for them as much as we gawked at their raw biomass.

We dove the famous Blow Hole today. Rated the second best dive in Queensland (after the Yongala wreck, which we will take in sometime in the next 2 weeks). I'd rate it in the top 5 dives I've ever done (and they say it's better when the current is running the other way: I can't support that, based on our subsequent dive here, but maybe the conditions weren't right). The reef is endless, teeming with life of all sizes. We saw a HUGE eagle ray, just huge. A couple blacktip reef sharks were on patrol. Several Maori wrasse (giant fish straight out of Yellow Submarine, or for the divers, a cross between a parrot fish and a grouper). Turtles, such that we barely mention them anymore, but one was an obviously ancient loggerhead in fine shape. A large Queensland Groper (their word for grouper, not an aquatic reprobate).

The smaller fry were in abundance as well. There are vastly many anemones with a large assortment of clownfish species to inhabit them. Butterfly fish and uncountable fish with yellow and black color schemes. It seems to be the thing here. I even saw a soft coral, well, walking around. I don't know how to explain it, but it looked like a furry multi-tentacled soft coral. It was definitely walking around (slowly against the surge) and not floating. A big wtf on that.

We circled the island again on turtle watch that night. Found several, but none laying eggs (the actual egg-laying is a tiny sliver of the time for the whole show) and no little ones scurrying to the sea.

The fullmoon, free of the anonymizing white shroud of the tropical storm was strong enough to read by, but still the stars were a bright blanket.

Being on this island is like being on that proverbial 'deserted island' at sea. Ive learned that no matter what you bring, or who you're with, none of it compares or substitutes for the simple pleasures of being there.

Lady Elliot Island is the southernmost tip of the Great Barrier Reef, so there are opportunities to dive, snorkel and reef walk. The initial drop offs are shallow and so the tidal variation ranges to 50 feet or more. It's rather odd to see completely different beaches each time you walk by. The windward side of the islnad has some spectacular wave action, and the leeward side is almost always calm enough for diving and walking.

We arrived at the hight of the monsoonal downpour. Our plane landed on a sogged 'river-runway' and hydroplaned to a stop. Did I mention there was no isle on the plane? If youve ever wanted to experience waht its like to be suspended from above by a string, these little (cessna on steroid?) planes give that exact sensation. Upon landing, all the water from the runway gushed into the plane. I thought of my scuba gear in the cargo hold.

After the initial 2 days of driving winds and rain, the clouds parted and the winds subsided. Now, a cool rinse off in between walks are a blessing. The dives are spectacular and we managed to dive the legendary Blow-Hole twice. Its a great big cavernous opening straight down about 10 feet, and then a 90 degree turn out onto the reef wall. Very big opening, aside from mild tingles in the gut anyone can handle this dive. On your exit from the hole, it looks like a giant screen TV. You can hang back away from the current and watch the fish swim by. I saw a giant turtle sleeping inside the cave, and of course there's the mysterious Australian Gnome fish. Very rare, and prabobly endangered. Thanks to the staff for protecting and preserving its environment!

The DMs and instructors here are great! The staff works in 20 day shifts and then fly home for a 7 or 8 days off. The island runs their lives! THey are very personable and full of information. They have been very eager to help with our numerous technological underwater undertakings.

Though manta rays are generally prevalent in these waters at this time of the year, we have not been lucky enough to spot one. We have however been extremely lucky to arrive during turtle egg laying season. Each night we walk the beach in search of patterns that point to the mothers chosen nesting site. If she's there, she's usually digging for a period up to 4 hours. We were very lucky to come upon a female already laying the eggs, as they are in a trance during that stage you are allowed to take photos and shoot video with lighting. Lights are prohibited at all other times sine they may disrupt the females pattern. We've not seen the hatchlings yet but hope to see them before we leave tomorrow.

Itinerary Highlights
January 20: Winery Tour
21-23: Moreton Bay Diving
25: Australia Zoo
26-30: Lady Elliot Island
February 13: Diving the Yongala
15-17: Cape Tribulation + Daintree Rain Forest
17-20: Atherton Tablelands
22-28: Coral Sea Diving Liveaboard
March 11-13: OzTek Dive Conference: Sydney
14: Fly to New Zealand
20: Poor Knights Islands Diving
31: Mt. Cook
April 2-4: Queenstown
TBD: To Be Dreamed

Digital Pix Courtesy of Shimmivision.com
More Digital and Film Pix Coming Soon.