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Geocaching around Sydney
Weedy Sea Dragons in Sydney
Vanuatu
SS President Coolidge
Humpback Whales in the Kingdom of Tonga
Sharks in Fiji
California: Best of
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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Geocaching around Sydney

Scuba Diving brought me to the Sydney suburb Manly, but once there I discovered that it was also a fantastic place to go Geocaching!

At the North-Western edge of Manly is Manly Dam a nature reserve around the dam which features biking and walking tracks and also a fantastic Power Trail. Unlike other Power Trails I've done in the past, on Zargfinders Power Trail every Cache is hidden in a different way and some of the Camo's speak of a high level of craftsmanship and need very good eyes to spot, while others are of the more amusing sort ;). If you happen to travel to Sydney, you should definitely schedule a day at Manly Dam.


But that is not all there is to find. Zargfinders is also a huge Doctor Who fan and created a series of 8 Doctor Who related Caches which lead you to a bonus Cache. All of them were placed with a lot of thought to the chosen episode and again they were created with a lot of care and love. My personal favorites of this series were Blink and Silence in the Library, which both featured interesting riddles and fantastic Cache-Containers!




But Zargfinders weren't the only Cachers in Sydney. Tyreless Bubbler Dash Where-I-Go featured an interesting challenge and an ingenious final, which I had to visit three times before spotting it :).

In Sydney itself there are also a fair number of Caches hidden and during my three days in the city I managed to find a couple of them. Thankfully not all of them were Nanos. The highlight of Caching in Sydney was Thornton's Scent Bottle.

Thanks to all these wonderful Caches I have now over 100 finds in Australia :).

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Weedy Sea Dragons in Sydney

Diving in Sydney is nothing for the casual diver, it is coldish (17 - 18 ° Celsius at the moment) and the visibility is often quite limited (5 - 10 meters). On the other hand, there are many interesting creatures to discover.

What brought me to Sydney was the Weedy Sea Dragon, a relative to the Sea Horse. Since I first spotted a Weedy Sea Dragon in Boston aquarium I knew that one day I'll meet them under water.

Our second dive day brought us to Magic Point, which is mainly famous for it's resident population of Grey Nurse Sharks (not related to the Tawny Nurse Sharks I saw in Fiji), but also hosts a couple of Weedy Sea Dragons. While the visibility at the Shark cave was extremely bad (lots of silt in the water), we did get to see a Weedy Sea Dragon close up :).

With that off the list, I could then appreciate the other animals. Such as the frequently encountered Port Jackson Shark (a distant relative of the Horn Shark I saw in California). On one dive we saw about 15 of them lying on the sandy bottom!

Another frequent guest on our dives was the Red Rock Cod, a member of the Scorpion fish family.

During my second dive to Magic Point we got to see the Grey Nurse Sharks a bit better, but not good enough for quality pictures, and we got to see another Weedy Sea Dragon, this time a pregnant male!

On my last diving day, we visited the Royal Shepherd Wreck, which sank in 1890. Most of it was buried in sand, but the propeller, anchor and part of the boiler was still visible. More interesting were the Common Stingarees which stayed close to the Wreck.

The last dive at The Waterfall had a real treasure to offer: Two juvenile Cuttlefish!


In summary I really enjoyed diving in Sydney, despite the cold temperatures and the short dives.

More pictures of these dives can be found in my Sydney webalbum.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Vanuatu

Even though I spent most of my time in Vanuatu with scuba diving, there were some other notable activities.

Twice I visited the famous blue holes. Those are waterholes fed by natural springs and they appear crystal clear and dark blue in places. In some of them there were ropes installed from which we could swing into the water :).





On the last day on Espiritu Santo, I joined the Millenium Caves Tour. A tour organized by locals which consists of a 2 hour bush walk, a half hour crossing of Millenium Cave, some Bouldering/Canyoning after lunch, followed by floating down river. To end it all we had another bush walk to get back to the starting point.
Every one of those things were cool in itself, not to mention that there were just the two of us with our guides on this trail, and that combined to an unforgettable day! :)

I also had to spend a day in Port Vila, waiting for my connecting flight, and I used that to do a half day tour to the Secret Gardens, a kind of botanical garden with a couple of local animals and very detailed info about the country and the region, and Mele Cascading Waterfalls, a beautiful waterfall which flows over several levels. This one was much more touristy, especially since a cruise ship was in town that day. Nevertheless, it was a nice distraction and worth the entrance fee.

