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Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks in North Sudan
Interrail Geocaching Part 3 - Northwards
Interrail Geocaching Part 2 - Benelux
Interrail Geocaching Part 1 - Eastwards
Quokkas on Rottnest Island
Fremantle and it's Prison
Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Geocaching and Lost Places on Christmas Island
Crab Migration on Christmas Island
Whale Sharks at Christmas Island
 
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Friday, April 03, 2015

Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks in North Sudan

This years dive trip brought me all the way to Sudan.

For an easier arrival we started our journey in Port Ghalib, Egypt, where we boarded the Royal Evolution. After a delay due to bad weather we were able to sail South the next day and do some diving on the way to our destination.

Fortunately, we were able to get permission to dive in Sudanese waters before officially arriving in Port Sudan. This gave us the opportunity to spend a day at Shaab Rumi where we encountered our first sharks of the trip. While others had already spotted Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks, I was always a bit too far away, but there were a couple of Grey Reef Sharks around to console me :).

 The first night dive took place at Sanganeb Wall, where we encountered a plethora of large nudibranches, such as Spanish Dancers, Large Pleurobranchus and Humped Halgerda.

The next day we had an early start with a 6am dive in order to get to Port Sudan in time for the immigration procedures. After a couple of hours in the harbor we were finally cleared to leave and continued onwards to the wreck of the Umbria. The Umbria was an Italian supply ship during the Second World War, which was sunk by the captain on purpose to prevent it from falling into Allied hands. The wreck is still in good condition and there are several places where penetrations are possible. The highlights are 3 Fiat 1100s, the engine room and lots of leftover ammunition.

The next day we returned back Northwards to Sanganeb reef where we visited the lighthouse, the only time we stepped on Sudanese soil, and then encountered enormous schools of Blackfin Barracuda and Bigeye Trevally.
 

At Shaab Rumi we visited the remains of Jacques Cousteau's Conshelf II project, where in 1963 several habitations were built in 10 meters depth, housing six oceanauts for 30 days. Besides some debris there is also a scooter shed and a large bell shaped housing, that might have been used for experiments or as a submarine garage.
 

After we had a look around in- and outside the buildings we continued along the wall where I discovered a group of Pyjama Slugs. Two of them were mating at the time!

 The following night dive had surprised again when I stumbled upon a tiny cuttlefish :)

And then it was finally time for me to see the Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks too. At Shaab Rumi's South Plateau we encountered first a single one swimming right past us, unfortunately I had my camera in macro mode at the time!!!, and then we encountered a small school of them.

Further North we stopped at Qita el Banna where we encountered a very curious Silky Shark. We were hanging out away from the reef looking around when he shot straight at us out of nowhere, a couple of meters away from us he stopped and kept swimming to and fro for about five minutes :)
The second dive would top this with a school of at least 11 Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks and a return visit by the Silky :).
Afternoon and evening dives were at Merlo reef where we spotted a couple of Flashlightfish lurking in the reef during the nightdive.
The last great shark dive was at Angarosh's South Plateau where a Scalloped Hammerhead Shark came very close to check me out at 40 meters depth!

On our continued way North we didn't spot any more sharks, but we did have a couple of nice encounters with Turtles and other fish.

The final highlight was at St John's back in Egypt when I caught a Red Sea Anemonefish with a Cleaner Shrimp.

Conclusion:
Diving in Sudan was very nice. The reefs were in very good shape and there was plenty of fish activity. We were a bit unlucky with the weather, there was almost no current which kept the large schools of Sharks at bay. Nevertheless I had a fantastic time.

During the 13 days on board the Royal Evolution I did 37 dives with an average maximum depth of 30 meters, with a maximum of 41.4 meters (that's where I encountered the Hammerhead Shark), spending 32.5 hours under water. Even though the conditions were relatively mild it is definitely advanced diving and can only be recommended to divers who have experience with strong currents.

More pictures can be found in these two web albums:
- Egypt 2015
- North Sudan 2015

If you want to know more about the different dives, you can check out my divelog for this trip.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Interrail Geocaching Part 3 - Northwards

Traveling from Amsterdam to Copenhagen looked straightforward enough on paper. Changing trains in Ossnabrück and Hamburg, with enough changeover time to look for a Cache in each place. So I didn't do any further research into the geography of this trip and was thus very surprised when the train suddenly boarded a ferry and we were asked to disembark during the crossing!
On the positive side, it offered an opportunity to stretch my legs on this last 5 hour part. At the end of the day I had discovered Caches in three countries: The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark :)

The next day with wonderful weather to boot I started to explore the city. I was surprised by the large number of Caches throughout the center and had a long list of places to visit.
A highlight was Kastellet, the late medieval military fortification with a beautiful moat.
Walking along the shoreline I was surprised to see a tourist bus. The reason for this was soon discovered, the famous Little Mermaid, of which I quickly took a picture and continued onwards.

