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Exploring the Depths: My Journey into Diving

Scuba diver in wetsuit on a boat in the blue sea in front of an island

In early 1990 I embarked on a round the world adventure. I had worked for six months after finishing school and set off from a wet and windy Heathrow bound for South Africa with two mates. The trip was to be South Africa, Zimbabwe, Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada.

We had a vague outline of where we were going and just rolled with whatever came up along the way. Landing in Sydney, Australia in early April 1990, we planned to buy a car, travel up the east coast and do a dive course in Cairns. I’m still not sure where the urge to do a scuba course came from – I wasn’t an aficionado on Jacques Cousteau, I wasn’t hugely interested in the underwater world. I think, honestly, it was probably James Bond films and thinking it would make me a hit with the ladies. Oh, the naivety of youth…

Sunset on a beach

We bought the car – an old beaten up station wagon – and were making our way up the East Coast picking up adventures along the way. We hit a storm and with driving conditions treacherous we ended up in a hostel in Yeppoon – a non-descript town in Northern Queensland.

The first night we met the hostel residents. We were sat around drinking and talking when an older Australian man arrived. He was clearly quite drunk. He introduced himself to the group and explained he was looking for volunteers to help him set up camp on an Island. He couldn’t pay us, but he could offer a free scuba diving course. After establishing he wouldn’t be running the course, and with the abandon of being 19 and not having a care in the world, we all signed up with the stranger.

people on a boat traveling to an island

The following day we were ferried to a dive operation in Rockhampton and started our open water course. The instructor was thorough and professional. We all loved the learning and pool sessions. He explained that we would do all our confined water in “Rocky” and then once on the island he would come out to complete our open water dives. We were, of course, obsessed with sharks and sea snakes (the local dangers!). I remember we asked the instructor what we should do if we were bitten by the venomous back jaws of the sea snake. “Well lads, you need to take all the air out of your BCD (buoyancy control device), crouch down on the bottom of the ocean, lean forward and kiss you’re a%$ goodbye…” he drawled, without missing a beat.

People having fun on a World War II landing craft in the sea

The day after finishing our confined water we were ferried to a local port at 4am to load camping equipment, generators, fuel, water (there was no fresh water), and provisions for several months. After we had set up camp they would run paying parties to live on the island. At 6am we set off in an old World War II landing craft for North West Island.

North West Island is a dedicated nature Reserve, the second largest coral cay on the barrier reef and located 75 kilometres northwest of Gladstone. Queensland. The island itself has an area of 1.05 km2. We arrived on the edge of the reef later that afternoon, and waited for the tide to come in. Once in we stormed the island (literally beaching the boat and dropping the front ramp), there followed a frantic three hours of unloading all the equipment and setting up camp.

baby turtles hatching in a bucket

We had a week on this island paradise. Completely cut off from the outside world with only a suspect satellite phone. The island was a turtle sanctuary, and they were hatching. We’d sit on the beach at night as hundreds of tiny turtles would emerge and make their way to the sea.

On two days a large well equipped jet boat came over from the mainland with tourists who snorkelled and swam by the reef – giving all of us feral island dwellers strange looks (we got in the habit of not wearing many clothes). Our guide would come out on a rib, and we did our open water dives in pure white sand off the reef. Looking back, it was a fantasy location – we would often be interrupted on skills circuits by stingrays, turtles and white tipped reef sharks.

group of scuba divers embracing each other looking cool

As intros to diving goes it was quite spectacular. There were a lot of positives - I think it certainly kickstarted my love affair with scuba diving that continues to this day. I’ve dived all over the world, met so many wonderful people and had so many incredible experiences. Funnily enough my two mates didn’t carry on and haven’t dived since, which led me to believe that us committed divers have something inside of us that means we will eventually find our way to diving – whether that’s a lake in Surrey or a nature Reserve on the Great Barrier Reef.

Despite this introduction my honest answer to my favourite dive ever is a night dive at a lake in the UK. I was stressed with work and life. This dive completely relaxed me. I remember smiling for days after. You see, The UK is a beautiful place to dive too!

The downside. Well, my bar was set high. I remember doing my advanced course in Eilat, Israel and being slightly disappointed that turtles didn’t join us for our Nav skills. But that’s the great thing about diving – every experience is different, and they are all wonderful.

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