Pictures of these activities can also be found in my web album.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

SS President Coolidge

The SS President Coolidge was built in 1931 as a cruise and merchant ship. From 1940 to 1942 it was used by the US military to evacuate citizens and transport troops. In 1942 it was finally converted into a true troopship and equip with guns. On 26 October 1942 it hit two friendly mines when navigating towards Luganville in Espiritu Santo. The captain tried to beach the ship and almost everyone could be safely evacuated. However, because a coral reef was in the way, the ship ended up slipping back into the water shortly afterwards.

Nowadays, it lies on its side in shallow water and offers perfect conditions for divers. This was the main reason why I traveled all the way to Espiritu Santo.

Once in town I hooked up with Allan Power Dive Tours. Allan Power, now retired from diving, is the leading expert on the Coolidge, with over 15'000 dives logged. I was lucky enough that it was reasonably quiet at the time so I got a personal dive guide for most of my dives and thus we were able to explore the wreck to its fullest and slowly extend my experience with deep dives. Even though the wreck starts at 15 meters, the interesting things are normally to be found close to or past 40 meters.


After an intriguing introduction dive where we stayed on the outside and looked at the different guns the Coolidge was equipped with, we ventured on our first penetration dive to visit The Lady. The Lady is a porcelain sculpture that was originally located in the dining room and is now in a more accessible spot for divers.

The next step was a visit to the engine room at 46 meters, where we could still see the gages set for full steam ahead.

Venturing deeper we visited the outside pool at 54 meters, which has an interesting mosaic floor, but which gave me some trouble counting all the different colors used ;).

Since that dive went well, we ventured into the Galley, which is located at 55 meters, where a large number of China bowls were still present, together with three huge cooking pots.

A short visit to Cargo Hold 6 & 7, revealed an immense spare propeller blade and boxes of ammunition, and set a new depth record of 56.9 meters.

Another highlight of the Coolidge are it's night dives, where you venture into Cargo Hold 2 at 30 meters without lights to see a spectacular show displayed by Flashlight Fish. It felt like being in a disco :).

My last dive day brought it all together. We swam on the surface until the end of the ship, where we descended and were greeted by the two resident Hawksbill Turtles. We then entered Cargo Hold 7 and progressed inside the ship past Cargo Hold 6, the Galley, Cargo Hold 3, B- and C-Deck and out through the Chain Locker. Completing a 200 meters inside traversal of the whole wreck with a maximum depth of 58.4 meters. Once we exited the wreck my computer showed 26 minutes deco time after 26 minutes diving, and it took 53 minutes until we were clear to exit the water.

I had a fantastic time diving the Coolidge and would like to thank Allan Power's team for making it such a memorable experience!

Unfortunately, my underwater housing only goes to 40 meters, so I don't have too many pictures of these dives, but the pictures I have can be found in this web album.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Humpback Whales in the Kingdom of Tonga

In the Kingdom of Tonga, one of the few South Pacific countries that was never conolized, we boarded the wonderful liveaboard Nai'a for a ten-day trip to the Humpback Whales in the Ha'apai Group.

We had a fantastic times with many whale sightings both above and below water.

Highlights were when we could spend close to an hour with a mother and her calf. While the mother rested the calf curiously swam up to us and then back to her mother again.

Later we spotted a Heat Run, that is a competition between several males for one female. It lasted over three hours with spectacular displays of tail slapping, pectoral fin slapping and breaching.

To end the perfect trip we had an encounter with four friendly Humpbacks that swam around the boat. We just stayed in the water and waited while they swam by repeatedly. One of them was particularly adventurous and repeatedly showed us his belly, swimming past underneath us on his back.

It was an unbelievable experience, seeing those huge animals navigate effortlessly through the water and even lifting their whole weight of 50 - 80 tons out of the water for spectacular breaches.

In addition to all the whale watching and snorkling we also did a couple of dives. However, diving in Tonga is not as good as other parts in the world, so if we had to choose between diving and whales I always selected the whales (at least after day 3). Nevertheless, we did see some interesting things on the dives. My highlights were Dogtooth Tuna hunting a school of fusiliers and a Corrallimorph Deocrator Crab.


