Erica’s Australian Adventures

Erica Naugle

Lecture Recess: Part I

Hey there UNH,

We have a lot to cover this week! So the last time I wrote to you, I was sitting in the shared living space of my cozy little hostel in Cairns during the second half of my lecture recess (spring break). The small-ish group of us met up and headed our early Thursday morning in order to spend the majority of the day in Cairns. We arrived at the hostel around 3 p.m. and headed off to the Esplanade (boardwalk space). I was happy to see such a beautiful space with so many public amenities from children’s parks for varying ages, to built-in fitness gear, to a waterslide skate park.

The Australian flag flying high  (Photo by Erica Naugle)
The Australian flag flying high
(Photo by Erica Naugle)

After some exploring, we found the lagoon and went for a quick swim in the freshwater pool. Some members of our group had spotted a Thai restaurant that they were interested in trying, while my mate and I couldn’t shake the glow of the Pizza Hut sign that loomed across the street. Yes, I traveled halfway around the world to one the Seven Wonders and ate Pizza Hut for dinner- no regrets. Everyone was pretty exhausted by this point and looking forward to a quiet night. However, after a cup of tea I was wired. What a perfect time for an evening walk! I made my way between the city blocks and found myself at the Night Markets. The beautiful scent of fried foods and colorful trinkets and t-shirts overtook my senses. I walked through and was amazed at how many shop fronts had been squashed into such an intimate space. I left the Night Markets, noting the location, with the intent to return at a later point.

Day 2 was met with a bit of mixed emotions, as I was eager as ever to dive the Great Barrier Reef! A childhood dream of mine rapidly came into reach as my first alarm sounded at 6 a.m., which I dutifully ignored. By my second alarm, my mind was racing with the same child-like wonder I never learned to control. As I slid from my bed I couldn’t help but grin at the possibilities the day would hold. Fast forward through arriving at the docks for check in; we got a dive briefing with our dive master, and the boat ride to the reef took two hours. As we neared South Hastings Reef, we squeezed ourselves into shortys (knee length wetsuits) and proceeded to the gear room to be fitted with weight belts and BCDs. I floated through each of these events wondering when I would be woken up by an alarm, right up until the moment when I took a giant stride right off the boat and plunged into the water about a meter below. In that one moment I understood the surreal situation I found myself in: here I was at 20 years old living out a dream of mine. Every National Geographic magazine and documentary was flickering through my mind as we descended and adjusted our gear before heading off on a tour.

Along the edge of the reef we observed some external clusters and watched as schools of fish scattered in our presence. It was only a matter of moments before our guide stopped and knelt on the sandy bottom and handed me a sea cucumber. I ran my fingers along the smooth exterior and nearly giggled (and lost my regulator) as it’s teeny, tiny tube feet suckered to my palm and tickled my skin. As sad as I was to pass my new acquaintance along, I was excited to move on and was not disappointed as I observed some soft coral swaying in the current. We kicked along some ways before our guide signaled to us that he had spotted a clown fish. Sure enough a flash of orange darted through my view and behind a sea fan. As we started circling back to the boat, a radiant purple caught my eye and I moved closer for further inspection. Another diver came by and looked along the reef wall only to find another, and another still. We had happened upon a small population of sea squirts! It was at this point that air started to become a concern and we made for the boat.

When everyone was on board and accounted for, we settled in for an hour ride to the next reef, North Hastings Reef. As we made our way to the upper deck with our lunch, we spoke to some of the other groups that had gone out to snorkel over the reef and carried on until we were instructed to suit up for the second dive.

The magic hadn’t faded as I dropped from the boat in full gear a second time. Upon reaching the bottom, a sleepy, adult green turtle greeted us and I nearly lost my breath as this beautiful creature observed us in a manner of curiosity before going back about his business. As we set off, an eagle ray passed by in the distance and I had to remind myself to control my breathing less I expend my air supply too rapidly. As we weaved our way through the coral clusters, always taking care not to come too close and harm them, I adored the inquisitive fish that came to see what we were up to. On reaching an opening in the clusters, our attention was drawn to a giant clam. Our guide signaled for us to gather around and then he triggered it to close. I was surprised at how quickly it was able to move. Just around the corner of yet another reef cluster, a spiny sea cucumber was spotted. It was absolutely beautiful in it’s shade of red-orange. After being passed around the group, it was placed back on the sand and we were on our way, closely inspecting vibrant corals and evidence of marine worms. Nestled against one of the anchors, a hermit crab the size of my fist was peeking out from his shell as we began our ascent.

Back on the boat we checked in and replaced our tanks just as a pod of dolphins swam up to the boat. I was absolutely giddy as these four magnificent beings expressed almost as much interest in us as I did in them. Decidedly, I was not ready to be out of the water, scooped up my gear, and joined the rest of the snorkelers on the reef. As I lay still across the top of the water, a parrot fish swam just within reach and I accompanied him as he mouthed his way along the coral. It seemed too soon that a whistle sounded and the “all-in” signal was given. Once each individual was accounted for, we settled in for the next two hours and made way for the docks.

It was with complete joy and an extreme satisfaction that I fell asleep that night, wondering how the next day could even compare.

Aussie Slang of the Week:
Fair go- a chance
Lollies- sweets
Mate- friend
Road train- truck with multiple trailers

Talk at you soon,