Trip Report: Australia Dive Trip aboard the Nimrod


 Dallas-Ft Worth to Cairns Australia - September 27 - October 13, 2004

Jill and I had been talking about this trip for nearly a year. What a better way to celebrate my 50th birthday than on a liveaboard on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). We would be flying standby on Continental the entire trip and as the time grew near to depart, the flights began to fill. The trip would be on, then off, then on again. I had been sent to Canada for a three-week job assignment. Jill came up one weekend and we dove in Lunenburg Nova Scotia, on the HMCS Saguenay with a group of divers from the Atlantic Dive Center in Moncton New Brunswick. The water temperatures were in the mid 40's and I told Jill, lets do that trip to Australia and get in some warm water. Jill returned to Texas and began charting out the route on Continental with the flights that had seats available. When I returned on September 25th, she had a strategy worked out. We would depart DFW on Tuesday, Sept 28th at 3:30pm and fly to Houston, then to LA. We would spend the night in LA and the morning of Sept 29th fly to Hawaii and then on to Guam and into Cairns that night. Sounded like a wonderful plan, so hotel reservations were made in LA and we waited to depart.

September 28, 2004  (back to top)
I went to work this morning, and was going to take off at 10am, which would give plenty of time to get home, grab the suitcases and get to the airport. Well, at 8am, Jill called and said the flight from LA to Hawaii had filled up and there were a number of standbys and that we would have to leave on a flight at 11:15am from Dallas Love Field to Houston and then to Honolulu! I quickly said my good-byes at work and sprinted out the door. Thank goodness everything had been packed the night before and all we had to do was grab the suitcases and hit the road. Of course the drive to Love Field was an extra 30 minutes so I'm glad that the DPS was busy elsewhere that morning.

Love Field being a smaller airport made things easier, and Jill having flown out of Love many times knows the guy that drives the customer convenience cart and he was more than eager to help get us to the gate. We made the flight to Houston and our journey had begun.

We arrived in Houston on time, and found the gate for our flight to Honolulu. We had time before the flight, so phone calls were made to LA to cancel reservations there and then reservations were made in Honolulu. We boarded the flight to Honolulu and 6 hrs later I was peering from the airplane window at my first sight of Pearl Harbor and Diamond Head. What an amazing view. We had been able to get a hotel right on Waikiki Beach and had hoped to be there for sunset, but a slow cab driver spoiled that, but we checked into the hotel and went for a walk on the beach.

We got back to the hotel and Jill thought she had better check Wednesday's flight to Guam. Yes, you guessed it; it had now filled up and had numerous standbys. So we looked at our options, and there was only one, which was leaving at 7:00am on a flight that stopped at Majuro and Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands and Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Truk in the Federated State of Micronesia.


September 29, 2004  (back to top)
So instead of leaving at 9:35am, we were leaving at 7am on a flight that got to Guam the same time as the 9:35am flight. When we got to the airport to check-in, we discovered that we had to have Visa's to enter Australia and the friendly staff of Continental helped us in getting them. The young lady checking us in, also warned us to take some clothes in our carry on because cargo was picked up along the way and if the plane needed to be weight balanced, that standby luggage was the first to come off! We grabbed our swimsuits, a couple of t-shirts, and our mask, figuring if worst came to worst, we could rent the rest of the gear we needed. Our next leg of the adventure had begun. I was really glad that we had the opportunity to take this flight, the views were beautiful and we got to see some places that we may never see again.


September 30, 2004  (back to top)
This really felt like the same day, and really it was, but we crossed the International Date Line and arrived in Guam around 5:30pm on Thursday. And yes, our luggage made it so we went through US Customs on Guam and then waited for our flight to Cairns. Turned out we were going to be on the same plane that we had just spent all day on hopping islands on in the Pacific! As we boarded, we noticed that they had put head covers on the seats that said "Continental Vacations" and there was a festive mood presented on the plane as we left Guam at 8pm arriving in Cairns at 12:35am.

October 1, 2004  (back to top)
Jill and I woke to a sunlight morning in our hotel in Cairns, which overlooked the bay. We headed out to find a liveaboard to dive with. Our first choice was the MV Nimrod. We checked several shops and found them to be resellers. Finally found one that gave us the direct phone number to Explorer Ventures. One call and we found that they had 3 spots left in one of the quads at a walk-in rate so we jumped at the chance. We walked several blocks to the Explorer Ventures office and went through a quick orientation, paid for the week and headed out to enjoy Cairns since we would not leave until the next day.

