A taste of Oz

By Amber Dowler 8 November 2013
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Australian Geographic Adventure intern Amber Dowler shares her best memories of her time in Australia.

Australian Geographic Adventure intern Amber Dowler shares her best memories of her time in Australia.

SIX MONTHS IS HARDLY enough time to experience Australia as a student traveller trying to keep up with university and work. My to-do list might as well have been 12 pages in length with all of the adventures I had planned, and that was before I even got here. So now looking back on my time down under with only a couple of weeks left to enjoy it, I am surprised to find that I did a lot of what I wanted, and a whole lot more than I planned.

One thing that I knew for sure before embarking on the 18-hour flight from Missouri, US to Sydney was that I wouldn’t return home without visiting the Great Barrier Reef. I had never been scuba diving before, but I knew that nothing could stop me from diving in here. I booked a flight to Cairns for mid-semester break, ignoring jests that all Americans flock there during Uni holidays. I made the trip with three fellow Americans and a Russian friend, all who shared my desire to go diving. We exhausted our time in Cairns driving through the Tablelands, making pit stops at beautiful secluded waterfalls, splashing around on sparkling beaches, dipping into warm tropical waters and gathering nightly grub at unique (and delicious) fresh fruit and vegetable markets.

When the day finally came to head out on the ocean, I couldn’t even eat for my excitement, which turned out to be a good thing because of the sea sickness that claimed more than half of the boat and two of my companions. I suited up in a communal wetsuit and donned my goofy goggles and snorkel combo. I stumbled around the deck under the weight of my air tank, but eventually flopped over the side of the boat, flippers and all.

Once in, I took some time to adjust to the regulator and finally decided I was ready to go. As we swam past towers of coral and seafloor drop offs, I kept forgetting to breathe because I was already so delirious with excitement at being there, underwater in such an awe-inspiring place. The entire view was incredible; I was surrounded by so many bright fish in the most spectacularly vivid colours. I could feel the ocean current nudging me as we swam along not too far under the surface, and I had to take care not to scrape my belly on the stunning coral that we swam above and around.

I was shocked when one of the guides handed me a jelly-like sea cucumber on the ocean floor and led me over to sneakily observe clown fish swimming in and out of their underwater home. I was constantly distracted by new things floating by and I could have stayed under there for hours if my air supply and the guides would have allowed it. Eventually though, I had to resurface and re-board the boat that would remove me from my temporary ocean paradise. The day swam by all too fast and left me begging to float around in the salty water just a little longer.