Bucket List: Scuba in Great Barrier Reef

Today was the day I had been waiting for all trip! It was New Years Eve and I was about to accomplish one of my bucket list items for my life: scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef.

I’m a big believer in the power of setting goals. I like to set goals for each new year. Usually, there are around 2-3 of them and at least one get accomplished. This year, I did have a few, but the main one was going abroad. And, here I was, on the eve of a new year, in the midst of it all. It felt good!

Not only was I accomplishing a 2016 goal, but I was about to accomplish a larger life goal. It was happenstance that this activity would fall on the same day as the end of 2016, but it was a very happy one for me.

I gladly woke up early and headed down to breakfast with the girls. I made sure my GoPro was fully charged and ready for action. I wanted to remember the sights for the rest of my life!

We got on the boat and headed to the dock. We then headed to our boat, which would be taking us on a 90 minute ride out to the Great Barrier Reef. It was strongly encouraged that we take some sea sickness pills, so I took two and was very glad I did about 30 minutes later.

The ride out there was rough and many people were sick to their stomach. I didn’t want to risk anything getting in the way of my scuba.

I have never scuba dived before, but it has always been something that I was interested in because the beautiful sights in books and movies. It seemed like something exploratory as well, like you were this awesome adventurer looking at sights that possibly no one had seen before. A bit romantic, but possibly just a truly wonderful and fun thing to do.

I had signed up for literally just about everything you could do out there. This was THE thing I was most excited about.

My scuba time wasn’t until later in the day, so I hopped onto a “sea bob” tour. I didn’t want to just sit around my activities, so I jumped at the chance to finally get in the water and see the reefs.

A “sea bob” is basically a motor that helped you move faster through the water than if you were to swim. It goes in front of you and pulls you along while you hold on. It’s especially nice because it can take you farther out than you can do swimming.

Two of the girls and I got our snorkeling gear on and headed out to meet the guy who would show us the ropes.

Once we got out a bit, we started to look down at the Reef. It was incredible to see the coral and fish living in the water. I turned on my GoPro to catch some footage to share with my family. The sun was bright, so the water was clear and the colors were really shining. We got to do some deeper diving with the sea bobs, which was great to do leading up to the scuba.

We were all wearing stinger suits, which protect against jelly fish and other stinging sea creatures. Even though I wore my suit, my chin bumped up against a jelly fish which stung me. As it was put to me earlier, it felt a bit like a spicy oil got on my face. It stung a little, but not too bad.

Once we got back to the boat docking area, it was already my time to go up in the helicopter.

We got on a boat that took us to a helicopter landing pad in the middle of the ocean…cool. We got in and they started going up. I took a few videos and pictures of the Reef from above. It was stunning to see how large the Reef was and how far it extended. I loved how clear the water was, so much so that we could see larger sea creatures from above.

We landed on the pad, and I caught the next boat back to the boat-dock, just in time for lunch. After lunch, it was my time to scuba dive!

I headed over to the area, stinger suit on, ready to do this!

It seems I was a little too early for my group, so I had to wait, a bit impatiently, for my time. I sat with my flippers on and mask ready, tank attached. Finally, my intro dive group was going!

The tank was incredibly heavy while out of water and the fins were hard to walk in. But, I made it down the stairs into the water chamber where we would learn basic dive instructions.

Our instructor went over the basics like how to signal you were okay (๐Ÿ‘Œ๐Ÿป), how to get water out of your mask, how to get rid of pressure in your body and how to remove the breather and then put it back in. We mimicked the movements to show we were capable of finally scuba diving.

He gently led us down in pressure and closer to the ocean floor, checking to see we adjusted okay. I followed the instructions and didn’t feel much pressure. He then had us link arms and make our way into the open water area.

The sights were breathtaking! Quite literally, not only because it was beautiful but also breathing solely out of your mouth is such a weird feeling. Honestly though, I took to it really well and loved the feeling of surviving under water. It had been something I worried I wouldn’t like, given that I had hyped the experience in my head. But, it was even better than I could have imagined.

We were under water exploring as a group for about 40 minutes.

