Osprey Reef

Feb. 16, 2018:

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As dawn broke over the Great Barrier Reef, we were awaked by the crew for breakfast, and then another exciting day of diving. As we finished up “Brekkie No. 1” (first breakfast), we got our dive briefing for our first dive of the day at the aptly named Around the Bend dive spot.

As a general note, we found the captain and crew to be incredibly knowledgeable about each of the areas we visited, and happy to share that knowledge. In fact, I’m going to use their charts from the dive briefings to show what we did for each dive, and that is at least going to be the starting place for these blogs. The dive briefings were very detailed, and the crew was hyper-aware of the potential for changing conditions.

In this case, the dive is essentially a drift dive along the outer reef face or a sea mount, with a stop mid-dive to watch out for sharks and other large predator fish that gather at a break in the reef wall to hunt. Then a swim across the opening, gradually ascending to a shallow area called the Grotto where you can do your safety stop and gaze at a coral reef while you do it. At least, that was the plan …

There are some big challenges about this dive spot. First and foremost is the current, which is very strong. Also, because the current is so strong, you must descend very quickly in order not to miss the place you hang out and watch for the big fish. Next, also because of the current, it was really tricky to latch onto the opening in the reef where prior dive companies have erected a rope into the reef face for you to latch onto. Finally, making the ascent across the reef opening with its increased current made for a tiring end to the dive. In short, this turned out to be the most challenging dive of the whole trip! Jim and I didn’t have any trouble making the descent and doing the drift dive, but that whole latching-on-to-rope-thing was fraught with peril. Jim and I got separated by the current. By the time I had made it back to the reef wall and latched on to (literally) one of the dive masters, I had pretty much missed the opportunity to see any of the hunters in action. Then came the hard swim to our ascent location. What can I say?! Another eff’g opportunity to learn! Our takeaway: if the dive plan goes to shit, you can always latch onto something long enough to make your safety stop and then ascend. If you’re too far away from the boat, that’s what those inflatable safety sausages are for!

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Two-banded Anemone fish
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Blue-spotted grouper

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Daisy coral
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Dot and Dash Butterflyfish
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Various Squirrelfish

After a really hearty “second brekkie” while the captain moved the boat (and we recovered from our harrowing first dive), Jim and I were ready for the main event of the day; a shark feeding at North Horn.  This is a totally cool area which features a natural amphitheater at about 40 feet which looks down at the top of a seamount about 15 feet below it. The crew has filled a metal cage with pieces of frozen tuna heads threaded through a metal cable and attached to some buoys.  as we took our places on the ledge of the amphitheater, the cage is slowly lowered onto the top of the seamount and tied off.  Then the sharks and other predators began to gather.  When we had amassed a sizable crowd of sharks, the crew member with the short straw had to latch the metal cage and then a food fight broke out.  The best pictures from this came from our onboard photographer, Vili, who took up a position right on the edge of the seamount about three feet from the cage.  My photos are the definitely less interesting (but safer) ones looking down on the scene.

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Me filming the spectacle-Credits to @ViliPhotography, Vili Maitaiwai

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Credits to @ViliPhotography, Vili Maitaiwai

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Credits to @ViliPhotography, Vili Maitaiwai
Credits to @ViliPhotography, Vili Maitaiwai
Credits to @ViliPhotography, Vili Maitaiwai
Credits to @ViliPhotography, Vili Maitaiwai
Credits to @ViliPhotography, Vili Maitaiwai
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Credits to @ViliPhotography, Vili Maitaiwai

Great Barrier Reef Day Two-22Great Barrier Reef Day Two-30Great Barrier Reef Day Two-41We stayed in place for our third dive of the day, which gave us an opportunity to do more diving along the reef wall of North Horn. This was a very cool experience, because there are all sorts of nooks and crannies to look for fish, and we saw types of fish I have never seen before. Now the challenge is to try to identify them from the pictures I took! Tomorrow, we’ll be diving further south off Bouganville Reef.