Cairns was a unique city, with a lot of small stores to explore. We hit the local Woolworth, stocking up on batteries and plug converters for the camera and video chargers. With that done, dinner was in store and Dundee's looked like the perfect spot. A hot rock with crocodile, kangaroo and beef sure hit the spot. We went back to the hotel, and consolidated our luggage into one suitcase and settled in for our last night's sleep on dry land for the next week.


October 2, 2004  (back to top)
We woke early on Saturday morning, packed, checked out of the hotel, where they were kind enough to store our luggage for us and walked into Cairns to have some breakfast. The streets were quiet as we found a cafe with an open dining area where we could enjoy the spring morning. After eating breakfast we separated and did some souvenir shopping and met later for lunch. We went back to the hotel, claimed our luggage and took a cab to Explorer Ventures where we were to meet for a 2pm departure.

We arrived around 1:00pm and many of the other guests had already arrived. We were able to leave our extra luggage at Explorer Adventures while we were on the Nimrod. We all talked with excitement as time grew near to depart for the Nimrod, which was at port in Cooktown. When time came to leave for the airport, we loaded our luggage and dive gear into a trailer attached to a small bus and away we went headed to Cairns International Airport. We went to the opposite side of the airport to the Reef Watch headquarters. They would be shuttling us to Cooktown in three twin-engine planes each holding 6 passengers and the pilot. Gear was loaded and then we were boarded the planes. The 45-minute flight was fantastic as we flew at about 1000' above the Australian coast and then out over the GBR where the clear waters showed the vast coral reefs below the surface. Soon we were flying through a couple of mountain passes as we prepared to land in Cooktown. After landing, a short bus ride to give us our first view of the Nimrod tied to the dock. As we unloaded, Captain Ian came down and greeted us and informed us to go spend some time exploring Cooktown as he and the crew finished preparing the boat for departure and loading our gear on board. He asked us to return at 4:30. Jill and I found a local restaurant and had some prawns and we headed back to the pier. Most of the divers were back early anticipating the ok to board. The ok finally came and we all boarded the Nimrod, and after a short orientation, got settled into our cabin. Our roommate was from Greece and the others aboard were from the US and Europe. The ship departed around 5:30 and headed out to the reef. The Nimrod motored for 6 hours and then dropped anchor at our first dive site.

For all the dives, I wore a 3mm full wetsuit without hood, booties, and 18lbs of weight.

October 3, 2004  (back to top)

Dive 1 - Pinnacle Reef

Max Depth: 54'     Water Temp: 75f     Visibility: 100' +     Bottom Time: :57

Observations: White Tip Reef Shark, Reef Cuttlefish, Barracuda, Bird Wrasse, Indian Sheephead, parrot fish, and yellow trumpet fish and many smaller reef fish.

Dive 2 - Ribbon Reef #10 - South End

Max Depth: 81'     Water Temp: 75f     Visibility: 100'+     Bottom Time: :43

Observations: Sheer coral walls, Giant Clam, Red Firefish, Clown Anemonefish, Moorish Idol, Spider Shell, Trevally, Teardrop Butterflyfish, Longnose Butterflyfish, Elegant Firefish

Dive 3 - Ribbon Reef #10 - North End - Cod Hole

Max Depth: 57'     Water Temp: 79f     Visibility: 100'+     Bottom Time: :52

Observations: Groupers, White Tip Reef Shark (came in real close, almost face to face), This dive was on the famous Cod Hole. There were several dive boats in the area and it was difficult staying with our group as one of the Divemasters led us to an area to "feed" the Cod. We got to the area and settled into a semi circle around the DM but no Cod showed up, guess they were full from all the other divers in the water. Finished the dive and the Nimrod departed the area.

Had ear problems and missed the last two dives today. In over 30yrs of diving have never had ear problems! The age-old question ............... WHY NOW?


October 4, 2004  (back to top)

Dive 4 - "The Hard Shark Cafe"

Max Depth: 56'     Water Temp: 75f     Visibility: 60'+     Bottom Time: :53

Observations: Gray Reef Shark, Bicolor Angelfish, Moorish Idol, Longfin Batfish, Longnosed Butterflyfish, Moon Wrasse, Clown Anenomefish, Yellow Striped Snapper, Stripey, Bluespot Butterflyfish, Humphead Bannerfish, Pyramid Butterflyfish, Reticulate Dascyllus, Three-spot Dascyllus and school of Bumphead Parrotfish.