When we returned to the surface, I quickly grabbed my GoPro to be able to take it down for my second dive which was almost right after the first dive. They don’t let you take your cameras with you on your first intro dive.

In between getting my tank filled and getting ready for the next dive, I chatted with some of the scuba instructors. We talked about the most amazing sights they had seen scuba diving and how they got into their roles. They all had similar experiences, mostly did it once and got hooked. A lot of them loved seeing sea turtles and dolphins when diving. They encouraged me to get my PADI certification, which I had already been thinking about.

We went down for our second dive and the instructor gave me a little more leeway to explore on my own a little more. This time, with my GoPro, I captured some awesome sights.

One of my fave videos is of Wally, a friendly fish who likes to interact with scuba divers. He is pretty large, probably a grouper fish, with blue and yellow scales. He came up and swam towards me, then got a little pet from the instructor. It was just very cool to get so close to wildlife out here, in this amazing piece of nature.

When I got back up from the second dive, it was just about time for the boat to leave the platform we had been docked at all morning and afternoon. I was surprised as where the time had gone, but felt good that I had used my time wisely.

I got back on the boat to head back to land. We headed to the top deck to relax for a little after an adventurous afternoon. We even got some chocolate ice cream…best day ever, right?!

We docked and got off the boat to head back to the hotel to get ready for our New Year’s Eve night. I had to get ready faster than everyone else, since I had a meeting about our next couple days, where we would be sailing.

I got in my “play suit” and headed down to the meeting about preparing for sailing. After the meeting was over, I met up with the girls and we got on the coach to go to the local bar Contiki had gotten us into.

The woolshed is a local bar with a dance floor on the top floor. It had a fun vibe, with good music and cool lights. We got dinner and drinks there, while it was still relatively calm. Then, at around 10 pm, it got a lot wilder. We danced and had fun, bonding with all the new group members.

At around 11:30 pm, we headed out to the coastal area to see the fireworks, which were great. It was an awesome last day for 2016, and I knew tomorrow would be just as awesome.
I headed back to the room, eager to sleep after a long day.

Falling into 2017

We woke up a little later than normal on the first day of 2017. 8 am wake up, and breakfast at 8:30 am, to be able to catch our ride to our very first adventure in 2017…bungee jumping!

It just so happens that bungee jumping is on my bucket list. It was pretty good timing for me to check this off on the first day of 2017.ย 

The bucket list keeps getting longer as I get older, but the original was most just adrenaline pumping activities and things you can’t do before you’re 18, like skydiving (20th birthday activity) and getting a tattoo (still haven’t done this, maybe I won’t ever?!).

We got in a van that took us to the location, which was closer to the mountains and outside of the city area. We were jumping with AJ Hackett’s company. He is infamous for bungee jumping off the effiel tower and then getting arrested for it. We knew we were in good hands with this company because they had a spotless safety record and their founder was obsessed with the sport.

When we got to the location, there was this great sign that made me laugh.

We got inside and signed our lives away, which we were used to doing by this point. All the activities had waiver forms that needed to be signed, just in case.

I was doing the “Mingin Swing” first with a friend who wasn’t bungee jumping. Our previous tour manager said it was best to start with the swing because it was a good warm up for the bungee jump. Just enough adrenaline, but nothing compared to the jump.

We were the first to go, out of the group. My friend was a bit more nervous than I was for the swing. She isn’t an adrenaline junky, like I can be. I was ready to “hold her hand” and make sure she had fun, even if she was terrified.

For the swing, we were hanging on harnesses, with our stomachs to the ground. Basically, we were pulled back and then released, swinging back and forth.

The supervisor of the swing gave me the lever to pull when we made it to the top. We were slowly pulled back and up, into the jungle area. We could see on the ground a red light that would turn green when I was supposed to pull the lever to release us. As we went up, I definitely started to feel the fear washing over me. It was a lot higher than I had relaxed…

We clicked into the top and my friend screamed, thinking we were falling already. But, I hadn’t gotten the go ahead yet. I saw the green light and then the supervisor give me the thumbs up. I yanked the lever as hard as I could and we began to fall. My friend gave the biggest “freak out” scream, I have heard. I screamed too, it was fun!