I could go into much more detail what we saw on each day, but Joshua and Amanda, the cruise directors, already did a perfect job of that, so if you are interested what else we saw then I can highly recommend the following blogpost.

All my pictures can be found in this webalbum.

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Friday, September 05, 2014

Sharks in Fiji

Right after leaving Fiji two years ago I vowed to return to see the Bull Sharks. And so it was a happy coincidence, that the first part of my group tour to Tonga accommodated 9 days in Fiji with 3 Shark Dive Days!

But first we went on a regular "check" dive. Since we were an advanced group, we went straight for the outer reefs where we explored the wreck of Tasu 2.

On Monday it was time for the first two Shark Dives. For the first dive we went down to 25.5 meters and we encountered more fish than we expected. First of all we spotted many Bull Sharks, Sicklefin Lemon Sharks and Tawny Nurse Sharks. Even an elusive Silvertip Shark swam by in the distance and after the feeding ended we spotted a Whitetip Reef Shark cruising along the reef.

For the second dive we went down to 18.5 meters and saw even more Bull and Tawny Nurse Sharks. In addition we spotted the elusive Blacktip Reef Shark.

On Tuesday, another regular dive day was planned and we went out to Frigates, which boasts one of the worlds most famous breaks, which many surfers frequent. For divers it offers many interesting swimmthroughs and a nice wall dive.

On the way back we had a real highlight! Pilot Whales were spotted and we were able to go into the water and snorkel with them! We saw several smaller groups of up to 9 whales and even a mother with her calf! That was a promising start, considering we expect to see many more whales in Tonga :).

On Wednesday, the second Shark Dive Day came around. This time the Silvertip and Blacktip Reef Sharks stayed away, but there was enough action from the other specimens and so it was another memorable two dives!

Thursday was a day of relaxation, which I spent at the pool reading books :).

Friday meant our last day of diving in Fiji and it was another Shark Dive. The first dive was spectacular! At first a Sicklefin Lemon Shark swam right past me and then four Silvertip Sharks turned up and came really close to the divers. They mainly cruised around behind us, which had the advantage that they were easier to spot than all the other sharks which were cruising around the bait.

During the last dive there was a lot of activity again. But one of the highlights was when a guide showed me a Stonefish in the reef during the safety stop.

We had a fantastic time in Fiji, the Shark Dives were definitely worth coming here. The other dive sites were nice, but there wasn't as much fish or soft coral as we would have expected. Nevertheless, for Shark friends, this place is a must visit!

The Waidroka Bay Resort had very friendly and helpful staff. They also drove with their own boat to the Shark Dive, which was an advantage, even though the trip took almost 55 minutes one way.

All pictures can be seen in my webalbum.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

California: Best of

After one week in California and 1'068 miles in a rental car it is time for a short review. These are the things I enjoyed most:

1) Scuba Diving in Santa Catalina Island
2) Hiking in Muir Woods
3) Driving the Pacific Coast Highway (State Route 1) between Morro Bay and Monterey (driving from North to South offers the better view, as you are on the correct side of the road ;) )
4) Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park
5) Six Flags Magic Mountain

All pictures from California can be found in my webalbum.

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Six Flags Magic Mountain: Riding Rollercoasters till your dizzy

As a big fan of Roller-coasters, I forewent the standard visits to the Universal Studios and Disneyland and visited Six Flags Magic Mountain instead.

As it turned out, I picked the perfect day, there were very few people and so standing in line was the exception rather than the rule. In most cases I could walk right up to the gate and board with the next wave. Sometimes I chose to wait out up to two waves to catch front-row or rear-row seating.

In that way, I managed to visit the big 9 thrill-coasters within 4 hours (including a lunch break), some of which i rode twice. On the Screamer I could even stay seated in the front row because there was no one else in line!

The weather meant it well too. Too well... It was almost unbearably hot and every time I spied the Hurricane Harbour water-park next door, I was envious of the people who could cool down in the pools and on the slides, but one cannot have everything ;).

After 6 hours my head was shaken through enough and I enjoyed a wonderful ice cream before heading back to Los Angeles and my plane to Fiji.

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