Tasmanian Mermaids Photo Competition rules. PADI’s Womens Dive Day July 18th, 2020

Sea Lion by Joanna Smart – One of the competitions judges for 2020
  1. The 2020 underwater photography competition has three categories: 
    1. Point and shoot/ novice (photographer has only been taking photos underwater for less than 18 months, or using point and shoot type camera or action camera – i.e. not DSLR or mirrorless formats) taken during the last 12 months with minimal editing
    2. Women in diving (above or below water, freediving, snorkelling and compressed air diving) taken during the last 12 months with minimal editing
    3. Ocean stewardship (any image to inspire ocean stewardship, and to encourage and promote passion for protection of our oceans) taken during the last 12 months with minimal editing
Juvenile Lionfish in Sydney – Image: Jane Ruckert

It is the responsibility of entrants to ensure that photographs are submitted correctly according to these rules. 

  1. Entrants may submit up to 3 images in each category. The same images must not be submitted in multiple categories. 
  2. The competition is open to members of the Facebook page, “Tasmanian Mermaids” only
  3. Images are to have mostly underwater content. Under/Over images are allowed. 
  4. Photographs for the 2020 Tasmanian Mermaids Underwater Photo Competition must have been taken after 20th of July 2019. 
  5. Images should be submitted as digital JPG files, normally using the high quality/ low compression. 
  6. Image files may be produced by digital cameras or from scans of transparencies, negatives or prints made using a film camera. 
  7. Images may be cropped, however either the minimum image width or height should not be substantially different from those produced in the camera (as a general rule for digital cameras, one side should be at least 1200 pixels long). 
  8. Image Editing – Sharpening and other global digital changes such as adjusting contrast, brightness, colour balance, etc. to optimize images is permitted, as is rotation and flipping. Limited backscatter removal is allowed. Keep in mind that this competition is for underwater photography, not the digital manipulation of images. Event organisers and judges reserve the right to exclude any image they believe may have been excessively treated so as to alter its authenticity. 
  9. Images must be submitted to the organisers by 5pm on Saturday the 11th of July and late entries may not be accepted. Images should be submitted via email to janeruckert@gmail.com with Category and your name ie “Cat D J.Bloggs” as the subject. Separate emails are required for entries in different categories. 
  10. Images must be labelled according to this format: .JPG so an image of a dolphin swimming over a reef taken in Tasmania by Joe Bloggs and entered in Category A might have this file name: CatAJBloggsDolphin.JPG. If it was an image of a dolphin’s face to be entered in the portrait category it might be labelled: CatBJBloggsDolphin.JPG or catbbloggsdolphinface.jpg or catbbloggsdolphin2.jpg. Case is unimportant, but entry category, photographers name and a name or number to identify each image file is required so that photos can be properly organised. Photos named incorrectly may be disqualified. 
  11. The organisers reserve the right to request a copy of the original image to ensure that the above conditions have been fulfilled. 
  12. The organisers encourage photographers to submit a variety of images. All subjects will be considered. 
  13. Judging will be primarily based on the aesthetic appeal of images. Focus, exposure and composition will be prime considerations and should be used to make a pleasing image and complement the subject matter. Originality and/or the difficulty of getting the image may also be taken into account. 
  14. The judges decision will be final and no correspondence will be entered into. 
  15. Photos will be uploaded to the Tasmanian Mermaids official Facebook page. 
  16. Winning entrants will be announced on the evening event for PADI’s Womens Dive Day, presented by Tasmanian Mermaids, on the 18th of July, 2020. 
  17. The organisers reserve the right to use all photos for future promotion of Tasmanian Mermaids, with permission of the owner, but not for any other purpose.

Thanks to the Tasmanian Combined Dive Clubs Weekend for the competition rules.

Fujikawa Maru

The Fujikawa Maru is one of the most dived wrecks in the lagoon. It was also our favorite! So much so, we dived it twice. This impressive ship underwent a drastic upgrade from her pre-war, passenger-cargo role to a full blown armed aircraft transport ship and seaplane tender. She now sits in around 35 meters of water, and is home to incredible schools of fish, and her holds are packed full of fascinating artefacts.