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The dining room of the Spirit of Freedom-Credits to @ViliPhotography, Vili Maitaiwai
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Giant Clam
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Orange Lined Triggerfish
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Orange Spot Surgeonfish
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Moon wrasses
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Moorish Idol

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Saddled Butterflyfish
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Best guess-some kind of damselfish
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Palette Surgeonfish
Credits to @ViliPhotography, Vili Maitaiwai
Credits to @ViliPhotography, Vili Maitaiwai

Coral Princess Palace and Challenger Reef

Feb. 15, 2018:

Jim and I set off this morning on a four day trip to the outer Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea aboard the Sprit of Freedom, and it was a fabulous experience! The ship is fairly modern, with some very nice amenities, like a huge dive deck, and a dedicated indoor area for camera and computer use. The cabins are fairly small, but serviceable, and always spotlessly clean. However, there are plentiful public areas indoors and out, and the ship is very comfortable.

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Our Intended Journey

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On the Cessna Caravan flying to the GBR
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Leaving Cairns

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Cairns Bay
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First view of the Great Barrier Reef

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Approaching Lizard Island

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First views of the Spirit of Freedom

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Credits to @ViliPhotography, Vili Maitaiwai
Credits to @ViliPhotography, Vili Maitaiwai
Credits to @ViliPhotography, Vili Maitaiwai
Credits to @ViliPhotography, Vili Maitaiwai

Because this trip goes to the outer Great Barrier Reef, the reefs are in deeper water, and thus influenced by slightly cooler ocean waters, which means sea life is very plentiful. In fact, all the reefs we visited were very healthy and we saw no evidence of reef bleaching at all. The coral colors were just amazing, and the fish variety was mind-boggling! Add to that average visibility ranges of 100-150 feet, and you can see why this is a diver’s paradise. Once aboard, you are given 4-5 opportunities to dive each day. The food was yummy, and the chef always had a fresh offering ready each time we came out of the water. Therefore, our life for the next four days will consist of “Eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive and sleep”. Let’s get started with a dive on the Coral Princess Palace!


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Dive Briefing for Coral Princess Palace

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Best guess–some kind of wrasse or hogfish
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Elephant Ear Sponge on left

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Soft corals and Royal Gramma
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Parrotfish upside down
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Bicolored Angelfish
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Moray Eel
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Giant Clam

Then we moved the boat to Ribbon Reef No. 9 in order to dive at Challenger Bay. We actually did two dives here: one in the late afternoon, and the second at night.

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More Elephant Ear sponge and dwarf stag horn coral; Bi-color angel and golden damselfish, five line cardinalfish
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Jim perfectly “trimmed out”
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Fiveline cardinalfish, golden damsels, and checkerboard wrasse
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Shaded Batfish
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Giant Moray Eel

Then came the night dive …!  This night dive is all about seeing the big predator fish (and sharks) which come out at night to feed.  Because the boat stops weekly in this spot, the local fish have adapted somewhat to the divers.  Our first clue about this is when the boat turned on her floodlights aimed down at the ocean to help guide divers back, and HUGE Trevellys started jumping out of the water. Think hunger big tuna and you’ll begin to get the feel.  Another way the predators have adapted is that they have learned that our dive lights are a helpful way to locate their prey. Accordingly, our dive leader instructed us not to shine the lights directly on the fish you are viewing lest they get eaten.  He cautioned us “only 1 kill per diver”, and not to cause any of the “pretty” fish to get eaten; only the ugly ones.

The thought of getting into the water with all these hungry fish was a little daunting!  Then you get into the water, and these fish and the sharks are so thick you can hardly see anything else.  However, the dive was really cool, and many things were active that you never see in the day.

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White-tipped reef shark

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Big-eyed Trevelly

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From left: some kind of Hawkfish? , a Half and Half Puller, &  Scalefin Anthias
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Sailfin Surgeonfish, aka Sail-fin Tang
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Soft coral feeding
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Paddletail snapper?
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Some kind of branched murex moving very slowly across the seafloor

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Purple Coral and Giant Clam
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Golden Damsel on a plate coral

Another Day Among the Anangu

Feb. 14, 2018:


Happy Valentine’s Day, dear Readers! This morning we were scheduled to go do a hike at Kata Tjuta (about a 45 minute drive away from Uluru) followed by a visit to the Anangu Cultural Center at Uluru. However, we didn’t feel like doing another dawn wake up (and it was still pouring down rain at dawn), so we opted just to visit the Cultural Center later in the morning. Besides, if possible, the Kata Tjuta stone formations are more sacred than Uluru. So sacred, in fact, that non-Anangu peoples are forbidden to even learn about the sacred stories and traditions surrounding that rock formation. Fortunately, the sun (and heat) came back before we left for our visit, so we were able to place our sopping wet shoes out to dry.

