The tail-end of 2014 is something of a blur in my mind, though I do remember returning from my dive trip to North Stradbroke late on a Monday night and departing unexpectedly for my Great White Adventure just four days later. I am relieved to have finally managed to edit several hours of footage down to just a few short minutes of highlights from the incredible diving I experienced at North Stradbroke Island (including the discovery of a large whale bone and a barrel-rolling wobbegong shark!)
Of the eight dives I did at ‘Straddie’, six were at Manta Bommie, and one of those was without doubt the most incredible, critter-rich dive I have experienced to date. There were so many big animals in the water that sometimes they virtually collided – smooth rays narrowly missed divers and eagle rays, at times weaving playfully between them. On one occasion, I had to manoeuvre very carefully so as not to bump into any of the large sharks congregating in close proximity on the sand for a nap or a manicure at the local cleaning station.
During one single morning dive, Spunky Abe and I encountered four manta rays, ten guitar sharks, a grey nurse shark, several turtles, a wobbegong, eagle rays, smooth rays, smaller stingrays, octopuses and countless leopard sharks – it was truly impossible to know quite where to look or point my camera! Yet at the same dive site later that afternoon, no more than two manta rays and a small handful of leopard sharks could be seen. All the other critters that had seemed to dance for the cameras earlier that day seemed to have utterly vanished! (Photo of me with turtle courtesy of my dive buddy for another day’s dive, Sean Butler.)
How unpredictable life can be. One moment an entire ocean of critters presents itself simultaneously – the next, the sea declares itself almost barren by comparison – and how quickly we forget that each drop of water is a miracle in itself. This is what I must constantly remind myself of as I move into this new year. The life I once knew prior to my rather dire prognosis has now all but dissolved, and now I must seek the jewels of each new moment and celebrate each new revelation and opportunity. While part of me could easily become submersed in self-pity at what I have lost and have been predicted to lose due to my cancerous condition, the greater part of me knows that the ocean of life is still rich and full of breath-taking treasures just waiting to be discovered.
Visiting North Stradbroke Island had been on my Bucket List ever since March of 2013 when I met a lovely Russian Dive Master during a surface interval between shark dives in Fiji. Irina was on her honeymoon with France when their small boat anchored next to ours and they climbed on board and introduced themselves during a short, impromptu visit. Because Irina had dived all over the world, I asked her what places she would recommend for my future underwater adventures. Without hesitation, she replied that the diversity of critters at North Stradbroke Island was amazing at any time of year, even when the mantas were not present. Imagine my surprise to discover Irina on my dive boat at North Stradbroke Island a year and a half later (especially in light of the fact that she had not dived at Straddie for four years!) ‘I know you!’ I exclaimed, ‘You’re the reason we are here right now! You’re the one who told us to come to this island!’ I uttered in joy and near disbelief. What wonderful adventures we had with Irina and France over the next few days, but as is my usual lot in life, there was much suffering and joy intertwined.
I was devastated when racing Irina as we swam across the large, coffee coloured Brown Lake to discover that one of the expensive fins I had borrowed from her had unfastened itself to sink to the murky bottom, never to be seen again! And my inexplicable attempt to feed camembert cheese to a wild goanna shortly after losing Irina’s fin and making my first trip to the emergency ward for the year as a result was as full of laughter as it was with blood and tears. Apparently in the history of Stradbroke Island, I am the first person to have presented at the hospital with a deep goanna bite as it seems that most people are not foolish enough to even consider hand feeding them! (Their razor sharp teeth can actually deliver a fatal bite due to bacteria – tankfully a tetanus shot, antiseptic soak, antibiotics and a very good humoured nurse were on hand to ensure that I might live to dive another day. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed hamming up my predicament for the camera 😛 )
But my pain and pretend self-pity were quickly forgotten during our close encounter with several wild dolphins later that evening at the Amity Point jetty.
My visit to North Stradbroke was full of exquisite highlights and unforgettable moments. I adored meeting the beautiful owner of Noreen’s Seaside Shop and bringing home a selection of her incredible ocean themed jewellery (octopus earrings, pendants shaped like manta rays, mermaids and stingrays, and a ring adorned with three turtles).There is something about North Stradbroke Island that makes me want to return many times in the future. Though the surface conditions of the ocean could at times be very rough (which as always made me more than a little seasick), this is a destination I would highly recommend for divers and non-divers alike. The cliff-top North Gorge Walk was absolutely stunning and provided yet another highlight during this blissful Bucket List vacation.
My life in 2015 will be vastly different to what I have ever known before. While my oncology team has predicted that this year could well be my last, I am absolutely determined to live every moment to the full and to have as many Bucket List Adventures as possible. While of course many of these will be underwater, in January, my adventures will include an exciting treetop adventure plus a trek to one of the most remote islands on the planet to celebrate my Dive 300!
I wish each one of you the most wonderful new year ever, and I look forward to taking you on as many Bucket List Adventures as possible in 2015. (If you have any exciting Bucket List Adventure suggestions, please contact me through the Pink Tank Scuba Facebook page 😀 )
Love and bubbles,
ps Tank you so much for reading through this blog piece 😀 While you are here, please check out a few more of my ‘scuba vs tumour’ underwater adventures!
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