Fish schooling at the bow of the Fujikawa Maru. This wreck was so spectacular, we dived it twice!
Zero fighter planes in the hold of the Fujikawa.
Sam, contemplating the bow gun on the Fujikawa
The old outboard engine. Sits in front of ordinances and an old machine gun, propped up on some more guns. A typical kind of scene to expect in Chuuk Lagoon.
“Off in to the blue”
The growth and fish life on the beautiful, old Fujikawa were just astounding. After both dives, we all came up with incredulous expletives about how stunning the wreck was.
The Fujikawa super structure is amazing, and on our second dive to the wreck, the viz allowed us a greater scope of the size of the ship.
55 gallon oil drums in the hold. Jumbled, falling but stuck in time, covered in delicate and super fine silt.
Trinkets and artefacts found and collected in to one place over the years, only to be consumed by the silt, algae and time.

Rio De Janeiro Maru

The Rio De Janeiro Maru was a 137 meter passenger-cargo liner, built in Japan before WWII. She was a work horse of the pre-war world, carrying emigrants from Japan, to South Africa, Brazil and on to the West Coast of America, before returning home, on many voyages. However, during the war, she became a submarine tender, and then a cargo transport vessel. She arrived in Chuuk six days before Operation Hailstone, full of munitions, and desperately needed supplies. She languished in a slow death, after being hit by several 1,000 pound bombs in the first strikes of the day. It apparently wasn’t until about 3 am the following morning that she finally sank to her current resting ground.

Stacks and stacks of beer bottles sitting in hold number 5 of the Rio. Some of them are still in their original wooden boxes!

Bottles in crates on the wall, no wait, spin around, it is actually the floor, or is it the ceiling, it’s easy to get confused in the gloom. Large letters sitting proud in the lopsided bow, spelling the old name, in both Kanji and Roman lettering, amid the sediment and fish. Swim through in to the large cavernous storage decks, taking a peak in to the last moments of the ship, frozen in time. The static prop, once propelling the tons of steel and men through the water to destinations unknown, now sitting, coated in pristine and colorful coral and fish.

The coral growth along the Rio is very beautiful. As she sits reasonably shallow (10-15 meters on the port side of the hull), one can spend a long time admiring the young ecosystem that has formed.
A lantern that has carefully been placed on the deck of the Rio, to try to encourage people not to scavenge. Sadly, for the future divers, it still happens.

Maximum depth to the seafloor is 35 meters, but her port side sits in a nice shallow 10-17 meters. The holds took us to about 28 meters, but there is so much to look at on her hull, one can spend ages ascending slowly.

On the wreck, directions get changed around, up is port, down is starboard, the floor is the wall and the walls are the floors. This is the portside hand rail.. who knows, someone may have farewelled a loved one holding on to this rail over 80 years ago.

The Chuuk Experience.

Chuuk lagoon, which we soon discovered was pronounced more like the small, domesticated fowl (Australian pronunciation), and less like the large automobile, has been on my “Must Dive” list for a very long time now. The worlds greatest aggregation of World War Two wrecks, siting in dive-able, recreational depths and thirty degree water. Why wouldn’t it be?

This is a typical Chuukese taxi rank! With Chuuk being more water than land, almost every one commutes via these small fibreglass taxis. Rush hour on the lagoon is fantastic to watch.

There is something in the lagoon for every one. Personally, I love seeing how the ecosystem copes and recovers after such an apocalyptic event. There were still wrecks that releasing toxic chemicals and oils in to the water 5 years ago (75 years after the cataclysm). For the hard core wreck divers, there are still parts of ships that haven’t been explored, that are starting to be accessible as the superstructure begins to rust out. And for everyone in between, there are planes that are in snorkelling depth, and so many massive schools of fish your breath will be taken away.

Our boat for the week, waiting patiently for us as we sip fresh coconuts and off gas, after a quick snorkel on a plane that barely made it 100 meters of the landing strip.

This place is full of fascinating history, and I could bore you with the whole story, but there are 100 page + books to read if you want to know more (try, “Dive Truk Lagoon” by Rob MacDonald). Needless to say, due to the beautiful natural structures provided by the 100,000 year old volcano, that in its death created the barrier reef, there were five safely navigable passes to enter the lagoon! What a defendable position. The lagoon itself is large enough, that anchorages chosen by the Japanese naval fleet (1939-1944) were safe from bombardment from outside the lagoon.

The Japanese used their incredibly powerful geographical location to wreck havoc on that region of Asia for a few months. Unaware of how large the operation in Truk had become, the Americans flew some reconnaissance missions over the lagoon, early February of 1944. This prompted the larger, more valuable imperial Japanese Navy warships to leave the lagoon, however, there were still tens of vessels, hundreds of planes and thousands of men in the Lagoon. Operation Hailstone began on the 17th of February, 1944, and was insanely efficient at destroying the Japanese Naval base, destroying over 50 ships and 250 planes, and the loss of countless lives.

