Dive Log inc Sportdiving

All Aboard For Some Minke Magic! W ITH relaxed laws, the outer rim of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, is as spectacularly oceanic as it comes … and as close as you’ll get to these rare and enigmatic Australian ‘Dwarf’ Minke whales on their annual mating, social event of the year. Join us on a winter week on the liveaboard ‘Spirit of Freedom,’ from Cairns to Lizard Island… for an eye-to-eye encounter with a playful, inquisitive, pod of them and the adventure of a lifetime. It’s pure adrenaline and a fantasy onboard this mega-luxury liveaboard … adding another dimension for divers of every background. text :: LILLA CLARE images :: Samuel Medland

From the moment we set foot on board in Cairns, our expectations were exceeded, along with the serious nature of our mission. ‘Listening up’ is essential for everything to run smoothly. The timetable is full and the schedule brisk. This is a cruise for serious divers, who relish the opportunity to encounter some of the worlds most precious underwater gems, marine life and beautiful seascapes, with up to three dives daily. From the galley to the Captains Bridge, the friendly staff had us laughing like millionaires, and at ease within minutes. With the ‘big family feel,’ the cabins are serviceable and comfortable … but you really only go there to sleep, between dives. Your only task to slip your wet wetsuit on and off, twice each day and three times, when night-diving. Did I mention divers boot camp? We had been steaming northward, hard, since boarding in

Cairns. Dropping anchor above a small reef just offshore from Port Douglas, no time was to be wasted in getting everyone into their gear and into the water. Known as Norman’s Reef - a Minke Whale ‘hot spot’ – excitement was high. Sadly, only a teasing glimpse in the fading sunlight, this time. However, Norman’s reef did not disappoint with exciting combinations of dense coral gardens, bommies and a rocky reef drop-off of about 30m. With an equal, 30m visibility in the balmy tropical water (at 24°C), the abundance of marine life, was akin to swimming through an abundantly stocked aquarium. Surfacing just as the sun disappeared beyond the horizon in a blaze of fiery oranges, reds and purples, we relished the heated towels and hot water waiting on deck to pour into our wet suits. With the gruelling schedule of 2-3 dives daily, the deliciously well-prepared, nutritionally balanced, whole-food (low G-I) meals by Chef Tim, kept energy levels high and on a slow burn. Not to mention the exciting and interesting flavoursome menu, as fast paced as the diving. Even my gluten free curse didn’t deter Chef Tim from finding plenty and ample nutrition and variety. With everything taken care of, from fins fitted on the bottom step, to goggle defogging and double air-checks, it seemed strange to me how I had managed to miss this experience before now. I grabbed my regs and mask and was striding off into a night dive, before you could say surreal! Night-time on any reef is pure science fiction and this amazing reef delivered. Full of aliens, the nightly uprise of hunter and prey plankton, and the chain reaction they trigger across a reef is really something beyond words. Travelling hundreds of kilometres, the plankton venture in from deeper waters, in their billions. So many, that often the water changes colour – and the true nocturnal animal-nature of the reef is bare - every coral polyp a predator, every rainbow flash, a cruel victim. A world of gulping greedy mouths in every shape and form. The sun sets, new sentinels take up their posts … and the neon night-shift begins. Set your camera to macro ... and the macabre. Nothing could have prepared me for the action-packed predatory nature of this ‘harmless’ tropical reef. A sinister tone emerged in the eerie light from the back of the boat, shining into a biosphere where eels, pelagic fish, polyps and reef sharks hunt in merciless packs, devouring their neon-coloured prey in seconds. Menacing gangs circle and wait, instantly using every torchlight beam, for a massacre. We quickly realised our beams were singling out the next fish for its end and switched them off. Floating along in the bat-light, incredible and joined now by a full moon adding long silvery shadows so beautiful, we stopped finning to kneel on the bottom for a long time, waiting to see what would happen. Periodically shining our torches on movement as it touched us,

| DIVE LOG Australasia inc. Sportdiving Magazine | SEPTEMBER 2019 | ISSUE 374 | www.divelog.net.au 50

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