We felt our stomach drop as we fell, just like a roller coaster. When we made it to the height of the other side, she asked to get off, but this time there was honestly nothing anyone could do. We were going to swing back and forth until we slowed down and the supervisor could stop us.

I tried to keep her calm and having fun, for the rest of the swings. By the time we stopped, she was smiling and seemed like she enjoyed the experience. We got a great video, which is pretty epic.

Next up, was the bungee jump. I was feeling a mix of nervousness and excitement, after having completed the swing, which was going to be nothing compared to falling straight down from a higher platform.

The supervisor of the swing advised that I down a beer before going up and not to look down before jumping. I do not like beer, but I thought alcohol could be a help.

Both my friend and I got some coronas and relaxed after our heart racing time on the swing. We had a front row view of people jumping off the platform, towards the still water. They would scream and bounce a couple times, before a staff member would go out in a small raft and pull them into the raft and bring them to the edge of the pond.

While relaxing and also skiing myself up to up, one of the other group mates was up to jump. She was terrified! We couldn’t tell exactly what was going on, but it seemed like she was crying and have panic attack like symptoms on the platform. They took her off the jumping platform for a little, probably sitting her down to relax, before she reappeared of the platform again. She was still clearly freaking out, but this time she did jump. She screamed the whole time and seemed slightly relieved when she got pulled into the raft.

This whole situation did not help my confidence, and I could feel myself becoming more on edge. So, I decided I would go up and jump before my rational mind talked me out of jumping off a platform 100 meters off the ground, towards a pool of water.

As I climbed a stairs, I gave myself a little pep talk. Trying to remind myself why I was doing this and how symbolic it was the “jump into 2017.” I just had to jump, that was it. Easy!

When I got to the top of the platform I met up with a couple other group mates who were about to jump. I watched as the platform staff harnessed them in and got them ready to jump. There was an intricate pully system used to make sure the person fell only a certain distance.

When my group mates were ready, they brought them to the jumping platform and didn’t give them much of a chance to turn around or think about it. They just said, to just jump. I thought that was truly the best way to do it. If I looked down or gave it a second thought, I might not take that leap. At that point I wished that they would push us, but where is the fun in that?!

I watched a few of them jump pretty effortlessly, so I felt better knowing I was in good company of people who were building my confidence in jumping.

It was finally my turn. I got on the harness and they began to strap my legs together and attach everything. At that point, I was just focused on making sure they did everything for safety, just as they had done for everyone I watched before. They asked I wanted to touch the water and I though “why not” so I said “yes.”

They stood me up, and guided me as I waddled with my feet wrapped together to the jumping platform.

I did my best not to look down, and look at the ocean view from this high point. But, they asked that I get my toes to a certain line, near the edge, so I did have a look down. It didn’t freak me out, but the sight did remind me of how high up we were. They did the same “verbal push” that they had done with everyone else. They counted down and said “jump.”

In the most unnatural thing, I leaned forward and fell off the platform (you can’t really jump with your feet tied together) and fell head first towards the water. My stomach dropped and I screamed, before barely touching the water and bouncing back up. By this time, I was laughing a little, feeling relieved after making the first drop and bouncing back again. I bounced a couple times, before slowing enough for the staff member of the raft to come out towards me on this pond and helped me grab a pole, while still hanging by the cord upside down. He grabbed my hand from there and they lowered the rope, so I would land my back on a pad. My blood was all pooling in my upper body, since I was upside down, which was an uncomfortable feeling. I was happy to be lying down in the raft. He brought me to the edge of the pond and had me step out of my harnesses and such. My hands were still shaking from the adrenaline rush, so I had a tough time getting the harnesses off. When I finally did, I stood up slowly, to not get a head rush or any thing. I walked out of the area and towards the viewing area and got a few claps, like we had been doing for all the jumpers.

My heart was still racing a little and I felt energetic after completing the bungee jump. It was a good feeling! The first thing I really wanted to do was watch my video from the GoPro that had been attached to me. I headed to that area and watched my awesome video, which was a great takeaway from the experience. Something fun I could show my family and friends.

I then FaceTimed my parents, since we had wifi there and told them of my jump. They both laughed and remarked how they thought it was a little crazy. Happy New Year!