Our amazing guide, Keeran inspecting the growth on the mast of the Sankisan Maru.

Which left us adventurous divers, an incredible diving play ground. There are ships so big, that when you drop on to them, it felt we weren’t diving on a wreck, more on a reef. It wasn’t until 20 meters and deeper that you started to get the feel for the beast that lay there. Twisted metal, crusted with green algae and soft corals, opening up holes in to the side of the once magnificent ship. Letting us peer in to the lives of those soldiers. The penetrations were beautiful, little glass fish flitting about, in schools with ballet like precision. Huge guns lying on the smashed metal, some still pointing to the sky, ready to fire at a moments notice. Inside the holds are dark, very dark, but the beams of divers torches as silver threads in midnight satin, pierce the gloom to see artefacts of china, sake bottles, or Navy mens shoes.

Soft corals, look dull from a far, but shine your torch on their delicate bodies, and the reds, blues, purples and greens are breath taking. Planes in the hold of a sunken ship, captivate me, the brain struggles to process, planes, in a ship, under the ocean. Big fish surrounding the ancient metal, still standing proud despite the holes in its side. Sunbeams piercing the depths of the ship, sparkling streams on schools of small fish, hiding in history.

Chuuk doesn’t really have a tourist industry, other than the 5,000 divers a year. Minimal tourism has its pros and cons, no hawkers, pristine beaces, typically idyllic tropical paradise. There is no “pick-it-up” culture here though, and the beaches on the main areas do have plastic waste left on them. Palm trees all the way to the beach where you can stroll carefree, staring in to the sunset. Afternoon beer disrupted by a typically tropical rain storm. Perfect surface visibility to the horizon, drops down to 100 meters. The wind chop picking up and the rain pouring down. The Chuukese peak hour slowing to accommodate the reduced visibility. GPS are non-existant here, it is all in everyone’s heads, local landmarks, and natural navigation are the go.

Keeran, our guide who has been diving here since the early 1990’s. Incredible knowledge of where the wrecks are and what one can expect to see!

There is so much to say about these wrecks, and so many photos to share with you. Stay tuned for a photo album, and a little on each of the wrecks we dived in the coming weeks!

Chuuk state number plates… never a truer word was written.

A few things I learnt about this amazing place;

1. Bring a powerboard, there are a few powerpoints in the rooms, but if you have cameras, strobes, torches, laptops and phones to charge, you’ll use them all.

2. The internet is woeful (which is actually a good thing). Arrive accepting you wont be able to watch Netflix, YouTube or listen to Spotify, and definitely minimal uploading to Instagram as you imagine. Barely any Facetime (especially if someone else made a call first), but you can get a message through here and there. I reckon, if you stay at home, when the entire resort head out for their dives, it would be better, but why would you want to?

3. There are credit card facilities, but be sure to take enough American Dollars to pay your departure tax, tip your guide and boat driver, and have a snack on the last day after you have paid your bills.

4. Dive Nitrox, make the most of that bottom time, and for the extra $8AUD per dive, it is totally worth it.

5. Take a refernce book and read up on the wreck before you dive her!

6. Relax, and make the most of the Eat, Sleep, Dive, Repeat lifestyle.

Shane Breen

Tasmanian underwater photographer, Shane Breen, joined us for the weekend. Shane spends a lot of time diving the beautiful waters of Tasmania and really appreciated a weekend dedicated to diving Port Arthur.

Shane taking time out from his subject to smile at the camera… He’s not used to being one the other end of the lens!

I have been diving with Shane for a few years now. Shane started diving in Tasmania over thirty years ago, and then took a break. When diving with Shane, you will always find him behind a camera.

Beautiful zoanthids, gently framed by the fascinating featherstars (Comanthus tricoptera) and sponge gardens. Image: Shane Breen
The intricate structures of feather stars like these ones make great photographic subjects. Image: Shane Breen

Shane had a really great weekend and enjoyed diving with a focus on photography. For him, it was really refreshing to be able to take time over a photo and look up and see your buddy doing the same thing and not swimming off into the distance. Out of the water, Shane found the opportunity to discuss equipment and techniques also beneficial. Thanks Shane for joining us over the weekend!

