After ten full on days and well over 2000 km in Tarquin, our hired luxury motorhome, we were relieved to get to Cairns for a good wash and a bit of a rest. We had no real plans, but knew that we couldn’t leave without getting the kids out onto the Great Barrier Reef for some family diving adventures. We had five days, and only one job, this was going to be easy.It turned out to be not that easy at all. The problem was that Cairns is a really lovely place with miles of perfect seafront that needed to be walked up and down several times a day. We instantly relaxed into the town and kind of took our eye off the ball a bit. Booking a trip out onto the reef wasn’t a problem at all as there are literally hundreds of tour boats and thousand of agents all working hard to sell you the perfect reef experience. The trouble started on the day of the tour. After four days in town, we were practically horizontal and simply blown away by the sunrise that greeted us for our stroll to the marina. We arrived perfectly on time and were asked to produce our diving qualification cards. Errrmm…. Produce proof of our competence to dive? That’s never happened before, and it hadn’t crossed our minds to dig them out of our bags before leaving the hotel. Nobody has ever shown the slightest interest in them before. Sam’s got a PADI qualification, so we were pretty sure that we’d be able to get his details from the PADI website, and Floss managed to dig out a picture of my card on her phone. Phew! It looked like it was all going to be OK.
Thirty minutes out of port, and the call came through that there were no details of Sam or his diving qualification on the PADI website. Arse! Frantic searching of emails, and Floss managed to dig out a note from PADI from when Sam completed his diving course last year. Phew, we were back on. But no! When the dive guide read Sam’s qualification letter, he realised that Sam is only eleven, and Queensland law requires that all divers diving for the first time have to be at least twelve before they can be dropped on the reef. But Sam is a qualified diver, so that rule doesn’t apply we argued. Frantic phone calls between the owner of the boat and the Queensland government followed, and finally the rule was clarified. Sam, as a fully qualified eleven year old was allowed to dive. Huzzah for family diving!
Prior to getting the all-clear, we’d enjoyed an exclusive glass-bottomed-boat trip over the Reef with Alex, the boat’s resident marine biologist. I’m not sure what the other punters on the tour were doing, but they really should have spent some time with Alex. Having her to ourselves was a real bonus though, especially as the night before we’d been to Reef Teach and spent two very entertaining hours learning all about the coral and the animals that call the reef home. Armed with the Reef Teach knowledge, the kids got a much more thorough trip around, and Alex showed them pretty much everything they’d been taught about the night before. We even got to see a turtle before being dropped off at the amazing Michaelmas Cay (if you don’t know the difference between a cay and an island then drop Sam a note, and he’ll let you know) for a bit of pre-lunch snorkelling on a beautiful bit of reef. No turtles this time, but Floss and Evan did get to see a shark, and we were all amazed to see fish as big as the kids circling the boat waiting to be fed.
The afternoon dive for Sam and me was an amazing adventure. For me, it was a seriously proud moment to see Sam so happy, confident and capable underwater. Sam didn’t seem to be taking the dive too seriously though and was clearly intent on ignoring the “go slow and look carefully” advice that he’d been given at Reef Teach. He shot about like an over-excited torpedo, destroying his chances of seeing much but clearly enjoying himself immensely, which is what it’s all about. The smile on his face when we got back on the boat was priceless, and entirely justified the morning’s qualification stresses.
On the way back into Cairns, the crew hoisted the mainsail and we had a romantic hour racing back to the mainland watching the sun start to set with the perfect soundtrack of the wind in the rigging and the waves on the hull. It was an amazing end to an amazing day.
And that’s pretty much how Cairns was at the end of our adventures with Tarquin. Simply perfect. It’s a beautiful place, and we loved every minute we had there. Apart from the sandflies. They’re a living nightmare.
Love Cairns. Love diving. Really loving Australia.