Thanks to Sudafed, was able to make this dive! From this point on, the Nimrod will be sailing into the Northern GBR where less than 1000 people per year dive. Most of the reefs in this area have been dove very little or not at all.

Dive 5 – "The Guts" Rodda Reef

Max Depth: 60’     Water Temp: 77f     Visibility: 60’+     Bottom Time: :53

Observations: Sheer reef wall, lots of fish life, butterflyfish, angels, wrasses, saw several white tip reef sharks. Lots of beautifully colored hard and soft corals. Saw 2 varieties of anenomefish, Spinecheek and Clarks.

This was a great dive. My ears were better but limited max depth as it is better to dive shallow than not dive at all.

Dive 6 – "Aladdin’s"

Max Depth: 35’     Water Temp: 75f     Visibility: 60’+     Bottom Time: :58

Observations: Lizardfish, small Lionfish, and a lot of reef fish.

This was a liveboat dive. A liveboat dive is where everyone gets ready and then forms a line along both the port and starboard sides at an opening in the rail. The captain maneuvers the boat close to the reef, and when the boat is in position, as paratroopers from a plane, you do a giant stride entry and quickly swim toward the bow of the boat. The boat then moors at a location down current. If you pass the mooring, the dinghies will come pick you up, but you don’t get in the dinghy. There are two ropes behind the boat, you grab on and are towed back to the Nimrod. If you want to know what bait feels like being trolled, well here’s your chance! We stayed at this location and a night dive was done, but Jill and I did not participate, as I wanted to give my ears a break. After the night dive we motored for about 30 minutes to our overnight and next morning dive location.


October 5, 2004  (back to top)

Dive 7 – "Floyds Mooring"

Max Depth: 48’     Water Temp: 75f     Visibility: 100’+     Bottom Time: :48

Observations: Leopard Shark, Black Spotted Moray, Black Lionfish and numerous other reef fish.

Liveboat dive, dropped off to the north of the mooring and worked our way south. This was an area not previously dove by anyone on the Nimrod.

Dive 8 – "Floyds Mooring"

Max Depth: 73’     Water Temp: 75f     Visibility: 100’+     Bottom Time: :55

Observations: Lionfish, very large Pavona Clavis coral head, Giant Clam, Coachwhip Ray, and Bridled Monacle Bream.

This was an openboat dive, which means that we could get dressed and dive at our leisure using the stern entry platforms. Ears were better on this dive. The boat departed from this location at 11:15am for our next dive location.

Dive 9 – Cay 7

Max Depth: 47’     Water Temp: 77f     Visibility: < 60’     Bottom Time: :44

This was an island. Lots of sea birds. As the boat moored many turtles could be seen in the shallows. Bye the time we entered the water, most of the turtles had moved into deeper water. Saw one Green Sea Turtle as we approached the shallow reef. After that sighting, did not see any more turtles, and saw the usual reef fish. Not a real impressive dive.

Dive 10 – "Layna’s Bay" – Tijou Reef

Max Depth: 69’     Water Temp: 75f     Visibility: 60’+     Bottom Time: :54

Observations: very nice coral heads, not much life at depth most life was above 40’. Saw several large Unicornfish and a very nice Yellow knifefish.


October 6, 2004  (back to top)

Dive 11- Tijou Reef

Max Depth: 70’     Water Temp: 75f     Visibility: 60’+     Bottom Time: :44

Observations: Large wall dive, Silver Tip Shark, two White Tip Reef Sharks, three barracuda.

Dive 12 – Tijou Reef

Max Depth: 100’     Water Temp: 79f     Visibility: 100’+     Bottom Time: :49

Observations: School of Yellowtail Barracuda, large Potato Cod, numerous Dogtooth Tuna, Giant Grouper, Sleek Unicornfish on cleaning station with many swimming around in area.

This was a great dive, a lot of large fish. Wish this dive could have lasted longer.

Dive 13 – Tijou Reef

Max Depth: 73’     Water Temp: 75f     Visibility: 100’+     Bottom Time: :50

Observations: Yellowtail and ? Barracuda, Dogtooth Tuna, Potato Grouper, large Lionfish, Firecoral, Elephant Ear, Mushroom Coral, Boring Clam, Pulse Coral, and Longfin Batfish

Another great dive

Dive 14 – Tijou Reef #4

Max Depth: 48’     Water Temp: 75f     Visibility: 100’+     Bottom Time: :54

Observations: Large school of Yellowtail Barracuda (30-40), also saw smaller school of 10-15. Chinese Grouper, Yellowmask Angelfish, Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse, Sealface Puffer, Brittle Star, and Giant Clam.