Image: Shane Breen
Shane was lucky enough to find one of these beautiful and rare species, the weedy seadragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus). Aren’t the colors stunning! Image: Shane Breen

Be sure to check out Shane’s other images at: facebook.com/SBreenunderwater or

Andreas Modinger

Find out a bit about one of our Tasmanian Underwater Photography Weekend participants, Andreas Modinger. Andreas travelled to the Tasman Peninsula, all the way from Victoria to join us!

Andreas concentrating on one of his many subjects over the weekend.

Andreas, you’ve been diving for a while now, what got you in to diving?

I had a friend who was a commercial diver who actually got me interested in diving. Originally it was for crayfish and abalone but it quite quickly developed into just for the love of diving. Recently I just became a PADI Instructor because I now want to teach my kids who also want to see the world I keep showing them photos of.

The superb feather hydroid (Gymnangium superbum) is actually an animal! They’re relates to jellyfish, anemones and corals! Image: Andreas Modinger

What is is about underwater photography that you love the most?

The macro world always shows something different than what you see with your eye. This is why I love the closeup view of the aquatic world.

Some of the beautiful sponges that can be found deeper than 18 meters depth around the temperate waters of Tasmania. Image: Andreas Modinger

When asked what he liked most about the weekend, Andreas said he enjoyed having a full weekend to practice different types of shooting.  He also really loved the relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.  I think we can all agree, the second day was fantastic!

Feather stars like these (Comanthus trichoptera), are easily mistaken for a type of plant on Tasmanian reef systems. Image: Andreas Modinger

Andreas shoots these stunning images with an Olympus TG-5 with Ikelite housing and optically connected Olympus strobe. Check out more of Andreas’ awesome shots on his Instagram page: instagram.com/andreas_diving

These yellow zoanthids (Parazoanthus sp.) cover large swathes of rocky overhangs, and are extremely fascinating to watch. Image: Andreas Modinger

Tasmanian Underwater Photography Weekend, 2019

Happy Tasmanian photographers!!

Sometimes, planning diving weekends in Tasmania is a good lesson for over-coming adversity. I have wanted to run an underwater photography weekend in Tasmania for the last year now. To me it sounded like a great opportunity to go diving and spend the evenings talking with like minded people about photography. However, as the weekend loomed closer, the predicted forecast got worse and worse. My lovely day dream of photographing sea caves, sea dragons and deep sponge gardens on the East Coast of the Tasman Peninsula, were slowly being eroded! Fortunately, the best thing about the Peninsula, is that there is almost always a place to dive in everything but the worst conditions. Consequently, as I was heading down to the dive lodge on Friday night, in the driving rain and howling winds, I was trying to think of our plan B.

We can NOT be stopped from diving!

Saturday morning and the divers start to arrive. After a few jokes about the weather, a coffee or three and the suggestion of breakfast, we got our equipment ready, cameras set up, and in to our dry suits (or wet suits for the not so faint hearted). We had made a decision on our dive location. Port Arthur. This south facing, deep water port is a treasure trove of colonial Australian history and surprisingly enough, great dive sites! It is also reasonably protected from the terrifying, 4 meter easterly swell that, at the time, was lashing our usual dive sites.

Some of the beautifully colored sponges found on Tasmanian rocky reef systems.

Even though the conditions were less than favorable, we explored two new shallow dive sites on the eastern shore of the port. The dive at Surveyors Cove gave the divers the opportunity to work on strobe placement. The boulders in between the sand patches were covered in Caulerpa species (a type of green algae that has many different physical forms, but all are captivating) giving the impression of a nicely mown lawn. There were few fish, but lots of abalone, feather stars and sponges to try for nice composition shots!

The second dive for the day was at Denmans Creek. Here, the macro photographers were having a field day. Lots of magnificent biscuit stars (Tosia magnifica), in interesting positions, with their delicate tube feet slowly propelling them along the reef surface. Ascidians crowned the highly colored, rock faces, and big brown kelp species topped off the canopy.

Just a couple of cameras chillin’ in the wash bin.

After returning to the lodge and doing the usual wash down, pack up and warm up, we closed the evening with a very Tasmanian barbecue, sitting out side in the frigid, early spring air until we all decided it was too cold and had to head in side.

I love the sponge diversity found past 18 meters in Tasmania!

Day two was much kinder to us. The sun even came out, and the wind had dropped to nothing over night. We still were diving in Port Arthur, however we were able to head to one of the deeper sites, near the heads of the port itself, The Gardens. This site was named so, due to the stunning sponge gardens found around 18-30 meters depth. Despite the sizeable swell still rolling just outside the heads, we managed to get a fantastic 15 meters visibility. The five of us descended through schools of butterfly perch (Caesioperca lepidoptera) and straight in to 25 meters depth, spread out and started shooting. Due to the drastic reduction of light at these depths, various invertebrates such as sponges, feather stars, soft corals and anemones, as well as coraline algae species now dominate the system. And the color show they put on, is absolutely spectacular! I don’t think anyone wanted to return to the boat… but you have to change tank at some point!

