On holiday with the family.

Tuesday morning, we jumped in the car and headed out to the airport. We were off to see the Aussie branch of our family (well, some of them, anyway) – my gorgeous cousins Yolly and Clauds, and Yolly’s kids Mya and Ivy.

View of Sydney on the way up!

Sydney from the sky

Above the clouds and looking down

Everything went pretty smoothly, except for my case being a kilo or so over (happens every time) – we got the train out to Brisbane, taxi to our hotel and then it was just a case of getting organised for dinner. There was a hitch in our plans for the next day though – with the bad weather in north Queensland, the roads from Cairns to Port Douglas were blocked – one by a landslide, and the other by flooding. It wasn’t clear whether or not we’d even make it through to our hotel in the morning … which left us all feeling a little stressed out.

Family shot

We had planned to meet in a restaurant for dinner that evening, but decided in the end to just stay in our hotel instead. It was easy enough for the others to get to and pretty kid-friendly. Yolly stopped by for a coffee in the afternoon and Mum brought out the gifts she had for the kids – Ivy was in a good mood, chilling out on Mum’s lap, Mum looked delighted.

Ivy

Is it Mya ... or Gran? Hahaha.

Ivy and Yolly

Yolly headed off before showing up later for dinner with Clauds too – it was so nice to have everyone together. We took loads of photos as usual – including some particularly cute ones with the kids trying on Mum’s glasses – Mya is a dead ringer for my gran :)

It was all over too quickly … and so was the night’s sleep … at just after 6am the next day, it was time to get up and head to the airport for yet another flight. I think we were all feeling the strain of too much travel already! I rang our hotel at 9am and it was good news – the buses could get through! However, instead of the usual hour along the coast road, we’d be travelling for over two hours along the mountain roads – but at least we’d make it. We were prepared to have to wait for some time at the airport as well, so all in all it wasn’t quite the relaxing trip that we were hoping for!

High rivers on the way to Port Douglas

Some areas were still flooded

Great views from the mountain road

On arriving at Cairns, we found our luggage remarkably quickly, as well as our representative from the coach company. We had a short wait in a coffee shop – far from the chaotic welcome we’d been prepared for – then we were off, in a small coach with a luggage trailer. It struggled up the steep roads through the hills, dropping in to second gear as it screamed along with its heavy cargo. I think Mum and Dad were secretly delighted at the photo opportunities along the way though! I dozed and daydreamed through the journey, gazing out across bright sunshine on semi-flooded plains and wondering whether we’d actually hit any exciting wet patches of road (we didn’t).

Our apartment - upper floor on the left

It was a long way, nearly three hours compared to the hour long trip it would have been had the other road not been blocked, so we were pretty happy to finally arrive. Our apartment was gorgeous – two big adjoining suites, Mum and Dad’s had a living room and both had balconies.

Our apartment in Port Douglas

Sunset across the trees


We headed out in search of the beach and some food, ended up walking slightly further than we’d intended, but eventually found the supermarket … Dad kept asking me, “Is it this way, Jo? How much further along is it?” Now I know how he felt when I was a kid …

We went for a quick dip in the pool before dinner – it was sooooo warm and humid, starting to rain but it didn’t even matter. For a few days at least, life could just slow down.

Pool area at the resort

The next day was bright and sunny – we’d been expecting hot, humid and probably a fair amount of rain, so to have such gorgeous weather was great. We spent the day lounging around the pool, reading, cooling off in the water – Mum and Dad were planning to head out on a boat trip the next day to see some of the Barrier Reef, and I booked to go on a dive boat and see it up close. It was too hot to want to do anything much, so we didn’t :)

No diving ... but we will anyway

Relaxing by the pool

Relaxing in the pool


It was an earlier start on Friday, my pick up was around 8am. I was the only person on the bus with a huge back of diving kit … I wondered if I shouldn’t have taken it all along after all, but I’d much rather dive in my own gear. I still haven’t quite figured out my Suunto computer yet, so when they discovered I was an instructor I did take a little teasing for that too … luckily there was another English girl on board who was a bit more clued up and helped me out.

Me diving!

I was a little bit disappointed with the actual diving though. The water was beautiful and warm, but slightly murkier than I’d expected – similar to diving in the Maldives after a spell of bad weather though, so maybe the recent rain had caused that. We saw loads of small, pretty fish and coral, but nothing large – I guess the turtles were all staying home that day :( That said, Mum did see a turtle or two out on her boat! I did see some of the hugest giant clams ever though, patterned in purple, black, white and blue. There were also plenty of Christmas tree worms, which reminded me of diving in Bonaire – I love waving my hand across the top of them and watching them dart away – and some unusual sponges. I found a few Nemo’s lurking in the anemones too, and a giant lobster – I wasn’t sure if it was alive or dead, as it was pretty still, but I didn’t want to find out so I snapped a quick shot and swam away!

Diving the barrier reef

The dive boat

Giant clam


A lot of the coral around the reef is bleached and dead, which was pretty sad – a visible effect of the warmer ocean waters. All in all though, it was a really nice day out diving, but not the incredible experience I had hoped for.