Oh, wait, that was another sculpture ;)


After passing through the government district, my way led me to Nyhavn, the picturesque old harbor which is now a tourist hotspot.
In the end I found 22 Caches on this day trip, and there are still a couple more around which weren't on my route. So I can definitely recommend a trip to Copenhagen to any Geocacher! :)

More pictures from Copenhagen can be found in this webalbum.

The next day it was time to travel back to Germany. There would have been a direct train from Copenhagen to Berlin, but that would have meant crossing four German states without caching, and that wasn't an option. So I changed trains in Lübeck, Bad Kleinen (to visit the famous egg-tunnel) and Bad Wilsnack. After a late arrival in Berlin I ended up with finds in the following four states: Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg and Berlin :).

To end my epic Interrail trip I continued on to Leipzig to spend a couple of days with good friends, playing board games and finding more Caches ;).

Part 1 - Eastwards
Part 2 - Benelux


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Saturday, January 03, 2015

Interrail Geocaching Part 2 - Benelux

Leaving Prague for Luxembourg was an astonishingly easy thing. With a direct bus from Prague to Mannheim, a train to Saarbrücken and another bus to Luxembourg, I managed the trip in about 11 hours. Luxembourg City surprised me by it's hilly nature. Walking from the main station to the Youth Hostel turned out to be a bad idea, since Google Maps led me down into a valley, up the next hill and back down again. For the way back I decided to take a cab ;).

In the evening I undertook the first trip around the city looking for some Caches, completing the circle the next morning. On my way I discovered a couple of hidden treasures, such as this small Chapel built into the hill.

More pictures from Luxembourg can be found in my webalbum.

From Luxembourg I headed to Brussels where I arrived late Saturday afternoon. After settling in I went to the city center for some sightseeing and Geocaching. I was overwhelmed by the number of people in the street. It seemed as if the whole of Belgium was up and about. Despite this I did manage to view the main attractions and find some Caches to boot :).


Sunday morning I headed out to the Atomium and its neighboring parks. The queue at Atomium was huge, so I only enjoyed it from the outside.

In the late afternoon it was finally time for one of the reasons of this trip. Scala and Kolacny Brothers had a concert in the Basilica in Koekelberg. That was a fantastic experience :).
Due to the impending strike in Belgium I headed onwards to Amsterdam the same night. Due to some spotty information I ended up buying an extra ticket for the Thalys service, because it wasn't sure whether the regular train would be stopped on the way or not...

More pictures from Belgium can be found in this webalbum.

Geocaching in Amsterdam is a bit more difficult than in other cities. Due to the heritage listing of most of the center the number of possible hiding spots is limited and thus the number of Caches isn't too big. During a long walk along the many canals I still managed to find a handfull.

What I found most amazing were the large number of different bridge types encountered. Next to old drawbridges, there was also a bridge which slid to the side to make room for passing ships.

Another fun find was the Petrus & Paul Church which is in the middle of the shopping mile and which has a revolving door!?!

More pictures from Amsterdam can be found in this webalbum.

Part 1 - Eastwards
Part 3 - Northwards



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Monday, December 22, 2014

Interrail Geocaching Part 1 - Eastwards

Doing an Interrail trip is one of the things on every European's bucket list. Now I finally found time to tick this off, combining it with Geocaching in a couple of countries I hadn't visited before.

The first part of my trip took me eastwards to Vienna. I'd been in Vienna a couple of years back and had visited some of the sights, so this time I focused on the old town and the area around the brand new main station.
More pictures can be found in this webalbum.

Bratislava is just a short hop from Vienna, so I traveled there next. Bratislava has a beautiful old town in the center and an impressive castle at the edge of the city.
It also features a very interesting museum of old-timers just next to the train station.
More pictures can be found in this webalbum.

My last stop in the East was Prague. There I completed two Where-I-Go-Caches which took me to all the important sights in the old town as well as in the "lesser town".
During my one-day walk around town I managed to find 13 Caches, which is a good number considering the high tourist density in this beautiful city.
More pictures can be found in this webalbum.