Surface interval on day two at the historic Port Arthur Penitentiary site. Some pretty happy divers after our morning dive.

Our last dive for the weekend, was a lovely cruisey dive under the Port Arthur Golf Club. This site is a hidden little gem, weedy seadragons (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus), friendly draughtboard sharks (Cephaloscyllium laticeps) and lots of cow fish (Aracana aurita)! This was a beautiful way to finish a fantastic weekend. Stay tuned for the next couple of blogs where I introduce all the photographers who joined us for the weekend.

Waves crashing in to the 40 meter high sea cliffs near the area we normally dive!! Good thing we chose beautiful Port Arthur.

Tasmania’s Inaugural Women’s Dive Day, 2019

About five years ago, PADI created the PADI Women’s Dive Day. This event was created to provide a day where divers could get together and talk about diving, go diving, and support other women who might be intimidated by the rather male dominated sport. Since its inception, it has grown to massive proportions, and it is possible we are seeing the effects in sports diving. The ratio of female to male divers has increased from 35:65 to 40:60 over the last five years. This year, there were more than 770 events, across 83 countries, and our event in Tasmania was one of those!

The beautiful Tasman Peninsula, home to some of the best diving in Australia, and most likely the world

We arrived on a beautiful, crisp, winters morning, at the dive lodge on the Tasman Peninsula. As every one began to arrive, the mood in the room began to relax as people got to know each other, and start talking about all the fantastic diving things they had done, or hoped to do. It is one of the many things I love about diving. People from many different backgrounds can find a common interest in a fascinating and beautiful sport. Life long friendships form, based solely on two peoples love of diving!

Our dive for the day was at Safety Cove, in Port Arthur. This nice shore dive is a great place for people to get back in to diving, as it is a reasonably easy shore entry, with a gently sloping bottom, and plenty of reef life to watch. We found colorful rock lobsters, schools of juvenile fish, even a pretty nudibranch. We were also lucky with the visibility, around 15 meters on some parts of the reef!

All those happy faces!!! Image: Ryan Hasson

After the dive, we headed back to the lodge for a barbecue, and a hilariously difficult quiz (I think we learnt never to ask me to write quizzes). I could tell by the end of the day, we had motivated these women to dive more, and get more of their friends in to diving. I have had a few people ask me, “why do we need a specific, Women’s Dive Day?” My answer always is the same. We need as many ocean stewards as we can possibly create. To do this, we need to have any way possible to encourage divers in the water, regardless of gender, race or disability. I know, because of this one day, there are at least eight more extremely motivated divers out there, fighting for the preservation of the ocean. Which is what we need!

Needless to say, I am already planning our event for Women’s Dive Day, 2020. Hopefully we will make it even bigger and better! If there is something you would like to do for next years event, please leave a comment below, or contact me directly!

A successful PADI Women’s Dive Day, 2019. Image: Aaron Colles

Life on Gili T – Part 2 (The Diving)

I didn’t have the greatest start in my SCUBA diving journey. I suffered severely from mask panic, claustrophobia and anxiety, so much that I didn’t continue diving after I earned my PADI Open Water diver in 2012. It took me a whole two years to build up the courage to get back in the water, and even then, if you had told the 2014 me that I would be travelling to undertake my Open Water SCUBA Instructor five years later… I most likely would have laughed at you so hard I would have given myself a stitch! Seriously. But indeed, that was what I did!

IDC crew of May 2019, We still keep in touch, despite now being all over the world! (Photo: Justin Gore, Gili IDC)

A lot of thought went in to with whom, and where I was going to do my instructor course. It’s a big decision, a lot on money, and I am slightly OCD when it comes to organising travel related things. I knew I had a couple of requirements. I had never undertaken a recreational dive course with a female instructor, so naturally, I wanted a female course director. And secondly, I was going to be spending a few weeks where ever I was going, so it had to be warm. After narrowing down my global search with these two requirements, I found Gili IDC, operating out of Trawangan Dive Center, Gili T (see my previous blog post about the land side of life on the island).