Mum's dive buddy

Dad enjoying the boat

More of the reef


By the time I got back, I had a bit of time to myself before Mum and Dad returned from their trip. They had been in some kind of glass-sided pod and Mum insisted that she had photos of her “dive buddy” … she did too, she showed me later a guy who had been swimming along around the edge of them!

Chilling in the pool

We spent our final day and a half on Saturday and Sunday morning once again lazing around the pool, with plenty of wine and beer, eating in together in the evenings and generally just enjoying relaxing and spending time together. I bought some “pool noodles” from the supermarket and had a bit of fun floating around the pool with them … we also headed into town to explore some of the shops and take more (yes more!) photographs!

Shops

Slightly stormier day

Coming back to the harbour

Finally it was time to pack up and head back to the airport for the flight home. The journey back was much, much easier – only an hour along the coast road this time and we were at the airport. One plane, train, ferry and taxi later and we were home … well, home for me anyway!

Mum and Dad had one last day to chill out and hang around Manly before heading back home. I had plans for the afternoon, so we spent a couple of hours together in the morning and then ate out later in Manly. Next morning, we all met up and dragged the cases down to the ferry terminal and on to the peak hour ferry.

I left them at Circular Quay. I was determined not to cry, until Mum hugged me tight and we couldn’t let go, and my eyes leaked just a little. I headed straight into work and then out after work for the evening – it helped to get my mind off of them going, although homesickness did hit me pretty hard later that week. It was fantastic to have them here though … to share “my” Australia, to see a bit more of what theirs had been, and just having family time … amazing, and hopefully worth the journey for them too :)

Diving and Party Pies.

Party Pies! Yum yum

I was delighted last weekend to find a dive centre just around the corner from my new home in Manly, and even happier when they suggested sending in my CV with the prospect of helping out. I put together a diving CV, sent it off and they called back the same day to offer me a spot on their boat this Sunday – for free :) – how could I possibly refuse?

So Sunday afternoon I turned up at the shop to get a ride down to the sailing club nearly Little Manly, where the boat leaves from. It’s a lovely hard boat with room for twenty five people to dive from it comfortably, but they had a strangely quiet afternoon, with just five of us diving.

I was worried about getting cold, the water was around 16 degrees – not what I was expecting, but then again it’s only late spring – hopefully by January it won’t be quite as cold.

The first dive was at a site that the others hadn’t dived before – we called it West Blocks. The water was fairly clear, visibility was probably around 7m. I wore two wetsuits (5mm + 3mm shortie), with hood and gloves – I was pretty cold but we dived for around half an hour and reached 19m. As we ascended towards the end, the water warmed up, until our safety stop where I wasn’t cold at all.

Visibility was like a good day in the UK!

My buddy was Janine, a seasoned instructor from Cairns, who had a keen eye for small things – she pointed out loads of nudibranchs, and then we saw a bull ray who was missing his tail!

As we got out, Tony the skipper offered us hot soup – that was just what I needed! He then brought out hot Party Pies, and the group teased me for not knowing what they were (mini meaty pies with ketchup, apparently!) They were so good.

Pretty nudibranch

I took my camera for the second dive, but for some reason it was much colder, seemed like the water was dribbling down my back all through and I was shivering twenty minutes in. The water wasn’t as clear, but it was similar to dives I have done along the south coast of the UK on a really good day, with far more life.

This time, we saw four cuttlefish – three tiny baby ones, and one hovering in a cave. To my delight, we also saw a wobbegong shark! These are common sights around Sydney, but for me, seeing sharks is still really special and I was buzzing. We saw more nudibranchs and several different types of starfish, as well as some huge blue groper.

I struggled a bit on my safety stop – my legs felt sore and crampy, it’s been a while since I dived and I was wearing an unfamiliar combination of my kit. I don’t think I quite got my weighting right – I wore 18lb (around 9kg) and I think that was a bit heavy – I wanted to make sure I offset the aluminum tanks at the end of the dive.

I was also trying out my new Suunto D6i and comparing to my old Oceanic Geo. It made me realize how much I appreciate the familiarity of knowing where to look for the information on my trusty old computer, although the new one does far more interesting stuff like monitoring my air. It’ll just take some getting used to.

Two baby cuttlefish

Dives over, the weather was getting cold – there was a Southerly and it was making itself known. Eric kindly loaned me a towel – being so used to diving in a drysuit, I hadn’t even thought to bring one, doh!

I love being out on boats though, especially when they are covered in bad weather! So it was fun motoring back via Rose Bay to Manly, where we unloaded the boat on to the truck, then unloaded the tanks back at the dive centre (just like being back at home!)

At the centre I met Dan, the owner, for a quick interview. With the summer season coming up, there’s plenty of work at Pro Divers and I’m excited about the possibilities. There’s still some hard work ahead though: I’ll need to spend time learning more about how things work and spend time helping other instructors. That’s good though, I wouldn’t have wanted them to throw me in at the deep end!

So far they seem to be a great bunch of people, and I’m hopeful that I’ll find some good friends (as I did at Divecrew), who are nothing to do with work!