Greetings from Fremantle, Australia!
I realize it’s been a few weeks since I’ve done one of these, so I’m sorry for the delay – the last month has been quite hectic with the launch of the Rebel Strength Guide, spending every other night in a new location in Australia, and trying to keep up with regular articles on the blog all while living out of a backpack.
DAMN it’s been fun though ☺
Today’s story needed my complete attention and deserved a proper write up, for it’s definitely my favorite adventure thus far on my Epic Quest of Awesome. Sure, flying a stunt plane kicked ass, jumping out of a plane ruled, and bungy jumping off a bridge made me feel like a kid in a candy store, but obtaining my scuba certification while exploring the Great Barrier Reef absolutely blew me away.
Go grab some coffee and settle in, for this is quite the lengthy read; we have a lot to get caught up on!
Full disclosure: I was a guest of the Australian Board of Tourism for this adventure; they covered the cost of my bus trip up the coast of Australia as well as my scuba certification/Great Barrier Reef trip with ProDive Cairns.
This is how it went down.
Brisbane and Noosa
After finishing up in New Zealand, I flew into Brisbane to hop on the OzExperience backpacker bus for my trip up the coast to Cairns. Because I only had eleven days or so to get to Cairns before my Scuba class, I could only spend a day or two in each location. After a surprisingly eventful Wednesday night in Brisbane, I set out the next morning for Rainbow Beach..or so I thought.
Once I hopped on the bus, the bus driver asked “Okay who’s going to Rainbow Beach?”
I raised my hand.
He then asked “and who is going to Noosa?”
EVERYBODY ELSE raised their hand.
Hmmmm, it appeared as if I was missing out on something in Noosa. Fortunately, Noosa was the stop before Rainbow Beach, so a quick phone call to the Oz Experience folks allowed me to get off the bus early and spend my night in Noosa for St. Paddy’s Day.
…Which was bonkers.
I figured Australians would like St. Paddy’s day, due to the whole “drink your ass off and pretend you’re Irish” concept, but I had no idea just how much they’d get into it. Around 3pm, I watched as a full blown Irish parade marched down the street, complete with bagpipes, kilts, and plenty of awesome Irish music (yeah I know, kilts and bagpipes are generally associated with the Scots, but it worked here). That night our hostel hosted a live Irish band, and then had a solo musician who played some halfway decent covers of songs everybody knew (Kings of Leon, the Killers, Bon Jovi, etc.).
The award for “most random moment of my trip” happened at this point. While the paid musician took his break, two GUESTS at the hostel asked if they could play a song or two. It was at this point that I listened as two Asian musicians, from Denmark, covered Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” in Australia, on St. Paddy’s Day. The only thing that would have made it more multinational would have been if I was drinking Peruvian beer and eating African food while hanging out with a penguin from Antarctica.
The best part?
These guys rocked it, absolutely blowing the roof off the place and completely showing up the paid talent. They were so good that the actual musician plugged back in to start playing, and then decided to step aside as the crowd demanded an encore from the hostel guests. Awesome.
It ended up being one of the best St. Paddy’s day in recent memory, tainted only by the fact that I woke up hung over at 6AM the next morning to stream the NCAA basketball tournament and watch as my team (Vanderbilt) completely choked in their opening game for the third time in a row.
Good thing I’m over it (not).
Rainbow Beach, Hervey Bay, and 1770
After a day of recovery in Noosa, I hopped back on the bus and made my way up to Rainbow Beach. I heard about the beautiful beach and sunsets here so I couldn’t wait to soak in some rays and relax. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate – my three days in Rainbow Beach provided plenty of clouds and tons of rain…but no sun nor rainbows.
I did take this sweet picture of a tree (above) though.
So, I got that going for me…which is nice.
From there it was up to Hervey Bay. Most people come here to make their way out to Fraser Island, this beautiful island paradise where people spend 2-3 days camping under the stars and swimming in crystal clear lakes. Unfortunately, my time was limited so I wasn’t able to make it out to Fraser – probably my biggest regret of thus far, because everybody I talked to who went said it was incredible.
After hanging out in Hervey for two days, I made a quick stop in the town of 1770 (yes that’s what it’s actually called) before continuing on to Arlie Beach.
Arlie Beach and the Whitsundays
Arlie Beach ended up being one of my favorite stops on the coast.
Although it was quite touristy, Arlie had a really cool vibe, plenty of fun places to walk to, a fun ocean front walkway, and a great playground completely void of any children that allowed me to get my body weight workouts done in relative privacy.
Many people come to Arlie as the starting point for a 3-day adventure out on the Whitsunday Islands, this neat collection of dozens of tiny islands off the coast that are simply gorgeous.
I didn’t have time for a 3-day adventure, but I did take the time to do a one-day snorkel/beach trip that provided me with some of the most picturesque scenery I’ve ever seen:
The picture above was taken from Whitsunday Island – no, it wasn’t doctored in any way – the water is really THAT color. Snorkeling through the shallow reefs off the coast of Whitsunday Island, sitting on white sandy beaches…not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
Unless you’re not into the whole “holy crap this is beautiful” type of day. Weirdo.