Boy, am I glad that is who I chose. I was recently asked to write a review for Holly, and Gili IDC, and to be honest, I struggled to encapsulate how fantastic an educational experience it had been. So with a few more words available to me, I will give it a go now.

My journey to do my instructor course started in late 2017. I had the most insane amount of email conversations with Holly in the 18 months leading up to me doing my course. She was always responsive, and if it took her longer than 24 hours to reply she was profusely apologetic (after I got the scheduling, it dawned on me that Holly teaches 10 IDC a year, and she was replying to me in her lunch break or after she left work = commitment). Through the course of our communications, I knew I had made the right choice. No question was too stupid, and every question was answered. I got the feeling, even without ever meeting her, that she would be just as attentive to my education. I was starting to get the picture this woman was a role model I wanted to follow closely in the footsteps of.

Practising instructing the rescue course is just an excuse to have fun splashing each other… to be honest
(Photo: Justin Gore, Gili IDC)

What is an IDC you may be asking me. IDC is the PADI Instructor Development Course. This consists of 12 days, minimum, of a mix of class work, group work and of course, diving! Gili IDC however, has a 4 day prep work class, where Holly walks the students through all the academic and theory side of diving (physiology, physics, decompression theory, and equipment maintenance). This is great for every one, regardless of how recently they have completed their dive master certification. There were also plenty of pool sessions to hone your skills to the high standard Holly expected, and due to the way the dive center was set up, if you wanted more practice, you could jump in one of the two pools at any time of the day to practice.

One of the many pool sessions.

The training reef, Hans Reef, was well set up for us to practice our instructional skills. However, one of the biggest things I was not expecting, was to train in current. We get current occasionally in Tasmania, but our training sites are generally pretty calm, with a little bit of surge occasionally. Consequently, the first time we went to the training site, I spent at least 10 minutes trying to tell my buddy the current had changed direction, without knowing the hand signal for it. There were a lot of confused faces, as I tried writing current in the sand, and making up ridiculous hand signals. That hand signal will stay with me forever.

Holly and her girls of IDC, May 2019! (Photo: Justin Gore, Gili IDC)

It wasn’t all hard work though! I was able to get for a couple of fun dives during the course. I also did a few speciality instructor courses after my Instructor Exam. The deep instructor speciality was my favorite. Our first dive was at Simon’s Reef and it was stunning. There was a little bit of damage from the 2018 earthquakes, in particular this massive section of beautiful and ancient coral and broken and slid down the bank. However, the fish life and coral appeared reasonably healthy. The most amazing thing about this dive was our safety stop. We were diving as part of a large boat load of experienced divers (mainly dive masters and instructors going on a fun dive). Despite all having our own dive plan, and not seeing the rest of the boat for the whole dive, we all managed to come together for the safety stop. There were about 18 divers hanging motionlessly, in 30 meters of visibility, when all of a sudden, someone started pointing manically behind me. I dared to turn around, and casually swimming approximately 2-3 meters above all of us was a magnificent whale shark. I was crying within 5 seconds, and everyone else had a look of ecstasy on their faces. Back on the boat, we continued our disbelief and I think the high carried on for the rest of my break in Indonesia.

Happiness is… One freshly minted dive instructor! (Photo: Justin Gore, Gili IDC)

My last couple of days on the island, I chose to do my sidemount speciality. Well, now I am completely obsessed with sidemount diving. The extended bottom time due to more gas, and combined with nitrox, my brain almost imploded. But hands down, the final dive of my sidemount course with my fantastic instructor, Dani, held the tie with the whale shark dive as the best dive of my whole trip. We dropped in to 30 meters on to the Glen Nusa Wreck. There was a lot of current, and Dani signalled to go up on to the bow of the wreck, and carefully hold on to the gunnel. It was breath taking. The current was so strong it almost took the masks off our faces, and regulators out of our mouths. But the sight in front of us, I will never forget. Schooling giant trevalley and batfish hovering effortlessly in the current I was struggling to hold on to the wreck in, and then my favorite, white tip reef sharks right on the edge of the 25 meter visibility, streamline and chilled. We stayed there for ages, and still didn’t feel long enough, but sadly we were beginning to run out of no decompression time, instead of gas.

When two tanks are better than one!!

In short, I learnt so much about instructing, diving and myself. I have come back to Hobart a different person. The IDC is one of the best courses I have done for my self esteem, and my diving career. I love instructing, and helping newer divers discover the beginning of that self confidence in them selves, and I am willing to put almost all of that down to Holly McLeod. Now to continue the adventure.