Dawn views of the rain still pounding Uluru
and also on Kata Tjuta


The Cultural Center was really fascinating, and also featured some workshops by some of the local artists. There were some videos made by some of the community elders about the time the government decided to turn Uluru back to the local Anangu tribe, which was only about 30 years ago. Most interesting to me was learning that, in addition to being one of the oldest land masses on the planet, this area of Australia can trace its human habitation by these tribes back more than 58,000 years. When you see the facial structure of the Anangu today, it is easy to see how human evolution worked because their features are so ancient.  Sadly, the Cultural Center is also considered sacred so no photos were allowed. However, it was well worth the visit!

Entry to the Uluru Park. Apparently, there are wild camels here, but we never saw them.
Final views of Uluru with water still cascading down the sides

Then it was back to the resort and a final meal before catching the flight to Cairns, which will be our gateway to diving on the Great Barrier Reef. Jim and I can barely wait!!!!!!!!

Oohing and Aahhing at Uluru

Feb. 13, 2018:

Jim and I were up before the sun this morning to do a hike around the base of Uluru, and to learn more about the aboriginal culture of the local people who call themselves the Anangu. We got some killer shots of Uluru at sunrise, walked the Kuniya Walk (involving a sacred story about the snake goddess, Kuniya) and then were able to see some of the ponds that form at Uluru’s base called the Mutitjulu Waterhole. Learning our lesson from last night, we were all garbed up in our fly hoods because with the sun came the flies! I lasted about a third of the way around the base, and then gave up to the heat and flies. Jim, however, trooped the entire way around the base (a distance of about six miles).



The stone formation said to represent the goddess Kuniya (as a snake curled on top of itself)
Stone pictographs in the Learning Cave at the Kulp Mutitjulu Uluru-111


Mutitjulu Waterhole


Following that, we rested during the heat of the day, and then reassembled for another expedition of Uluru; this time to focus on the sacred areas of the Rock, and to learn more about the myths of those places. Rain has been threatening all afternoon (and in fact rained for a short time this afternoon while we were swimming), but it is so blasted hot, Jim and I left our raincoats behind, and just carried umbrellas. Once again, cocktails and canapés awaited us at the end of this excursion. However, about halfway through the trip, the heavens just opened up.



Normally, you would think this was a bummer, but a fabulous thing happened. The top of Uluru is basically a giant flat rock with some pools in it. When it rains really hard, the pools fill up, and waterfalls start to cascade down the side of Uluru. Usually, this can take up to two hours, and may not even happen if the rain is not strong enough. However, in this case, the rain was so violent that we were able to see the beginning of the waterfalls within about 20 minutes. In fact, the rain was so hard that it looked like water was exploding from the top of Uluru.





We finally left when it started thundering and lightning right overhead, and we had a very wet hike out of the park, but it was still a magical experience. Back at the resort, we enjoyed a spectacular lightning show while we ate dinner.


Welcome to the Deep Red Center of Australia!

Feb. 12, 2018:

We spent most of the day in transit today before arriving at Longitude 131° Resort. This resort is another property owned by the same couple who own the Southern Ocean Lodge (the Baileys), and it is similarly striking. In the case of this resort, the dwellings are all designed to resemble tents although they have solid walls and the tent ceiling is permanent and 100% attached. This is a very good thing as not only was it hot as Hades here, but in the summertime, the whole area is plagued with kajillions of small flies!





The ground everywhere is an incredible shade of red! From our room, we can see Uluru in the distance. In fact, like Southern Ocean Lodge, upon arrival, we were given our activity schedule for the next three days.


After enjoying a brief dip in our plunge pool on the deck looking at Uluru, we prepared for our first outing which was a sunset walk around the edge of Uluru with drinks and canapés. Sadly, tonight because there were some heavy clouds at sunset, we did not see the full splendor of the rock changing color in the dying rays of the sun. However, it was still spectacular (if fly-infested), and we could also see some great views of Kata Tjuta in the distance.



Jim enjoying a sunset libation while evading the flies
Kata Tjuta in the distance
Uluru at sunset


Following the sunset, we had a special treat in store, as our tour guide took us to a temporary light display in an open field called Field of Light Uluru.  The event organizers describe it as follows: “The exhibition, aptly named Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku or ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ in local Pitjantjatjara is Bruce Munro’s largest work to date. Overwhelming in size, covering more than seven football fields, it invites immersion in its fantasy garden of 50,000 spindles of light, the stems breathing and swaying through a sympathetic desert spectrum of ochre, deep violet, blue and gentle white.”