Part 2 - Benelux
Part 3 - Northwards




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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Quokkas on Rottnest Island

Rottnest Island is best known for it's large Quokka population. Quokkas are small marsupials that only live on the island and in very small areas on the mainland around Perth. The first European explorers mistook them for giant rats and thus gave it the name Rotte Nest (Dutch for Rats Nest).

Nowadays, it is a favorite holiday location with many beautiful beaches and a large protected nature reserve with many birds.

The only mode of transport on the island, besides to a tourist bus, are bicycles. I didn't have to go far to spot the first Quokkas hiding in a bush next to a residential house.

After enjoying a nice swim at Parker Point I completed the short cycle loop. On the way back I encountered a couple more and very inquisitive Quokkas :).

Back in the town center there was also a peacock strolling around, hoping for scraps from tourists.

Overall the trip was very enjoyable :). You can find more pictures in my webalbum.

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Fremantle and it's Prison

Fremantle is located a very short trip South of Perth and was the first area settled by the Swan River colonists in 1829. And even today it kept much of it's colonial charm, with many old buildings remaining in the city center.

Even more interesting is Fremantle Prison, a huge complex that was built by convict labor between 1851 and 1859 and has remained in operation until 1991. Since then it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been opened for tourists.

The Doing Time Tour offers a sneak peak at prison life over time with reconstructed cells for different time periods.

Because I didn't have time to see everything I ended up going back the next time I was in Perth to do the Prison Tunnels Tour. Under the prison there is a vast network of tunnels which were built to access and retrieve the water in the limestone. For many years the prison was the main water supply for the whole town. Part of the tour consisted of a boat trip in the still submerged tunnels. Unfortunately, we weren't able to take photographs, so I have to redirect you to their homepage for more impressions. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this tour as well even though they made me look a bit ridiculous ;)

More pictures from my visits to Fremantle can be found in my webalbum.




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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Christmas Island is not the only Australian Territory in the Indian Ocean. There are also the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, so named to distinguish them from the Coco Islands near Burma.
It couldn't be more different from Christmas Island even if they tried. The islands are completely flat, with the highest elevation of 5 meters, and feature almost endless sandy beaches (at least during low tide).
Due to unfortunate circumstances I was not able to dive here, because the only dive shop on the islands was on vacation himself! So I did everything else there was to do on the islands which meant a lot of snorkeling. The most interesting snorkeling is The Rip at Direction Island, a small channel where the water flows into the lagoon, making for perfect drift snorkeling with many fish hanging in the current. My personal highlight there was a clear picture of a big Doubleheader Parrotfish.

On Monday I joined Geoff's Glass-bottom Boat Tour. On the way to Prison Island we spotted a couple of humongous Green Turtles resting on the bottom of the lagoon. On Prison Island we had a short stop and observed juvenile Blacktip Reef Sharks surfing the waves.
Next was my personal highlight. A shark feeding followed by optional snorkeling, which I took advantage of at length, thus getting very close to Blacktip and Grey Reef Sharks :)
Because all of us had been to Direction Island before, we went Horsburgh Island, the northernmost island in the Cocos Atoll, instead. There we spotted a leftover cannon from WWII which back then was used to protect the only entry into the lagoon next to Direction island. Even though it looks like it was built on water, the cannon was on the Beach as short as 20 years ago. An impressive demonstration of erosion going on around these islands...

Friends I made on Christmas Island highly recommended the Motorized Canoe Tour. Due to the tides we started at 6am and after a short drive we had an extravagant Champagne Breakfast on the beach. As soon as everything was served we saw an invasion of Hermit Crabs!
The Canoe Tour took us around and onto South Island, where we climbed to the highest point in the atoll, where the leftovers of a WWII lookout could still be seen.

Our tour ended with snorkeling around Pulu Maria, where we spotted a very active Octopus.

To round up my experience of these islands I also joined a Cultural Tour to Home Island, the place where the Cocos-Malay population lives. There we saw the house of former owner/"king" of these islands, the Clunies-Ross estate.
And in the village museum we saw the plastic money that Clunies-Ross made to pay his "employees".

Visiting these islands was definitely an interesting experience. On West Island, where a small Australian expat community lives and all tourist activities are located, exists only one buffet-style restaurant, for which you need to sign up on a Blackboard before 4pm. During dinner on the beachside a Night Heron regularly visits hoping to steal some food.
It was a great way to end a long trip, with a good mixture of relaxation, quiet and adventure :)

More pictures can be found in my webalbum.





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