Sidemount is awesome!! Ask anyone who knows me on the island… they will tell you I am obsessed. (Photo: Mellisa Dockley)

Life on Gili T – Part 1

I love Indonesia. Seriously. I can never quite put my finger on it, but I think it has something to do with the people, the approach to life and the food. Man, I love Indonesian food. Consequently, when I decided it was time to continue my diving adventure, by undertaking my Instructor Development Course, I looked at people and places in Indonesia. During my searching, I found out about the fantastic Holly McLeod, based out of Trawangan Dive Center, Gili Trawangan. So, after about 18 months of emails, a few hours of flights, a humid boat trip, and lugging my 25kg suitcase of dive gear up the beach, I was on the idyllic, Gili Trawangan (Gili T).

There are plenty of beaches on Gili T where there aren’t so many tourists… generally associated with a lack of bars in the area.

There is so much to say about my month on Gili T that I decided to write two blogs about it. So just a heads up, this is all the above water stuff, life, food, cool things to do.. Stay tuned for the diving one soon!

There are a couple of ways to get to Gili T. I chose what I thought at the time, was to be the easier one. Unfortunately (for me), everyone else thought flying in to Denpasar airport during Australian school holidays was also a great thing to do. Consequently, after over two hours in line at the immigration office, I managed to get my gear, and was hoping that my lift was still waiting. As I went through customs, my spiky massage ball set off all sorts of alarm bells and I had to spend the next twenty minutes explaining to customs why I had a small bomb shaped item among copious amounts of camera gear. I was near certain that my driver had fled, finding something better to do than wait in the 30 degree humidity for some stupid white girl. But no, the saint of a man had waited for a full two and a half hours!!

The following day I was collected by a van, to travel to Padang Bai (South east Bali), to get on a boat. If only it were that easy… Of course, I had not quite the amount of cash I needed (further inspiring the image of stupid white girl) for the boat trip. On the back of a scooter, I jumped, to head to an ATM somewhere in the jungle of Bali (ok, not really, but my life flashed before my eyes at least once on the 2 minute trip). Cash in hand, I returned, and guiltily had to buy a plastic water bottle to get the correct change for the driver. Great, now I’m a stupid white girl who cant get the right amount of money, with a single-use plastic water bottle. So much for that $50 life straw bottle, and no waste traveling!! I worked on easing my guilt as I watched the stunning landscape of Indonesia wash past. Out past Lembongan and Bali as the fast boat cruised its way with 750 horse power transporting about 200 tourists to Lombok and the Gili Islands. About an hour and a half later, we were unceremoniously dropped on the white sandy beaches of Gili T. I dragged my heavy duty suitcase through the sand and headed off towards the dive shop.

The main street of Gili T (Jl. Pantai Gili Trawangan) is generally bustling with these horse drawn carts and tourists on bicylces.. pedestrians on foot basically give way to everything.

Gili T is your post-high school, gap-year one stop shop for pretty much anything you want to try your hand at. Getting drunk at 2 am, listening to reggae, snorkelling, turtle selfies, free diving, SCUBA diving, stand-up-paddle boarding, yoga, stand-up-paddle yoga… you name it.. you can pretty much do it, all the while accompanied by the beautiful sincerity and politeness that is Indonesian hospitality. So, as I slowly wandered along the main street of Gili T, I was not so shocked to find the street was lined on one side by the beach and the other by alternating cafés, dive shops, bars and convenience stores (Gili Mart). Little did I know, however, that I had arrived a week before Ramadan, and the mosque would become both my 5am alarm clock and 10pm lullaby (and all round general theme tune).

Don’t forget to cuddle a cat a day whilst on Gili T.. there are plenty! Any that hang around a store and have a little nick out of their ear are generally well looked after, and have been spayed and vaccinated by the Cats of Gili, a non-profit, animal welfare project helping Gili’s cats!

Life very quickly settled in to a pleasant and relaxing routine. I spent a lot of time in the classroom working with my colleagues on our PADI Instructor Development Course (stay tuned for the next blog). Outside of class time we would explore the island, pet some cats, avoid being trampled by horse carts, visiting the sunset side for a quiet beer, and when I was truly motivated, getting up in time for sunrise out the front of my dive shop, Trawangan Dive Center.

Sunset, at least a weekly journey to watch the last rays of the day, generally accompanied by a few beers.

