My stepbrother, Derek, is visiting me in Australia following his high school graduation! What an excellent opportunity to corrupt a young mind– but actually, if you’ve met Derek, you’ll know that my offers of “have just a few more beers, it’s legal here, why not” will fall largely on uninterested ears. On the same day that young Derek is joining us Down Under, I am just returning to Sydney from a trip to China, so Aristo is able to “buy one, get one” so to speak, and pick us up together from the airport. The plan would have flowed infinitely smoother if Derek hadn’t had flight delays and absolutely no means of contacting us to let us know, but we did eventually find him and drive him back to Wollongong.

The sweet creature that he is, he’s brought my new hiking backpack along with him and it is fully laden with camping gears, shoes, and office supplies that I’ve been ordering online and remotely stockpiling in my parent’s house for months in anticipation of it being carted across the Pacific for me. The first thing Aristo and I do when we get back to the apartment is set up the tent in the lounge room and have a lay down, because I actually got delayed in Beijing on my way home for well over 10 hours when all planes were grounded due to high levels of smog in the air, so it’s already been an exhausting day (AND  I have horrible bronchitis from that same smog). The cat thinks the tent is her personal plaything, though, so we eventually have to disassemble it before she shreds it into pieces.

The main event of Derek visiting is our trip to Cairns to dive the Great Barrier Reef. Years ago, dad and Eileen took me and Derek diving off the coast of Kauai, which really sparked an intense love of scuba in both of us (despite the serious issues I had with equalising that led me to believe near-death pain was just par for the course). Since that holiday when I blew my first underwater bubbles, I’ve been diving a few times on the Great Barrier Reef off Port Douglas, been Advanced Open Water certified in Koh Tao with Aristo, and also done an assortment of other dives together around Thailand― enough for us to make plans to return someday as dive instructors.

We knew 100% that diving needed to be included when Derek visited, so when I was first making plans, I did a lot of reading into different ways we could see the Reef. Since I’d already been to Port Douglas, I thought it might be a nice opportunity to mix things up, and as it happens, one of the world’s premiere dive shops is based in Cairns. Aristo and I first heard of ProDive when we were doing our cert in Thailand, where they told us that the only dive shop certifying more divers than them (Ban’s) was ProDive in Cairns, so it was an easy choice. But the real sell was that we would be able to do a liveaboard trip where we sleep, eat, and dive off the boat for 3 days.

The boat trip from the mainland out to the Outer Reef, where most dive sites are located, is an absolute nightmare. Even if you don’t personally experience seasickness (and you’re wrong, because literally every single person who said “Oh, I don’t get seasick” suffered worst of all because they didn’t take meds for it), the smell and sound of everyone around you heaving into bags or even onto the boat deck will definitely do it for you. So the chance to just make a single trip out and back, while still enjoying a dozen dives at a variety of sites, was unbeatable. And also surprisingly reasonable– I paid just $710 per person for the whole trip (plus $150 extra for Derek to get his Open Water Cert during the course of the trip).

From the moment we are picked up at our hostel and taken aboard the boat, we are incredibly pleased with our decision. Aristo and I are in a cabin with a double bed, while Derek is sharing a room with 2 twins with another young male, and it’s all surprisingly comfortable for a boat! I must say, I’m even impressed with the food that is rolling out while they give us a bit of a talk about the itinerary.

Over the next 3 days, we dive some truly amazing sites and see a staggering number of aquatic animal, from giant sea turtles, to reef sharks, to little nemo fish.. We even do 2 night dives, where darting flashlight beams reveal those reef sharks way too close for comfort and just staring at you with beady eyes, but in a fun way.

The whole time, even during the daytime dives, I am positively freezing and anytime I’m in the water I completely lose feeling in all 4 fingers (not the thumb, phew). It’s in stark contrast to the 28C waters we were enjoying in Thailand. The boat staff even gets a bit concerned about how badly I’m convulsing and how aggressively my teeth are chattering when I come out of the water, so I get special permission to take 5 minute piping hot showers after every dive. When I’m not in the water, or facing possible death from hypothermia, I am exhausted out of my mind. Both the first and the second day on the boat, we squeeze in 4 dives, and I can’t tell you how much that really takes it out of a person. No one else seems quite as tired, though, so it’s probably thanks to my slowly dissipating bronchitis that just won’t completely let go. Upper respiratory tract infections are truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Despite my exhaustion and life-long struggle with internal temperature regulation, we all have the time of our lives aboard the boat. We meet some truly lovely people, see some stunning marine life, and leave with an intense desire to just continue diving and forget about the real world back on land.