I have discovered during the course of my time in Australia, that if I ever plan anything good, several bad things will happen beforehand to balance off my karma. Normally, this is me forgetting my passport, which is why this time, I made sure it was the first thing in my bag. Of course, when I get to Mooloolaba Beach Backpackers, I discover that in my determination to remember my passport, I’ve completely forgotten to bring a towel! So there’s me running along the beach front looking for anywhere that might still be open so I can get some kind of a substitute. I eventually manage to get a very nice sarong for about $15 – its not fantastic, but should be good in an emergency.
Of course, my bad luck never comes one at a time, as the next day when I’m up and looking for breakfast? Open my bag to find my suncream has exploded over EVERYTHING. I’m desperately yanking stuff out and cleaning up with McDonalds napkins as much as I can, already despairing what number 3 will be.
There are 2 companies in Moolalooba who dive the HMAS Brisbane, Sunreef and Scubaworld. I eventually picked Sunreef as it seemed to be the better reviewed of the 2 – the minimal cost for 2 dives was $155, but with full equipment hire, it came to $255 – not bad when you realise the price of a mask can set you back $170 alone. I fully plan to buy one eventually, but finances right now make it a little difficult.
When I finally get to Sunreef Diving, everything appears to be going my way. The staff not only have a spare towel for me to use, but already have the majority of my equipment on board. However, I am going to be the token girl this time round as the only other females are instructors.
It takes between 30-45 minutes to reach the wreck, and for the first half you get a rather nice tour of the river…until you hit open sea, and no.3 managed to hit me full on. The waves are incredibly high and choppy, and the boat is flopping around on the surface like a jerky marionnette.
Needless to say, the motion sickness pills barely had any effect, and I was pinned to the middle of the boat with my eyes on the horizon trying not to throw up. Thankfully, once we get into the water, my stomach almost instantly resets.
We were a group of four. I was partnered with the dive guide, Jim – and the other 2 who had more experience partnered up. Never caught the name of one of them, but the other was a Canadian called Marco who would be filming the dives. We were warned the current was very strong today, so to keep a firm hold of the ropes leading down.
They weren’t kidding! I’ve never dived in current before and I was exhausted before I even got to the wreck. Marco made the mistake of letting go of the rope and found himself several metres away in 5 seconds. I’m also not in as great shape as I was the last 2 times I dived (a lot less physical exercise in my routine now), so I’d lost a quarter of my tank just getting down. On top of which, it was the first time I was diving with men – and the first time the other divers had significant experience on me.
No photos since I wanted to just enjoy the dive, but the first time in the water was for orientation. We weren’t to set foot in the wreck, but swim around the outside to get a feel for it. That said, when the ship finally loomed into view (fantastically clear water), its impressive enough to make me wish I had.
She was scuttled intentionally as a dive site in 2005, and is one of the best dive sites in Australia – she’s pretty much positioned perfectly, and there are numerous holes throughout the hull for easy access. We started by swimming over the remains of one of the funnels, before dropping to the deck (fighting an insane current), before heading down and eventually reaching the bottom of the bow, and swam under her for a few minutes before heading back up along her side.
Unfortunately, the current and my apparent lack of health are fighting against me. I’m already down to 80 bar, while everyone else is still somewhere around 100, so the other 2 continue their dive for a few minutes while Jim takes me back to the line and starts the safety stop…which is just high enough for me to spend 3 minutes being tossed and turned by the crazy current and takes just about everything I have left to cling to the rope.
The current and the waves are, if anything, getting worse, and when everyone’s back on the boat its agreed that they’ll start the next dive a little earlier than planned so they can’t get out of the bad conditions. Fine by my stomach – and I’m really hoping I can use less air this time since we’re actually penetrating the wreck.
I don’t really know how to describe wreck diving as its not really like anything I’ve ever done before. Jim slipped through a large hole on the upper decks, and then swam straight down a hole in the centre of the floor, torch on and kicking through corridors. There is coral, plant life, crustaceans – surrounding you on all sides, sometimes terrifyingly close – its next to impossible to judge distance, so brushing against walls or catching yourself on something you swore was nowhere near you is pretty commonplace.
We slipped through several different holes, seeing dozens of different rooms (including, from what I could recognise, a former toilet!) and thousands of fish. The best moment was swimming down a narrow corridor straight into a shoal of small yellow fish. For 2 minutes I was essentially swimming through fish, barely able to see in front of me – it was pretty awesome.
There was also this incredible coral bed on one of the upper floors, with dozens of different colours and styles, which I didn’t expect to see.
However, as my air started to drop, we were heading close to the bottom levels, swimming past machinery, very low roofs, tight corridors and doors that have shrunk due to underwater sealife attaching to the edges. Most of which can’t even be seen without a torch. It was the toughest part of the dive since your torch can’t like everything, and you sometimes have to guess how high the roof is (and if its more dangerous to hit the things you can’t see above over the things you can’t see below). I ended up getting caught going through the doorways twice – equipment getting hooked despite being packed away as well as I could. It was just a case of pulling myself back a bit and swimming higher, but with so many turns it could have been frightfully easy to lose the group since I could only really see their lights. Not too bad a problem since their are holes to get out everywhere, but I wasn’t wanting to be the one who cut the dive short because I got lost.
As it happens, I was still the one who cut the dive short because I hit 80 when the other’s were at 110 once again. They were set off on their own until they hit 100, while we went back up to fight the forces of nature at the safety stop again. I spent approximately 1 hour on the wreck between the 2 dives – not as much as I would have liked, but with the current, I highly doubt I could have increased it.
It was a fantastic morning trip – we were back before noon so even had the rest of the day to recover from the waves, and I’d love to go and do the wreck again – although perhaps while doing the Nitrox course as that can give you more time underwater. Its really worth doing if you have any interest in diving.
Since I had the rest of the day to enjoy, I headed back up to the beach front and walked along to check out the shops and the beach. Moolalooba had a great boardwalk, with most of the shops you’d expect to find at a beach shopping district, including a ridiculous number of gelato stores. The beach itself is much nicer than than of Caloundra, and I saw quite a few surfers and kite surfers on the water. The walk along is great, although did leave me sticky and smelling of salt by the time I came back to the hostel.
The original plan was to go back, get changed into my swimming gear and use the hostel’s pool in the afternoon. However, as I walked in 2 guests had dug out a 1500 piece puzzle depicting fruit. I ended up in conversation, and helping out. Found out Brita was backpacking while the guy Steve was a permanent resident, and managed to chat about the area for an hour (including a pretty memorable moment where all 3 of us were singing the Jigglypuff song!) before Brita left to shower, and Steve left to meet someone, and I ended up working on the puzzle alone. Think I became a bit of a novelty to some, as the odd person would come over (Brita came back a few times) and help, before leaving me to it. I’m a bit anal when it comes to leaving tasks unfinished, so I was trying to get as much done as possible (very hard with a puzzle that has such a detailed picture and tiny pieces). Half a day, 2 movies and a dozen conversations later, I finally crashed at 12:30 and left the puzzle at maybe 30% done. Hopefully someone else will see it next week and try to complete it themselves.