Scuba school begins
It was finally time to hurry up to Cairns, the location of my scuba certification school. I spent my first two days there at Pro Dive Cairns doing all of the boring stuff for the cert: watching film, taking quizzes, and proving that I could actually swim by doing laps and treading water in their pool. Well, it was supposed to be boring. Fortunately, my instructor for the five-day class was Ben, a diving instructor from Germany who is easily one of the funniest and wittiest dudes I’ve ever met.
I don’t think I could have lucked out with a better teacher – he made everything seem exciting, no matter how boring the source material. Honestly, I had tears in my eyes twice from laughing so hard, and this was while reading from a text book.
My favorite lesson learned from Ben: “If you have to fart underwater, don’t bother holding it in. The fart will expand as you rise anyways, so you might as well just let ‘er rip at the bottom…the fish won’t mind.”
In total, we had seven people in our class: me (duh), Corina from Switzerland, Dennis, Annette, and Nicolaj from Denmark, and Anna and Franzi, two sisters from Germany. Not surprisingly, we all became fast friends – which is bound to happen when you spend 10 hours a day with the same people – and had a great few days on land. They didn’t mind that I was an old man at age 26, and I didn’t mind that they were all babies (only 19 or 20 years old!).
After learning in the classroom each morning, we’d do a few dives in the swimming pool in the afternoon to get acquainted with the gear and get used to breathing underwater.
I’m not going to lie, I almost freaked out and hyperventilated during my first ten minutes in the pool with my gear on. I’ve spent my whole life in the water, where the only thing you’re NOT supposed to do is breathe underwater. Once you put on scuba gear however, the one thing you NOT supposed to do is hold your breath!
However, after closing my eyes, calming myself down, breathing more slowly, and telling myself to “FREAKING RELAX”, I recovered and managed to get more and more comfortable with life under the surface with each additional dive.
After two days in the classroom and the pool, it was time to spend three days on the Great Barrier Reef, living on one of ProDive Cairn’s luxury dive boats. By this point, I felt as home breathing underwater as I did breathing above it.
I was ready for the big leagues.
Scuba Steve gets certified
At 5AM the next morning, our group of seven headed to the docks to hop on ProDiveCairns III, our home for the next three days. We were joined by twenty or so other (already certified) divers and the Pro Dive Cairns team: our instructor Ben, Irish, Wazza, Jack, Chris the cook, and Dave, a group of guys who obviously loved their jobs – always smiling, always cracking jokes and making fun of each other…it really felt like a big family out at sea.
Our small group spent the next three days doing a total of ten dives on the Great Barrier Reef: three on the first day, four on the second day, and three on the third day. My dive buddy was Dennis, who had no idea why all of the Pro Dive guys kept calling him “Dennis the Menace.” Come on, who hasn’t heard of Dennis the Menace!?!?!
I then remembered that Dennis is only 20 years old and from Denmark. I guess you get a free pass on this one, buddy.
Our first four dives of the trip (three on the first day, and the first one on the second day) completed our Scuba certification training. We had absolutely PERFECT weather on all four dives which gave us great visibility underwater.
In fact, we had perfect weather for every one of our dives except one…but I’ll get to that in a minute.
I must say, it was quite the surreal experience out on the reef: you look out on the water and see absolutely nothing but flat ocean in any direction. However, as soon as you stick your head under the surface you see approximately a billion brightly colored fish and absolutely beautiful coral formations. If you’ve ever been to Universal Studios and gone on the E.T. ride, the part where you’re on E.T.’s home planet and see tons of crazy colored, beautiful scenes will give you some idea of what it’s like.
Except it’s approximately a thousand times cooler than that.
Sorry, E.T. – phone this!
Dennis gets slapped by a sea turtle
During our afternoon dive on the second day, Ben brought us over to the home of a kick-ass sea turtle. Before diving, Ben explained to us how sea turtles behave like crack-addicts whenever they get a chance to eat red algae; this one did not disappoint – we watched as he went absolutely bonkers as it happily chomped away.
Being the jokester that he is, Dennis pretended like he had red algae in his to try and get the turtle’s attention; our flippery fellow followed his clenched fist around for a good thirty seconds before discovering that he didn’t have any. In a surefire sign of retaliation, the turtle bit Dennis’s finger and then slapped him in the face with his front fin before swimming off.
Lesson learned at this point: don’t laugh your ass off underwater – you will flood your mask and swallow a bunch of seawater.
Okay, so maybe the turtle bit Dennis’s finger because he thought he had algae, and then accidentally whacked him in the face as he swam away, but I like to think that this turtle was out for vengeance after being duped.
Steve swims with sharks
On our second night at sea, we had the opportunity to do a night dive. Yes, it was as scary/epic/awesome as you’d think it’d be. Remember how I said we had great weather for every dive except one? It was this one.