We watched everyone else jump and chilled out before leaving to go back to the hotel.

I was exhausted when we got back and would have preferred to nap for a while, but I had signed up for whitewater rafting in the afternoon. I was supposed to eat lunch, but just snacked, before taking a 20-minute nap.

Another friend who was going whitewater rafting woke me up to go to the lobby to catch a bus to go to the river. I was zonked, completely out of it most of the way through the bus ride, getting on the gear and floating during the first part of the trip.

That was until we hit some serious rapids (not sure what number it was on the rapid scale, but I know the max we would see was a 3). Almost falling out of a raft will wake you up real fast.
We finished down the river with a much more awake Alicia.

After an exiciting ride down the river, we took our boats out of the river and changed out of our soggy clothes to head back to the hotel.

We had a great group dinner ahead of us! We got all dressed up, and I took my first selfie of 2017…

We headed down to the harbor to an Australian restaurant. We had the chance to decide before hand what we were going to eat. One of the options was none other than a kangaroo. ย Being in Australia, I thought, “why not?”

This was the kangaroo main dish (entree in Australia means appetizer). The kangaroo was like beef, only a little more gamey.

For dessert we had the Australian delicacy, pavlova! I’ve made this dessert before and absolutely loved it. It was awesome to be able to eat this yummy dessert in its home country. The dessert was named after a famous ballerina.

We had had quite a few late nights on the east coast so far, so we went back to the hotel and called it a night. Tomorrow, we had a long day of driving ahead of us before we would get to the gorgeous Whitsunday Islands.ย 

Gorgeous Katherine Gorge

It’s Christmas Eve and it is about 80 degree Fahrenheit here, along with humidity. No white Christmas here!

We woke up at 6 am to get breakfast at 6:30. The night before, as I expressed my love for tim-tams, one of the aussies told me about a trick with Tim-tams and coffee.

The trick is to bite off diagonal corners, then place one of the bitten off corners into the coffee. Then you need to suck through the other bitten off corner to get coffee and make the cookie smooshie! Yum, so delish!

We then got on the bus with all our stuff and headed out of Kakadu National Park, where we had spent the last 2 nights. Our first stop was the Kakadu entrance sign to get a picture or two.

Then we headed off to a cafe to get lunch that we would take with us to Edith Falls just down the road. When we got to Edith Falls, we were not allowed near the water, since there may be a few crocs in there. We are our lunch in the grass near by with a view of the Falls. The flies were insufferable though. I guess that is the outback for you!

We then quickly changed into bathing suits for our next adventure.

We then arrived in the town of Katherine about 2 hours later. We stopped at Woolworths for some water and other necessities. Finally heading off to our next adventure, we passed the Katherine School of the Air. Because of how remote this area is, they used to have children gather in a school house and listen to the radio to learn. It just helped me understand how remote the area we were in was, before modern technology. But, even then, I was still having trouble getting wifi now.

The coach pulled up to a dock, where we all loaded into the boat for a Katherine Gorge tour. The gorge was huge and went on for over 100 km. It had a reddish tint to it from exposure to the elements. It actually reminded me of what I imagine the Grand Canyon would look like in person.

We got a certain point in the Gorge where we wouldn’t be able to cross by boat, so we got out and crossed to the next boat on foot. We got a photo or two there.

On the next boat, we saw the iconic Katherine Gorge photo. It was beautiful to see the water running through the reddish rocks, with a little green here and there, a blue sky with a smattering of clouds. Picture perfect!

We then docked the boat again, this time to find a waterfall within the Gorge.

We started on the path, which clearly was not well laid out. There was a lot of climbing on rocks that were slippery with sand and no clear place to put your foot next. A few of the girls only had on thong sandals which broke on the way there. I was behind them and got a little annoyed at the situation, since I had my tevas with me. I really wanted to see this waterfall, so I was getting impatient.

We did get to the waterfall with plenty of time to enjoy the water and the experience.

I brought my GoPro in with me, which was great because the footage is awesome!

The two Aussie sibilings climbed up a rock formation nearby the waterfall and were jumping off the ledge. It looks like fun, so I decided to climb up (again thankful for my tevas) to the top.

