As I turned 28 in Australia, I decided to spend my birthday snorkelling in Coral Bay with some friends, hoping to see some manta rays. That first meant getting into my newly converted green home on wheels, and heading north for a couple of hours. It turns out that the land around where I currently live is an endless expanse of flat, red dirt, interspersed with areas of harsh scrubland. And the roads are very long.
Not long into our journey, we encountered a sign for the Tropic of Capricorn, meaning I am living closer to the tropics than I have ever lived before. Living in the warmth is a pleasant at times, but it was a dramatic shock when I arrived, swapping a Detroit winter (of minus 30*C) for an Aussie summer (of plus 35*C). Even during the peak of winter, Carnarvon’s daily maximum temperature is a roaring (by British standards) 23*C.
Nearly ten years ago – wow, how time flies – I spent my nineteenth birthday snorkelling. I was on island called Aitutaki, part of the Cook Islands, and had spent many months jamming donuts, wrapping bread, stacking fruit, and digging holes on building sites to get there. Since that time, I had almost forgotten my love of snorkelling because when you live out of a backpack, a snorkel is not something you carry very often.
But now I feel that my love of snorkelling is alive again and for the remainder of my time in Australia, I will carry a snorkel with me, just in case. We were lucky enough to find many manta rays, great monsters of the ocean with wingspans of around 4 metres. It is hard to describe what it feels like to be swimming along behind this gentle giant until you actually get there and try it out for yourself. Yet at 4 metres, the rays we saw were far from the biggest as Reef Manta Rays have been found at 5.5 metres and Giant Oceanic Manta Rays have been found with wingspans of 7 metres.
A couple of turtles then appeared, and to our surprise, we looked down into a rift to see about ten sharks. Ten sharks swimming beneath us! They were harmless reef sharks, but seeing so many of them so close was exhilarating and their small frames seem only to be miniature replicas of larger sharks, although at 1.5 metres long, they look fairly sizable when they swim so close.
Constantly intrigued by every beasty underwater, we investigated jellyfish at close proximities, receiving many stings that were quite unpleasant. Far less unpleasant than the wrath of my sunburn for the following week. At one point, itching to the point of craziness, I stood in the shower for over an hour, wondering what I could do to lose consciousness. Damn my pasty, British skin!
Late in the day, we found a large stingray upon the floor of the ocean, his beady eyes following us as we swam overhead. Once again in Australia, we had to be careful of the majestic and potentially deadly creatures, the story of Steve Irwin (one of my childhood heroes) ringing loud and clear inside my mind.
At the end of the day, I saw my first whale (while in the water). Sadly he was dead and his flesh had been picked to nothing by tiger sharks. According to our boat driver, where we swam had been awash with tiger sharks feeding greedily from the dead giant several months before. I probably didn’t mind not seeing tiger sharks, although I’m not quite sure.
All in all, it was a pretty nice day and I look forward to getting back into the water already.
Australia is famed for its underwater life (amongst many other things) and there is very much to see. My new best friend is the trumpet fish. They look like a yellow trumpet. Ish.
For now though, my life continues in a small town in Australia, working hard, planning for the future. I cannot wait until I get into my mobile home and drive down those desolate roads with no looking back.
Here is a little bit more of what we saw while snorkelling in Coral Bay. It was a pretty good way to spend a birthday. Except for the wrath of the sunburn that followed.