Beautiful dive, the barracuda school swam above us and seemed to hang above us for a long time. Very hard to take our eyes of this magnificent scene. They eventually disappeared from sight and we continued the dive.


October 7, 2004  (back to top)

Dive 15 – "Rosies Wall North" Southern Small Detached Reef

Max Depth: 98’     Water Temp: 77"     Visibility: 100’+     Bottom Time: :49

Observations: White Tip Reef Shark during descent, Polyclad Flatworm, large Gorgonian Fans, multitude of soft corals, Choriaste Granulatis Starfish.

Dive 16 - "Rosies Wall South" Southern Small Detached Reef

Max Depth: 72'     Water Temp: 77f     Visibility: 100'+     Bottom Time: 1:04

Observations: Two Gray Reef Sharks, several Spotted Unicornfish, Phyllidia, and numerous Trevaly and other reef fish. Dropped to 72' on descent and then ascended to and stayed into the 35-40' range. Found that this was easier on my ears.

Dive 17 - "Auriga Bay" Southern Small Detached Reef

Max Depth: 96'     Water Temp: 79f     Visibility: 100'+     Bottom Time: 1:04

Observations: Good dive, dropped to 96' to look at some caves then ascended to the sandy area. Stayed around 20-25' for duration of dive. Lots of fish activity, numerous reef fish such as wrasses, parrotfish, bicolor butterflyfish.

October 8, 2004 (My Birthday on the GRB) (back to top)

Dive 18 - "The Swimming Pool" Hibernia Reef

Max Depth: 72'     Water Temp: 75f     Visibility: 100'+     Bottom Time: :58

Observations: Cuddlefish, Chevron Barracuda, Yellowtail Barracuda, Garden Eels, Blue Spotted Ray, school of Fuslars, several large Dogtooth Tuna. While hanging from safety stop bar, watched as a Silver circled Jill and I. Talk about feeling like bait hanging on a line!

Dive 19 - "Picasso" Herbernia Reef

Max Depth: 48'     Water Temp: 77f     Visibility: 60'+     Bottom Time: 1:13

Observations: Loggerhead Turtle, school of Diagonal Banded Sweetlips, huge bumphead parrott fish. Multiple coral heads extending from the bottom. Very easy to get lost in this maze.

During the orientation for the final dive, Captain Ian gave me two birthday presents. Neither of the gifts would I ever get to hold or possess, but they will be always be a part of the GBR.  The Giant Grouper that we saw on Dive?, Captain Ian declared it's name to be "Danny the Grouper". He also said that I would be able to name the final dive site, which was a site as of yet to be dove by the Nimrod. I immediately thought of and gave the name of "Danny's Paradise" to our next dive site. I am, I think, the only Texan with a named Grouper and a dive site on the GBR.

Dive 20 - "Danny's Paradise" Log Reef

Max Depth: 66'     Water Temp: 77f     Visibility: 60'+     Bottom Time: 53

Observations: Strong current moving from North to South along a sheer wall. Mostly Gorgonian Fans and soft corals along the wall with the small reef fish staying out of the current. Saw several White Tip Reef Sharks swimming in the depths below. The wall turned East and flattened into a shallower coral garden with large coral pillars. Saw a huge Beramundi Cod.

Knowing this was our last dive; neither Jill nor I wanted to leave the water. We stayed as long as we could and then said our good-byes to "Danny's Paradise" and the underwater world of the GBR. What a fantastic way to celebrate my 50th birthday. Other than having my son and daughter with me, what more could I ask for............. being able to scuba dive on one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World with the woman I love, on my 50th birthday, it doesn't get any better than that!

At 2:45pm the Nimrod departed the dive site on it's voyage to Lockhart River. We arrived in Lockhart River around 5:00pm and dropped anchor for our last night on board. There was sadness among the 10 Americans and 5 Europeans on the boat, but the excitement of the trip filled the chatter amongst the group.


October 9, 2004  (back to top)
We were awaken early and brought our gear up on deck and had a light breakfast. We all said our good-byes to the crew and we were ferried in the dinghies to the shore where a 4 wheel drive bus waited to take us the one hour drive through the rainforest to the airport at Lockhart River. The drive was very scenic as the driver gave us history of the area we were in. We saw many wild parrots and even saw a Wallabee as it crossed the road in front of the bus. We turned into an area near Lockhart River and the driver stopped and asked if we noticed anything different, and yes, there was a definite difference. Instead of rainforest, there was a huge area of nothing but grass. The driver explained that during the Vietnam War, the US, Britain and Australian armies did an experiment in this part of the rainforest to determine how a new series of bombs would affect the rainforest. Well this occurred in 1964, forty years later; trees will still not grow in the area. It was a grim reminder of what war and humans can do to the wonders of mother nature.

