Australia: QL: 22-24/07: driving to Brisbane

Finalising the 5 month trip in Apac area. Along the coast south to Brisbane.

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Australia: QL: 19-22/07/04: Dive liveaboard to Wheeler Reef (GBR) and Yongala wreck

This time, no cancellation for the liveaboard. As planned, we (12 divers and 5 staff) boarded the boat in the evening.

As there were spare rooms, I requested a rom for myself which they agreed. It’s always nice to have that littl bit of extra space on a boat.
The whole night, we are heading to an outer part of the Great Barrier Reef, Wheeler Reef. There we would spend the first 2 days of diving. I was teamed up with Hannes, a German marine biologist. It worked out very well under water. I enjoyed the diving a lot: there was a big variety of fishlife and the coral was still in a healthy state (which is not everywhere the case on the GBR). We saw school of barracuda, sharks, turtles, eagle ray and the other smaller reeffishes, nudibranches, … Even during the nightdives, we saw sharks.

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The last day was then the highlight of the trip (also the reason for me to go on this trip) : the Yongala wreck. The wind was picking up the evening before, so we were warned that it could be rough, even such that it would maybe not be possible to dive the wreck. We all voted to go anyway. The trip to the wreck took longer than expected so we arrived only at 9 in the morning. The boat was dancing up and down, but we could dive. I started to feel a bit seasick but after 15 minutes outside, it went luckily away. Quickly prepared ourselves and off we went. A rough surface swim and we could go down. The visibility was not so good than 5 days ago, but it still is an amazing dive: 2 meter sized grouper, big schools of fish, very nice corals, and at the end, 2 giant stingrays. I still had enough air so dropped deeper again to approach them. Waauw, they were enormous. And then back to the suface were we really had to time carefully to climb back on the boat, because the waves made the boat go up and down a lot.

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We could only do 1 dive at the wreck, instead of the 2 dives foreseen. But this could not spoil my trip. It was a good way to end the diving of my holiday. Especially, back on the boat, we saw a humpbackwhale coming out of the water a few times. We actually heard them while diving as well, but I didn’t realise that the sound was from the whales. It gave an extra dimension to dive at a wreck when hearing these noises (spooky).
Now, I just need to head to Brisbane to catch the flight back home. I am sure I will come back to do more diving from Townsville south to Sydney.

Australia: QL: Townsville: 16/07/04: Diving the Yongala wreck

I heard already a long time ago that the SS Yongala wreck is the best dive in Australia. That is als why I have a liveaboard booked for that divesite. But more and more, I heard that quite often the sea is too rough to dive there, so they divert to other divesites. Currently, there is not so much wind, so I didn’t want to risk to not dive at the Yongala, and therefore booked a daytrip to the wreck.

It is a long way to the divesite: 3.5 hours with a fast boat. Luckily, it was a calm day (although half of the boat will deny this, as at least 6 out of 12 divers got very seasick).
I was teamed up with a diver, Tim, from Sydney (he actually knows the diver, Paul, I dived with South of Sydney). After a very good briefing, Tim and I jumped in as first buddy pair. You have to follow a few ropes at the surface and going down. Already on the way down, we saw a large school of barracudas. This was very promising.
At the wreck, I immediately saw it is not exagerated to have the Yongala rated as a top-dive. The wreck, whcih sank in 1911, is far away from reefs and therefore the only (artificial) reef in the area. So, all life gathers around this wreck. It is overgrown with soft and hard corals and the fishlife is enormous. Hughe schools, very big kingfish, batfish, extreme big Giant Queensland groupers (upto 2 meters), seasnakes, turtles. Everything seem to be bigger than normal (and it is not the underwater effect). We also saw 2 big bullsharks. I was trying to photograph a school of fish when all of a sudden, in a split second, they went away. I looked at Tim to ask if he knew what happened. I turned back and there was a very big bullshark. So I understood why the little fish swam for their lifes.
You can’t penetrate the wreck, because it is fully protected (it is actually a graveyard as everybody died on the ship). To me, I absolutely agree it is a top divesite. I am looking forward to go back there next week.
In the evening, it took me a while to find a spot to camp, so I had to drive in the dark, and immediately you see the animals coming out again, mainly kangaroos. (I luckily didn’t hit them).