Around 8PM, we headed out to the back of the boat to put on our dive gear. With rain coming in sideways and AC/DC blasting over the speakers, we spent the next 10 minutes feeling like absolute badasses as we geared up. Seriously, I felt like Sam Fisher or a navy SEAL out of a Tom Clancy novel at this point, getting ready to dive behind enemy lines on some top secret mission. We then sat around for a few minutes getting our instruction, in the pouring rain, as “highway to hell” blared in the background.
Oh, did I mention there were giant sharks swimming in the water?
It was go-time. We attached glowsticks to our airtanks so that we could see each other underwater, grabbed a waterproof flashlight, and jumped into the pitch black unknown.
Truth be told, it was f***ing creepy as hell diving at night.
You can’t see anything without your flashlight, and you certainly can’t hear anything, so it’s almost like you’re floating through nothing.
Dennis and I brought up the rear in our dive group, so all we could see in front of us were six bobbing glowsticks. After making our way down to the reef and watching as Ben brought us to some cool nocturnal creatures, we explored the bottom of the ocean floor with nothing but our flashlights to lead the way.
Every once and a while Ben would turn his flashlight on and off to get our attention before shining it directly above us, illuminating one of the aforementioned sharks in glorious light. These things were terrifyingly ugly and awesome – smoothly moving through the water and acting like they owned the place….which they pretty much do – so that works out well for them.
I kept waiting for Ben to shine the light over my shoulder, and when I’d turn around be face to face with a shark smilling with about 1000 teeth; fortunately they never got that close.
(As it turns out, sharks don’t generally bother with humans – we don’t taste that good and they’re quite afraid of us. Humans are only attacked when sharks think we’re food (like surfers who look like turtles from below) or they’re provoked; sharks try to stay away from us. They’ve been wrongfully portrayed as vicious bloodthirsty human killers in movies and the media, and are currently being hunted to extinction. Unfortunately, once the sharks are all gone, the whole food chain will be thrown out of whack and ocean life as we know it will get seriously effed up.)
Scuba Steve finds Nemo
Up until this point, I had yet to find Nemo. We found plenty of Nemo’s knockoff cousins – clownfish with one stripe or two, but hadn’t found any three-striped fish, which are true clownfish. On the last day, after a morning deep dive (30m) that completed our optional adventure diving certification that I opted to pay extra for, Dennis and I rented an underwater camera and went in search of the little bugger.
We were told that two clownfish would be living in the anenome in a particular spot at a particular compass direction when heading out from the rope hanging off the boat. Sure enough, after following these precise directions, we found Nemo hiding on the back of a large coral formation.
MISSION COMPLETE, SUCKA!
After finding Nemo, Dennis and I took turns doing stupid stuff underwater while the other filmed: jumping jacks, back flips, handstands, the Karate Kid pose, and so on. We actually have all of this on film, but due to the crappy internet in this town I’m not able to upload my video montage at the moment. I’ll get it posted at some point this week.
We explored some more of the ocean floor before hopping back on the boat for our trip home.
Irish’s iPod was blasting over the speakers, and he happened to be playing Blink 182’s Enema of the State from beginning to end. I used to listen to this album on repeat while mowing lawns during the Summer while in high school, so hearing it at that moment immediately brought me back to the good ole days.
I found Nemo, got adventure scuba certified, and listened to an album that defined my high school years from first song to last while sunbathing on the deck of a luxury dive boat on the Great Barrier Reef.
I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear.
Remember that scene in The Shawshank Redemption where Red , Andy, and the gang are hanging out on the roof of the license plate factory?
We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders and felt like free men…We were the lords of all creation. As for Andy – he spent that break hunkered in the shade, a strange little smile on his face.
I’m sure if anybody noticed me on this afternoon they would have seen a similar strange little smile. I don’t think I could have been happier.
Finding Nemo allowed me to cross off the Great Barrier Reef mission on my Epic Quest of Awesome. I’m now 60% of the way towards level 3.
I have to give a HUGE thanks to the Australian Board of Tourism and Pro Dive Cairns for this adventure. Although it’s quite expensive, after having done it, I would have GLALDY paid to do it without batting an eye – it was that awesome.
If you ever get a chance to make it to Australia, you owe it to yourself to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef – this is an experience that I’ll be telling my grand kids about (especially the night dive with sharks).
If you’re not already certified, spend the extra money and few extra days to do a 5-day class with Pro Dive Cairns – they’re the best operation in town, true professionals in every sense of the word, and they know how to do things right. And find out when Ben from Germany is teaching too – I cannot say enough good things about this guy, and guarantee you won’t find a better instructor anywhere. Although he certainly liked to goof around and have fun, he made our safety a priority and I never once felt like I wasn’t being looked after. Anybody that can make me cry from laughing so hard while reading a text book is okay in my book.
Later on this week, I’ll be doing another epic quest update about my recent 3-day adventure into the Australian outback to visit Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), which should get us all caught up on my Epic Quest and back on schedule!
I’ll be in Perth/Fremantle until at least Thurday, and then I begin my Southeast Asia portion of the trip with a trip up to Singapore!
For the Rebellion,