Disclaimer: The ocean is terrifying, dangerous and deadly.
On Saturday, 10/10/15, Kristin and I went whale watching with the Surfers Paradise Whale Watching tours. We decided to go to the 11 am tour and sleep in a bit after going out with our English roommates last night. They are also going through the same program and interviewing with the same company as we are. Anyways, we made it to the tours departure location about fifteen minutes early and gave our vouchers for discounted tickets. We then boarded the two story boat along one of the canals. It took roughly 30 – 40 minutes to make our way through the canals to get out in the the open ocean. It was an extremely scenic route with houses along both sides that range from 1 to 10 million dollars. They looked very modern and nearly all of them had boat docks but there weren’t many beaches. That may have been because the ocean is so close and accessible or because the water wasn’t incredibly clear/clean to swim in.
Once arriving at the canals opening, the announcer came on and informed the guests that they should hold on tightly at all time throughout the rest of the tour due to moderately rough waters. Moderately rough. Friends, for you future knowledge, moderately rough waters include an average of twenty foot waves from all directions. The ocean looks gorgeous, enticing and desirable from the beach – well, it’s a evil mirage. Water is scary. Kristin and I were seated at the back of the boat and the, thankfully very skilled, boat driver would stall and gun the boat as necessary. When he would stall towards the top of the waves I could look back at the open water and see a devastatingly steep drop of 20 feet or so. Number one: this makes it seem like you are floating in the air waiting to take a crash, capsize and be trapped beneath the hull of the boat… Two: there are more of these 20 foot waves on all sides of the boat with no sanctuary in sight… Three: you prepare yourself for what might be the end – which – if this is the way you have to go at least it will look epic in the papers… “Iowa girl drowns in the rough waters of the Pacific Ocean while swimming amongst the whales”. We will leave out the “moderately rough” term used by the announcer just minutes before we entered this treacherous world. Oh, also, to put the cherry on top, when we watched the boats from the beach the day before they looked relatively close. This is also an illusion, be forewarned, it is alarmingly opposite from the boat as one will quickly discover as they convey there escape routes. You soon realize that “swimming to shore” when the boat capsizes is not a viable option so no sense in wasting the energy really.
Inevitable, with these conditions there are bound to be some passengers that are taken by sea sickness. There is an advantage to this… So when you see your first whale and the announcer comes on with “and at one o’clock we have our first pod of three whales, a mother and her cub are traveling south. Lets see if we can get closer” – you see the entire boat (both floors) rush to the right side of the boat. Another fear then flashes through your mind, we will tip the boat over from the quick change of weight with the masses of people running to the side of the boat to hang over the railings. So you stay put at first. Why haven’t they thought this through? Why aren’t there seat belts to lock the weight evenly distributed throughout the boat? Is this the first tour they have ever done?!? Then, looking back to the seats and benches in the middle of the boat, you get it. Half of the boat is now being handed a “comfort bag” to casually be sick in as they cling to their seats and try to fall asleep on the tables or loved ones to pretend they had not just spend a heap of money (I had a coupon!) to get onto their dream boat to see the whales in their natural habitat… and it all makes sense, we are safe for now.
As you let out a sigh of relief, I highly suggest you accept the “comfort bag” from the very kind lady and be thankful you forgot to have breakfast that morning. Another strong suggestion – stay away from the seats on the first floor that have the growingly green faced passengers. Those are the folks that will be sick first and once the first one blows – I promise you, so do the rest – a perfect example of the domino effect.
Now, despite the curling sensation in your stomach that keeps itching at you because “sea legs” are not a thing – no one can get used to the rock and sway of a boat this big… there IS a moment that makes it all worth it! I realize this 6 whales, 3 dolphins, 1 sea turtle and finally a last minutes breached whale cub that rises entirely out of the water and gives us all a big splash. THAT, my friends, is bloody worth it. The whales gradually become more comfortable with the boat and move closer. The humpbacks, which are what we saw, have a beautiful sleek arch as they take a large breath of air and hunch their backs for what could be a 45 minute deep dive. To our delight they came up roughly every five minutes or so for the two hours we spent in the open water. We saw two pods that were migrating south from their mating season in the Great Barrier Reef waters and heading back home to Antarctica for their fill of Krill. The mother is almost as large as the boat at fifteen feet. They are, so says the announcer, more playful and crashing into waves when it is rough out – silver lining? Hmm… and that may have also been true for the dolphins! We saw a few elegantly gliding through the air from one wave and into the next. They looked almost black and, yes, like heavenly creatures. Shortly after the dolphin sighting came the sea turtle about a meter wide. They typically get spooked and take a deep dive but this rascal decided to let the boat come within ten feet or so. I wouldn’t have recognized it had it not been pointed out at first but it was a strong green with fungus growing on the back. As we turned to head back to the canals I was positioned perfectly to see that at ten o’clock, the cub came straight out of the water and landed on its back giving us a glorious splash with its body (weighing approximately one ton). To emphasize the dedication of some – a man a couple people down rushed to the side of the boat to snap a photo on his, mind you rather expensive camera, only to take a quick moment to hurl over the side of the boat and return with his camera to catch the last of the splash and the foot print left behind.
Worth it? yes. Have I survived one of Australia’s deadly features? Check that box. Would I recommend it? Only with heaps of motion sickness pill is you plan on embarking on a “moderately rough” day….
So marks one day – next? Koala cuddles and a roadtrip to Byron.