last tuesday, a life-long dream came true — we flew to cairns to begin our trip to the great barrier reef.  the time in the gold coast was great, and full of lovely things to see and do, but on tuesday i could not sit still.  the pebbles probably got tired of my chanting ‘want to go to cairns’ over and over, but he hid it remarkably well.  we departed brisbane mid-afternoon, flew toward a deep red sunset, and landed with the high hills surrounding cairns just barely visible against the twilit sky.  there was just time for a quick dinner and re-pack of our bags before early bedtime, in preparation for our 6.10am pick-up in the morning.

too excited to sleep well, i dozed fitfully and kept checking the clock to see whether it was time to go yet.  the alarm finally sanctioned our wakefulness, and we arose, threw our gear into the shuttle, checked in at the dive shop, and finally climbed aboard our home for the next three days.  the boat was designed specifically for diving, with the aft deck designated a wet area and lined with benches for tank/bcd assembly and general dive preparation.  32 passengers — a full roster — were on board, including us and a pair of similarly marine-enthusiastic friends from auckland, about 20 american teenagers on some kind of extended wilderness team-building trip, and assorted australians, kiwis and europeans.  we received our first briefing and our ‘safety numbers’ (numeric roll-call to ensure that no one was accidentally left behind anywhere along the way), and made our rollicking, pitching, rolling way out to the first dive site.  i don’t think anyone was actually sick but it wouldn’t have surprised me.  luckily, once we pulled up over milln reef (tethered to sets of permanent blocks in the sand to prevent repetitive anchor-damage), the swell broke over the seaward edge of the reef and left us in relative calm.

we received our first site briefing from divemaster oscar (originally from dunedin) — a detailed map of the area and suggested compass headings indicated the best route to follow for this dive, what landmarks to look out for along the way and what animals we might see, where — and then it was time to get wet.

the photos that follow are from the first dive.  by way of quality-disclaimer, i will confess that we bought the cheapest digital camera/housing combo available (about nz $250) since we had to have something but didn’t really have the budget for fancy gear at the time.  the camera has no zoom, six whole buttons (two unlabeled), and  a physical switch on the side for ‘macro’ (focal length 65–130cm!!) or ‘landscape’ (>1.3m) settings, which is not accessible through the housing, so you have to choose before the dive which you want this time around.  however, it records images at 9mp, takes both video and still shots, and all in all, didn’t do that bad a job.  given its limitations, i pretty much shot everything i saw (>1000 photos), hoping that a few would turn out.  and here are the first results.

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