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Australia: Queensland: Life is hard: sea, sun and beach!

I am slowly heading South to Brisbane along the coast of Queensland, the Sunshine state. I am absolutely thinking to those back home in cold, rainy Belgium when I am walking along deserted beaches, looking at the blue sky.
Waiting to go on the liveaboard on Monday, I will most probably dive the Yongala wreck already Friday or Saturday. (I couldn’t dive the Lady Bowen wreck due to too much wind).

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Micronesia: Palau: 02-12/07/04: Diving in Palau

As I told in previous message, my liveaboard had been canceled. So, a bit with a sad feeling, I went to Palau. Fish ‘n Fins picked me up at the airport and had foreseen a very nice hotel for me. The next morning, I had a chat with the owners and they apologized for what has happened. But they offered me good compensation: very nice hotel, food and drinks at their restaurant and all the diving by daytrips.

Whenever a dive was done by daytrip, I could join them: so, some days I did 5 dives and some days 2 dives.
I actually met the people that were supposed to be on the Palau Aggressor already on the plane from Guam to Palau. So, they went now all on the Ocean Hunter II.
Diving in Palau means also a lot of current (if no current, no sharks, no action). I have done already several dives with a lot of current, but most of the times that are drift dives: you let yourself go with the current. in Palau, at several spots, you hook on to the reef with reefhooks connected to your BCD, and you watch the action happening in front of you. The difference now is that you look right in the current. 1 time it was really very strong. It is like standing in a storm with your face towards the wind. If I moved my head, my mask and regulator were almost blown off. Some divers didn’t really had a good time that dive. It was absolutely a new experience for me.
Most of the time, at these spots there are sharks passing by, big schools of fish and occasionally you see them hunting right in front of you.

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Coral wise, I was a bit disappointed : it seems a lot of the coral suffered severe bleaching.

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On the dayboats, they always made sure the surface interval was spent in a special way: sometimes we snorkeled, are I did some skindiving under rocks with some guys from the States and Israel. And for lunch they always dropped us off at some of the Rock Islands with their nice white beaches and lots of green vegetation.

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Palau is also famous for its jellyfishlake: jellyfish that actually don’t sting (they do, but you don’t feel it). thousands of them. You can snorkel in the lake which was absolutely a highlight.

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Palau has suffered severe and bloodie battles during WWII. The americans thought to get the Japanese out in a few days, but it took them several bloody months with a lot of victims. (For what? A tiny little island Peleliu with a beach and a forest!)

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Micronesia: Palau: 02-12/07/04: Am I a danger for the United States?

To fly to Palau, I had to make a stopover in Guam. Guam is a part of the United States, what you immediately notice in the airport.

First, even when you are in transit, everybody has to go through passport check (a very long queue that moves very slowly). I had on my way to and from Palau over 12 hours transit time, so I decided to go out of the airport. On my way back from Palau, I wanted to rent a car but there were no small cars available anymore. So, I took a taxi and the tourist bus to the tourist area. I rested a bit at the swimming pool of some of the luxury hotels (I’ve done this already often: you just walk in and act confident as if you are a customer in the hotel). Guams’ main tourists are Japanese, Koreans and Taiwanese. All tourist brochures, signs, … are in these languages: not easy to understand for me. And what do they mainly do: go shopping. That is also what the tourist bus does: it drives between the hotels and all the shopping malls.
Back at the airport I knew already I would get a serious security check again. On my boarding pass are the letters SSSS which means I have to be checked out more thoroughly than others. I seem to get this everytime when I am at USA territory. I asked why, because it is not anymore a random check as they explaned me first. It seems to be linked to my name in the system. No idea what I have done to get this special threatment.