Food was cheap and easy to find. My breakfast routine generally consisted of a croissant at the bakery, lunch was at a little unassuming warung that I nearly missed the first day (which I never knew the actual name of, everyone just called the owner, Nasi Lady…) The directions were apparently simple, go down the alley, and she is right at the end… unfortunately the alley looked more like a rat hole, with barely enough width for one person to walk. But the food was worth it! By the end of my stay on Gili T, I had two favorite places to eat for dinner, the night market (more specifically, one store at the night market) and a vegan resto called Pituq. I ate a lot of nasi campur, which, in essence, was an Indonesian buffet served with rice. There are plenty of delicious juices and drinks to have, just make sure you’re explicit with your “no straw please” request.

FOOD!!!! The night market had a few stalls like this one, but this one was the best. The options changed frequently, and a meal would generally set you back somewhere between $2-4.50 AUD a night (depending on how much diving one had done that day…)

Accommodation was just as easy. I had booked one night in a private bungalow at Beach Box bungalows, two streets back from the dive shop. After I had checked in, my host offered my bungalow to me for 2 million Rupiah (approximately $200 AUD), for the whole month. It was basic, and I only had a fan, but considering the only time I spent there was to sleep, it did its job. But you don’t have to slum it. There are some incredible resorts on Gili T. After our group passed our instructor exam, we held a party at the Kelapa Villas. These incredible villas come with their own pools, and the accommodation is spacious and clean. Well worth a stay if your budget is bigger than mine! If you’re going to the island for diving, most of the bigger dive centers have accommodation and restaurants attached. Just imagine, if you really wanted, you could eat, sleep and dive without ever leaving the dive shop!! (but where is the fun in that??)

My home for the month. You can find many similar bungalows and home stays all around the island, you just decide how near or far the hubbub you want to stay, and how much you want to spend.

I had many people from back home ask me about the plastic pollution situation on Gili T. In short, yes, there is more plastic than somewhere like here in Tasmania. And yes, it can be quite confronting. One of the best things however, when you find it gets you down is there is something you can do about it!!! There are a lot of new initiatives around plastic waste in Indonesia and South East Asia in general! One of the very first ones I discovered was the RefillMyBottle initiative. The was a great salve to my recently dented eco-ego, with that single-use plastic bottle still weighing heavily on my mind. RefillMyBottle is a website and app where business owners can register their businesses that have bottle refill stations, and Gili T has had a fantastic uptake of this by the local businesses. The app tells you if the station is free, or if there is a small cost associated (generally around a 5-10c AUD donation). I didn’t buy a single, single-use plastic bottle again for my whole trip.

Beach clean in action! Look at all those eager eco-warriors.

If that wasn’t enough for the eco-minded traveller, there was the Gili Eco Trust. Gili Eco Trust runs initiatives above and below the water. But best of all, they run Debris Free Fridays, where like minded people get together and participate in a 45 minute beach clean, and to add to that warm fuzzy feeling of cleaning a stretch of beach, you get a free Bintang to quench your thirst!! The Trust also run volunteer internship programs for budding eco-warriors, to help run the beach cleans, and assist with the multitude of other initiatives they support including building cages to protect turtle nests during their incubation period. Don’t forget, you don’t have to just go to a specific beach clean to pick up rubbish though.. many a Facetime I had back to Australia was spent on the beach collecting lollipop sticks or the like. Gili Eco Trust and most dive shops also sell dive debris bags, small enough for you to pack in to your dive gear, and very easy to fill on a dive! For $7.5 AUD, its a great little investment.

Sian Williams from the Gili Eco Trust explaining what can and cannot be recycled in Indonesia… look at the difference!! Australia has a lot to learn with it’s recycling programs.

Finally the dive shops! It really depends what you want to do. Almost all dive shops on Gili Trawangan are a part of GIDA (Gili Indah Dive Alliance). GIDA was created almost ten years ago to create a strong, safe and environmentally responsible dive culture on Gili T. There is no price haggling between GIDA dive shops, so if you go to the shop on the island that appears to be cheaper, double check they’re a GIDA member, honestly, it is worth the extra couple of dollars. The alliance have established emergency procedures that all members are involved in. I personally dived out of Trawangan Dive Center (where Gili IDC is based) and had the best time, but as I mentioned, the standard of guiding and instruction is high across all GIDA dive shops, so check out the GIDA website before heading off on your trip to see who their members are, and which shop suits your needs the most. But above all, go to Gili Tfor diving, snorkelling, beach cleaning, and that sneaky vodka joss in jungle at 2 in the morning, you’ll have a great time.

Sunrise over Rinjani, the Lombok volcano that looms over the Gilis.