Our evening wrapped up with a special starlit dinner outside the resort, and one of the resort guides did a stargazing walk for us afterwards. Fortunately, as the wind came up with the sunset, we did not have to beat flies away. The stars were truly amazing. Because there is virtually no light pollution out here, I think it was the best stargazing we have ever seen! Back at our room, we continued the pleasure of the stars out on our deck with a glass of the dessert wine Jim had bought for us at Primo Estate.


“Take Me Koala Back, Jack!”

Feb. 11, 2108:


Sadly, it’s our last day on Kangaroo Island. However, we had quite a few activities to experience first. This morning, the resort set us up for an excursion that visited three main areas of the island: 1. Back to Hansen’s Bay Wildlife Preserve, mostly to see the koalas by daylight, although we did see some Australian geese also;

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The dawn view from our room
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Australian Geese

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Entering Hansen’s Bay Preserve (we saw all of these except the echidna)
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Sleepy koala


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Mom and her baby (“joey”)

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Kangeroo Island Day Three-542. To Cape Couedic and the Admiral’s Arch, mostly to see the fur seal colony which lives there;

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The Casuarina Islets off Cape Couedic

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You can see why they needed a lighthouse here

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Mom and baby Australian fur seals

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Admiral’s Arch

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and 3. To the Remarkable Rocks (their name says it all).  These amazing rock formations were formed about 500,000 years ago when hot magma bubbled up through the relatively fragile sedimentary rock on top and made big mounds of granitic stone. Over the millennia, the wind and weather have worn weird patterns into the stone, and constant rain has caused the iron ore within to leach bright orange spots on the rocks. Nice job picking a shirt to match the scenery, Jim!

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Then we had a bit of free time in the great lodge at the resort before flying back to Adelaide in the late afternoon. Tomorrow morning, we will fly to Uluru via Alice Springs in order to see the Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) National Park and its adjacent Kata Tjuta Park.

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Watch Me Wallabies Feed, Mate!

Feb. 10, 2018:

After a fantastic sleep in our room facing the ocean, Jim and I had breakfast and then wandered down the cliffs to the beach. The sand is like rough sugar here, but a lovely shade of white from all the decomposing coral. K.I. has been the location of many shipwrecks over the years because of the strong tides, treacherous reefs and rocky cliffs. Fortunately, there’s now a lighthouse to guide the ships in, which we will see tomorrow.

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Our activities for the day include a visit to a sea lion nursery, and later tonight, to do a nature walk in the nearby preserve (Hansen’s Bay Conservation Area) to see all the nocturnal animals. Although I could have spent my free time visiting the amazing spa here, I mostly just stared at the ocean and edited photos for your viewing pleasure, dear Readers.

K.I. has both a sea lion colony and a fur seal colony, both of which are protected by the Parks Department. For this afternoon’s trip, we were assigned one of the Lodge’s naturalists to guide our visit to the sea lion colony at Seal Bay Conservation Reserve. No one is allowed into the sea lion viewing area unless accompanied by a ranger. We are very fortunate in the timing of our visit because there are still small pups with their moms, but breeding season has begun, so the males are challenging each other and looking for mates instead of just laying on the beach. I don’t even want to tell you how many photos I took, but here are a small selection of them and the colony area.

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After enjoying another awe-inspiring sunset while we had cocktails on the main deck of the Lodge, we had an early dinner. Then it was off to see animals in the wildlife preserve as they begin to come awake. Our main targets this evening are koalas (not to be called “koala bears, as they’re not bears, mate”) and Tammar wallabies, although we also hope to see some possums, and maybe an echidna (like a small hedgehog). Koalas are only awake four hours a day, and they must eat enough eucalyptus in that time to fuel them for the twenty hours. Here’s a crazy story about the Koalas; they were extinct on mainland Australia by about 1920. Fortunately, they were introduced to Kangaroo Island just before they became extinct on the mainland, and they have prospered here!  Wallabies are true nocturnal animals unlike kangaroos (which are “corpuscular” meaning they are mostly active in the cooler hours of the day around dawn and dusk).

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Brush-tailed possum
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Brush-tailed possum and koala joey hanging out together

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Fabulous photo of mom and baby koala. Hold your applause!
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Tammar Wallaby

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Ring-tailed possum

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Wallaby drinking from a birdbath