Once at the top, about 12 feet from the water, it was a little nerve racking to think about jumping. But, of course there was no other way down and I really wanted to do it.

I jumped and it of course was exhilarating! I came up smiling and laughing. Just a fun way play in the waterfall pool. And, I love that kind of stuff!

Feeling more alive, I swam to shore to get my outer clothes back on and head back to the boat. We got back on the boat, headed back to the dock, got on the coach and headed to our accommodations for the night.

Given that it was Christmas Eve, there were not many restaurants open. So, we ordered pizza and sat by the pool. We got to try an Australian dessert called “lamington.” It’s a yellow cake with a chocolate and coconut frosting and a whipped cream top. Really good!

We swam for a while, before heading to bed for another early morning. This time it would be Christmas!

Exploring Kakadu!

We woke up at 6 am, got breakfast at the restaurant. I made sure to avoid the vegemite! We left the accommodation at 7 pm, to drop off some people who were signed up for a scenic flight of the park.

Kakadu is a massive national park. In fact it is half the size of Switzerland and the size of Maryland. There are over 10,000 different species of insects, which was quite obvious by looking around. There are lots of wild animals as well, like wallabies, crocodiles, dingos, board, wild horses and more.

While some did the scenic flight, the rest of us headed over to the Bowali cultural center to learn more about the indigenous people. We saw their calendar on a stone. It was not by months, but by seasons, which makes more sense to me. I don’t get the point of month’s of December 21st is when winter starts. Just had an extententional crisis wondering about why we had months on our calendar.

We then headed to an area where there was an indigenous rock art walk. We loaded up on bug spray and sunblock before heading in.

There are ants with green butts running around everywhere. Our tour guide mentioned that if you ate the green butt part, you would get a shot of vitamin C. A few of us tried it and it was actually pretty great. It just tasted like citrus.

There were large rock formations, almost wall like, where we could see the paintings. Because most of the culture is held closely by elders, many of the larger meanings of the stories are not known by people outside of the culture. However, we could glean some basics from the drawings. We saw a wallaby on one, another was about fertility, another about celebration and so many more.

From there, we did a quick hike up to see the larger rock formation from a distance. Mark told us about the small rock on the edge of the cliff. Apparently, within the indigenous culture, you are not supposed to mate with a sibiling. But, a chief did and he symbolically placed a feather up there. Now, there is a rock to symbolize it and remind others not to do what he did.

Here is me at the top!

We headed over towards the yellow water, to have lunch. We had a baguette with some cold cuts. Relaxed for a while and just enjoyed the air conditioning.

We then headed down to the yellow river for our cruise. We were on the billabong river in kakdu, getting a wetlands cruise. Our guide was straightforward and funny. He knew a lot about the waters and the animals inside. Though we couldn’t see any crocodiles. There were definitely a few hundred in there!

They are able to hold their breath for up to 6 hours and slow their heart beat down to one to two beats per hour. In dry season, they layout in the sun to keep warm. But, since it was very hot out, they were mostly sitting at the bottom of the river. We were instructed to try not to fall overboard. But, if we did, we had about a minute before a croc would be after us. Comforting, huh?

There were lots of other wildlife in the river as well. We saw “Jesus birds” who look like they are walking on water, but really they are walking on Lilly pads. We saw some beautiful flowers from a specific type of Lilly pad. This one the indigenous women would harvest for their stems. Not before doing a prayer to keep the crocs from eating them. If they did get eaten, the elders would say they didn’t do the prayer right…

After a long day in 80 degree weather, we headed back to the accommodations to hangout in the pool. A girl from LA bought some yellow tail wine and red solo cups. We enjoyed some laughs over that. We hung out in the pool for a couple hours before heading to dinner.

After dinner, we just hung out around the table and talked about the differences in culture. I love hearing from the aussies on the trip because though they don’t know this part of their country, they know about most everything else. We talked about cricket, politics, differences in candies, stores, restaurants and more. It was funny to hear they even have the bachelor in australia. It is the Australian version, of course. I thought I might actually watch that one! Ha!

We headed off the bed because we once again had to wake up early.