When my colleague Bess first described Port Douglas to me, she said that if God had put heaven on earth, this would be it.
Bill and I were planning a trip to Cairns (or Ceeeeeennnnsss as the Aussies call it) however as the statement ‘I’m going to spend four days in Cairns’ caused many friends to screw up their noses or made a face akin to that of one sucking lemons, I suggested that it would be much more prudent to spend three days in Port Douglas and one in Cairns – which had more than once been described as “the Benidorm of Australia”.
Looking up hotels and all the tourist traps that Port Douglas had to offer we got increasingly excited about our trip. Yet in spite of this there was bone of contention between us – as someone who is deathly afraid of sharks I refused POINT BLANK to go scuba diving.
No, no ,no! I would snorkel on the reef and that would be enough. This was a sore point because the two of us want to experience Australia together and I suspect Bill felt it would be more fun if I went down with him.
I had a bit of an internal struggle with this one too as I’m not usually a ‘no’ kind of girl (hah!) but the idea of swimming around with a 12 pound tank on my back whilst sharks nibbled at my toes was enough to make me blanche with fear. That, and the fact that a childhood friend told me that if you gasped suddenly whilst using a regulator your lungs would twist and you’d die (thanks) did not avail me of the idea of diving one little bit.
So off we went to Port Douglas, which in itself was disastrous as we flew standby and, well, that’s a story for another day but I did get a new hat out of it. Anyway, when we finally got to our hotel we decided to have a late night stroll on the beach before hitting the hay in order to be ready for our big day on the reef tomorrow.
It was during this walk that I had an epiphany. Since when was I the kind of girl who said no because she was afraid? That had never been my style and I wasn’t going to start now so I turned to Bill and said “I think I will scuba dive tomorrow, if they have space.”
When we reached the boat the next morning my emotions were mixed, and when the boat manager said they were pretty booked up I must admit I felt a bit relieved. Alas, I was not alone in my fear and after one or two people dropped out of the group there was room for me to take my first ever dive. Eek.
After a briefing about safety and some underwater tests we had to do before we dived I felt a little more calm. The instructor was personable and funny and made me feel a bit silly for being so afraid in the first place. He told us a dive went better when everyone was relaxed – we were going to be on that boat all day and there was no way I was going to known as the dive ruiner.
At the first site on the reef we only snorkelled, which was beautiful and a great way of convincing myself that it wasn’t actually a hellish death trap down there. The fish and coral were amazing and as far as I could see there was nothing remotely alarming going on below the surface.
When my turn to dive came around I was nervous but desperately trying not to panic. The tanks were heavy and I was a bit too buoyant and kept tipping over like a spinning top on the ocean surface – which did not help my confidence one jot. Yet once we were under the water things were oddly serene. I saw an enormous blue fish (called Angus apparently) and it swam along so slowly that it didn’t scare me at all, I was simply mesmerised by it’s huge blueness.
The amazing thing about diving around the reefs is that there is so much life. Bill and I were lucky enough to go down with a really chilled group and we got to go deeper and farther than is normal for beginners. Among the brightly coloured parrot fish, chunks of coral and the ever-amusing christmas tree worms were fanged silver fish that liked to get very close – however our diving dealt with them with a swift punch in the jaw. They didn’t seem to mind.
It’s corny to say that an experience is life-changing but scuba diving was honestly one of the best things I’ve ever done. We loved it so much that our arms were twisted to go again when we got to the third site despite the extra expense. Apparently we were nice to have down there because we were so relaxed – a surprising revelation after all my internal turmoil!
So as I awkwardly turn this into some sort of Aesops fable I will simply repeat that age-old epithet; don’t let fear stop you from doing anything you want to do. Because sometimes, not every time, but sometimes, you will miss something truly magical.