Dan and Justy Down Under


March 3, 2005


If you're in Cairns, you could do a lot worse than visit ReefTeach and take in Paddy Colwell's unique presentations on understanding the reef. He's a longtime marine biologist and scuba instructor with a twisted sense of humor. Cracked might be a better description. He's not right in the head, but gives tremendous value for money/time.

It is impossible to nod off, or have your mind wander while he's on. I know quite a bit of what he presented, but substantial parts were new to me. Others I got a new perspective on from the way he explained them. His detailed, slideshow-supported section on identifying fish and coral (with audience participation) is well-done.

It goes on for over 2 hours, with an intermission. There is free coffee, tea, hot chocolate and biscuits. The room is a hands-on museum of wonder to satisfy your curiosity (not on the reef itself, thank you). I found him at the front counter sitting on a stool, staring into space, his face neutral. He had the air of a zen master, but is quite friendly. He said he wasn't feeling well that day, really off his game.

All I know is, if I ever attend a session when he's "on", I won't sit in the front row.

The Great Barrier Reef, justly famous for its diving, is huge. It runs thousands of kilometers from the Town of 1770 in the south to the tip of Cape York in the north. It's not small or really, one thing at all. It is a phenomenon.

We have some advice for divers wishing to come here: know what you're getting before you book. We had a great time, but spent some effort to research. Our experiences were top notch, within our budget. I believe you might have a better time if you have a private yacht at your disposal, but we didn't.

The problem is this: nigh on every diving outfit here is geared to the first timer or once-in-a-blue-moon diver. Prices most always include gear rental, something an experienced diver likely wouldn't need. The dives are usually selected for the lowest common denominator diver. This might be prudent for the staff, but isn't necessarily what you might want.

The key is to know what to expect. If you are the newbie diver, you'll likely be well catered for. If you know what you want, and don't want the LCD, you will have to look hard for a situation. Don't be discouraged. Not all outfits are the gigantic cattle boats we saw in Carins and Port Douglas (think 100s of divers at once...) There are smaller charters who know that crowds are inimical to experienced divers.

Do the research and ask LOTS of questions. Start with this idea: dayboat diving out of Cairns and Port Douglas, (and to a lesser extent Townsville) is not a good idea. You may find the perfect situation, but be wary. Many good (and expensive) liveaboards also depart from these places.

The sublime experience of the reef is big money here. Experienced divers aren't as numerous as the less experienced. Hopefully, they're more savvy.

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

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