We proceeded into Lockhart River, which was a US Airbase during WWII. We waited for the planes from Reef Watch to arrive. They arrived bringing with them, the next group to board the Nimrod. I know that Jill's and my thoughts were the same as the rest of our group in that we all were wishing that we were going to the boat instead of leaving.

The flight back to Cairns was just as spectacular as the flight from Cairns to Cooktown. As we peered into the clear waters surrounding the GBR, sharks and turtles and the occasional manta ray could be seen down in the water. We arrived back at Cairns International Airport and were put on the bus which delivered some, who were now friends, to the commercial part of the airport and then dropping others off at their respective hotels. It was sad to see everyone head off in their own directions after spending a week with them.

Jill and I went back to Explorer Adventures and gathered the luggage we had left. We then called a cab and asked him to take up to a hotel we had seen where we would spend our final night in Australia.


October 10, 2004  (back to top)
Our flight to Guam did not leave until 1:35am on the 11th. The hotel had a place for us to store our luggage and we took off for our last day in Cairns. We walked the streets, visit stores, ate lunch, and visited the Rainforest Dome at the Casino. We had a wonderful dinner at ? Jill and I headed back to the hotel where they had a place for us to shower before heading to the airport.

October 11, 2004  (back to top)
Our flight left on time and we bid farewell to Australia. Our plans were to spend a couple days on Guam before catching a flight back to Houston then to Dallas. The plane landed on Guam as scheduled at 6am and we rented a car and headed to the Marriott Resort. Thank goodness they gave us the opportunity to check in and we laid down for a few hours sleep since we had been up for the last 24 hours. We woke and decided to take a car tour of the island. We stopped at the Chamorro Village and shopped through some of the quaint shops and had lunch at one of the local restaurants before starting our drive around the island. The history of the island during WWII was of great interest as we stopped at areas that were important in the battle for Guam. Guam is a beautiful island but it didn't take long to complete our tour and we found ourselves back at the hotel.

We decided to go down and check our flight back to Houston for the 13th, and well what did you expect, yes it was full! We looked at the 12th, full! What to do? From another computer, came a voice, fly to Tokyo then back to Houston. A man peered from around the monitor and said "I'm the Captain of the plane from here to Tokyo, there are usually plenty of seats." Sure enough, Jill checked and there was our way home to Dallas via Tokyo.


October 12, 2004  (back to top)
I had never been to Japan, so we departed at 1:00pm for Tokyo's Narita Airport. The flight flew by the historic WWII islands of Siapan, where my father was stationed, and Iwo Jima. I peered through the planes window as the coast of Japan appeared through the clouds. Jill and I departed the plane and since we had nearly three hours before our flight to Houston, we went through customs so we could get a stamp on our passports and spent the time in the many stores that were available. We had lunch and went back through security and waited for the 12hr flight to Houston. The flight departed at 5:05pm. One of the most amazing sites to behold was to see day turn to night, then night turn to day and to be able to see night and day at the same time. The plane flew over the northwestern coast of the United States and from my plane window, we could see Mt St Helens and Mt Rainier. As we approached Bush International the plane crossed over some lakes, which were a dark brown color, and I thought back to the clear waters of the GBR and the fantastic trip that Jill and I had shared together.

Final Thoughts on the Nimrod: (back to top)
The crew of the Nimrod did a great job. The dive crew did a fantastic job of getting the divers in and out of the water in a safe manner and had a very good method of checking divers in and out. If you did not sign in after ending your dive, they were looking for you to assure that everyone was on board and safe. One of the Divemasters would check each dive site before we entered the water checking the current and making sure it was a safe area to dive; however, when it was time to enter the water, you were in charge of your dive. The dive briefings given by the crew were very through and provided great detail as to what to expect with the bottom contour, currents and marine life. Food was good and plentiful. If you starve on this trip, it is your fault. There was either a snack or a meal after each dive and there were plenty of liquids to drink. Jill had been on the Nimrod before and has spoke very highly of it, and I will also speak very highly of it. Given another opportunity to visit "the land downunder", we would jump at the chance to spend another week on the Nimrod.