After motoring all night from Pt Douglas to Challenger Bay, we had an excellent first day of aquatic & cetacean immersion. We began our morning with a slow, colorful dive in the company of a Maori Wrasse, before cruising through wind and bumpy seas to Lighthouse Reef.
Our whale adventures began with a breaching minke in the distance, who leapt completely out of the water six times as the crew struggled to moor the boat. Once we had settled onto the site, we spent a full afternoon in the water with minkes.
The parade started slowly, with two minkes– and then a third, gliding underneath us, with long periods of time between passes. One whale had a scratch on his back, and loved to absorb reiki, so he would swim directly under my hands.
The encounter got crazy in the mid-afternoon as 5 minkes showed up to frolic, pirouette, ‘show some belly’, and thoroughly entertain us. My favorite encounter was when a ‘motor boating’ minke bumped his rostrum ten times along the surface, and submerged right in front of me, closer than a yard away. On his way down, he looked me over with an inquisitive eye, and for a frozen moment in time, our souls connected.
The remainder of the day was quieter as the whales calmed down and fewer swam by the line. The adventure concluded when we were down to a solo minke… and an unwelcome visitor joined the party. An unidentified creature was spiraling below us, and as it neared the surface, the apparition clarified in the form of a very large bull shark! Our researcher used his laser to measure the shark at 9ft long.
The lone minke wasn’t bothered in the least… however, the combination of murky water, fading sunlight, and a big-ass shark in the water was enough to make us call it a day!
Lighthouse Reef & Pixies (7/11)
We woke up at Lighthouse Reef, where we were greeted by a few friendly morning minkes. One small whale kept circling near the end of the line. He had 3 distinctive cookie cutter scars in front of his dorsal, and was friendly but tentative.
As more whales began to congregate, the little male minke slowly gained enough confidence to swim closer. I was distracted by numerous whales whirling around, and it took some time to tune in to the young male’s energy. When I was finally able to center myself, I began to focus loving consciousness towards him, and he seemed to feel the shift. He deliberately swam closer with each pass so that we could see and get to know one another.
Soon afterwards, I emitted a series of healing blasts into the ocean, and within moments the encounter got livelier as seven more whales joined the party. My special minke-friend stayed close and attentive for the duration of the encounter.
Later, we dove Lighthouse pinnacle and admired the now familiar features of the site: schools of yellow reef fish, reclusive lion-fish, soft corals, clownfish, and spectacular ‘see-throughs’ in the structure. For reasons unbeknownst to us, Beto was chased and confronted by a persistent yellow sea snake. Fortunately a peace-making turtle swam us out of the conflict zone.
On our safety stop, we watched two whales interacting with snorkelers near the surface. One of them was my young minke boyfriend, so we got right back in the water after stripping off our scuba gear for more minke play.
To complete the in-water cetacean viewing of the day, I enjoyed a near head-on collision with two minkes, followed by a final nose-to-nose visit by a whale who ducked at the last minute to swim directly under me.
At dusk we did a fantastic dive at Pixies. Eight barracuda escorted us on our descent to the sandy bottom where we explored cracks and crannies among the scattered bommies. Along the way, Beto spotted a cuttlefish, and I soon found another! We hung out with them for several minutes before realizing that we had rudely interrupted their mating ritual.
We moved on to find a few shy pipefish, numerous parrotfish, and thousands of other delightful GBR inhabitants. We swam into the shallows to observe a medium sized turtle and a big puffer, while saturating our senses in a rainbow palette of corals. We found a flower cod in a crack and a big turtle feeding in the crack next door. Just before heading back to the boat we saw 9 razorfish, small slender fishes who stay grouped in schools and dance vertically with their noses tucked in the sand. I decided they were well-disguised pixies.
Cod Hole, Open Seas, & Lizard Island (7/12)
The boat motored north to Cod Hole where we experienced steady 25 – 30 knot winds at high tide. We did a sweet little dive with the large cod we had met the previous week, and played hide & seek with a small shark as we neared ‘shark alley’.
I was cold after the dive so got out of my suit, stood under a blissfully hot shower and took a nap to recharge my batteries. Meanwhile Beto went snorkeling and did a second dive to play with his cod friend.
The winds continued to build making the seas rough and unfavorable for in-water drifting with whales. Nevertheless, we left Cod Hole after lunch to look for whales.
We ended up having a lovely day of surface whale interaction (which I described in great detail in the spiritual version of the trip report), including visits by both humpback whales and minkes. I managed to re-open my line of communication with the whales, and looked forward to the days ahead.
At sunset, we motored over to Lizard Island for a walk on the beach and cocktails under the starry night.
Unknown Territory… (7/13)
The researcher directed our captain to deviate from our original plan to head south to the highest concentration of minkes. The researcher wondered if there were any whales to the north, so we headed into rougher seas to Jewel Reef to satisfy his curiosity.
We motored for a several hours without a single minke sighting, and eventually at our farthest point north, two small humpbacks were spotted. We followed them for 15 min as they headed out to sea beyond the reef… and those were the last whales we saw that day.
We dove at two ‘new’ locations on the Jewel Reef. The first was characterized by a sandy bottom and strong current A few reef structures rose up to form cutbacks and to support pastel-colored corals. We met a couple of shy reef sharks, and observed thousands of purple reef runners as they swarmed the structures. The dive was pretty and different, but not worth the ride north.
The second dive was on a better site, closer to a more recognizable portion of reef structure. We tried unsuccessfully to find a corridor to the outer reef, so we retreated to follow the contour of beautiful outcroppings. There were schools of colorful and lovely fish, but they were frightened by our bubbles so would scatter as we approached. We accidentally startled a huge turtle who got stuck in a crevice and he broke a piece of coral to escape our presence.
Overall the day was extremely disappointing, since we had deliberately motored away from the whales. I was very relieved when we turned south for the long ride to Lizard Island for the night.
Reunited with the Minkes at Lighthouse Reef (7/14)
Back on track, and back at Lighthouse, we had a much better day! I decided to test my meditation-enhanced ‘minke communication’ capacity. I cut breakfast short, grabbed my seraphinite travel stone, and headed to the stern to connect with the minkes. I arrived to find a minke already at the swim step, so I suited up and got in the water.
I was immediately greeted by a young male minke who swam within a meter for a deep eye to eye welcome, then performed two very close passes. Soon several of his friends began to buzz the line, and I had a few precious minutes of quiet ‘alone time’ to make heart connections with the minkes.
The male whale became outrageously flirtatious as the morning progressed. He repeatedly swam right next to the line and posed vertically in the water close to the boat so that he could spyhop to observe the passengers on board.
I spent the entire day near the end of the line, meditating and connecting with minkes. At times more than half a dozen whales were present, and then things would calm down for awhile. I watched their moods & behavior change tempo, and I fell in love with a few of the sweeter whales who visited during the day.
After nearly eight hours in the water, I knew it was time to leave when my energy shifted, along with the energy and behavior of the whales. I exchanged a final communication of intense gratitude with the minkes and got back on the boat, feeling peaceful yet energized. We had sighted 27 different minkes during the day, and my heart was full of light and love.
Clam Gardens & Steve’s Bommie (7/15)
On our last full day on the boat, there were no minkes in sight. We did however do two beautiful dives, beginning with a sweet morning dip at Clam Gardens. As we wove into and out of the coral crevices along the sand, Beto befriended a shark, and we spotted a blue spotted ray! We crept into a hidden cave to visit a school of sweetlips, copper- fish, and a big puffer. On the way back, we observed a juvenile rock mover as he danced and moved stones in the rubble along the bottom. We were in no hurry to leave!
During our surface interval, we watched John Rumney perform graceful summersaults from the top of the wheelhouse into the ocean. We joined him for a few clumsy but fun jumps of our own… however we clearly lacked the skill necessary for the more advanced maneuvers.
The final dive of our trip was at Steve’s Bommie. This gorgeous site was a fitting way to conclude our adventure, and we were treated to clear water and picturesque sun-beams filtering through the water in the afternoon light.
Beto brought the camera to capture huge schools of yellow photogenic fish, two sharks, a black & yellow puffer, snappers, Mardi gras fish, distinctive violet-blue anemone with anemone fish, parrotfish, and wrasses of all sizes. Amid the panorama of texture and color, we found a stone fish blended into the top of the coral structure.
At the end of the dive we took a few more moments to relish the beauty and magnificence of the GBR. From above, the Steve’s Bommie appeared to be blanketed with bands of blue, orange, yellow, and purple schools of fish… it was a stunning and vivd picture, which is now firmly lodged in our memories.
We left the mooring to travel overnight to Cairns, where we disembarked the following morning, to begin our long journey home, with a pit-stop in Sydney. We thanked the Ribbon Reef and the Minkes for an adventure of a lifetime!