Saturday 17 November 2012

Cairns 2012 total solar eclipse!

Hello all!

So, last week I left you with my Spanish story, written once I got back to Australia. But it wasn't time to stop having adventures - I had one more up my sleeve, with the potential to be a real doozy.

After one day of very good sleep and one day of none at all, I hopped on a plane with my friend Jenny to head up to Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef, and a date with a total solar eclipse.

This event had been on my radar for a very long time; probably since about 2001 when I was eyeing off the 2002 Ceduna eclipse. I eventually decided not to go, and to wait for the next Australian one instead. Well, this was it.

My return from Europe was actually based around being back for this, so it's fair to say that I flew half way around the world for it.

So after a nice squishy plane ride (I'm so loving those lately, please, give me more…) we arrived in Cairns and settled in with a dodgy hostel voucher dinner (don't trust them when they say the cheap food is "huge". It's still cheap), and a few "good" old Aussie beers (I think Europe has made me even more of a beer snob than I was).

We were picked up by the dive shop guys at 6:15 the next morning. By now I was well used to being a jetlagged zombie with no sleep, so the early departure wasn't excruciating. Plus – diving! Did I mention there was going to be diving? I mean, it's not like I could go to Cairns and NOT dive. In addition, I know what Cairns can be like – cloudy. I figured that there would be a better chance of seeing the eclipse from out on the reef – and I chose wisely.

The weather was pretty questionable on Tuesday morning though. Rain squalls and nasty SE winds whipped up a neat old swell on the way to the reef, which had a few of the boat's 30+ visitors feeling queasy. Me, I've never gotten seasick. The closest I've come is a bit of a knot in the stomach but it always passes.

On this trip though, the alarmist supervisor insisted that everyone would get horribly ill, and I decided not to second guess myself and took a pill beforehand. I suspect I would have been fine without it. As it was, I had a nice snooze while some of the others fed the fishes from the back of the boat.

Turtle having lunch
Once we got to the shelter of the reef, things calmed down a bit, and we got on with the serious business of world-famous diving in lovely 27 degree water. The vis (visibility) was reasonable, at about 10-15m, which is to say bad for the location but still pretty good for diving overall.

Jenny normally dives with me, but unfortunately she's busy re-enacting my ACL injury/knee surgery/long recovery adventure from a few years ago so it was just snorkelling for her. Instead I got teamed up with other random dive buddies. Luckily the sites are very easy - no real depth, decent vis and no current – so you can find your buddies again when they take off without you. ;)

The diving was great, and we got into the usual pattern of dive/rinse/eat/drink/rest/repeat. After two dives on Milln reef we moved to nearby Flynn reef and had our last afternoon dive there, followed by dinner and a night dive.

Night dives are awesome. All sorts of things come out to play and it's like diving in a big black cave, full of eels and things with lots of legs and tentacles. Some people would probably find this terrifying, but I love it.

Then it was early to bed, and fingers crossed for the morning weather. I slept well (I always do on boats, the rocking is soothing), but had various dreams about the upcoming eclipse, mostly of the anxious-about-the-weather variety.


If the weather really was terrible, my plan was probably to go diving, just to see it get dark underwater (and, in fact, a couple of the people on the boat did – more about that later). However, we woke to fairly clear skies, with just some thin high clouds and a few lower puffy ones drifting through. Excellent!

It begins...

First Contact

It looks like the moon! Oh wait, it is the moon! AND the sun!

Then it was eclipse time! It was… really quite indescribably awesome. Extremely moving. One of the most amazing things I've seen in my life. Well worth flying home from Europe for (and sorry Europe, this shat all over your best cathedrals).

The lead-up, as the moon crept in front of the sun, was very cool. It got gradually darker. It looked more and more surreal. At one point I remarked "hey, it looks like the moon – oh, well, it IS the moon. AND the sun!". Hah. Duh.

About a minute from second contact (just before totality) a little cloud came through and we had to scare it on its way with some bad language, but it heard us and drifted off, and suddenly there was the flash of the diamond ring and the sky went dark in a matter of seconds.

Going, going...

Total Solar Eclipse

The wind, which had been pretty much constant for days, dropped right off. It was only afterwards that we realised though, as everyone was busy hooting and cheering and jumping up and down like little kids (ok that last thing might have just been me).

We had about two minutes of totality. It went incredibly fast. I was taking photos frantically, but also trying to stop and watch and look around so I wouldn't miss it. It is hard to describe the feeling; I think overall I was just amazed that I was actually getting to see it, after all the journeying, planning, lack of sleep, bad weather, and so on… and the fact that it was just an incredible, special thing to see. I completely understand why some people chase eclipses, often at great expense, around the planet.

The Diamond Ring, or if you prefer, black eyeball of DOOM
People who know me know that I rarely get particularly excited. For those two minutes (and a while after) I was like a kid again - a kid who's just received something enormous and really fucking cool. Something that they have really really wanted, for ages.

The time of day and location were also perfect; the reef we were on was pretty much slap bang in the middle of the path of the umbra, and the waves and reflection of the sea made it fantastically pretty. If the sun had been any higher, the reflections wouldn't have been as nice. Like I said, perfect.

Anyway the moon sped on like it always does, and suddenly there was a flash and a diamond ring from the other side, and then it was like a great big dimmer switch got turned up again and it was over (well, apart from the other 20 minutes of partial eclipse, but we'd just seen one of those).

Post Eclipse reflections
The next big Australian one is in 2028, and runs straight through Sydney (can't win 'em all). I intend to be there.

Anyway, we were all pretty excited as we had breakfast. The three guys who went diving reported that yes, it got dark very suddenly down there, and that the fishes got a bit confused. Apparently all the eels came out to play and the little fish kinda had to run for it.

The rest of us hopped back in for a couple more dives before we had to head back. The water was a bit murky on the first dive and I nearly sat out the second, but in the end I had a "come on, you're on the bloody barrier reef, when are you coming back here?" moment and went in. I'm glad I did, it was one of those really lovely dives where everything just flows. The water was clearer and we spotted some cool stuff, like some barracuda and a white tip reef shark.

Then it was time to head back to Cairns, for one more night (there's no flying for a day after diving).

Flynn Reef
Then we had to dive on this

On the way back, we were given one final treat, when some dolphins appeared and proceeded to ride the bow wave of the boat. They put on a great show, leaping out of the water repeatedly. The skipper of the boat said that it was quite unusual for them to stick around for as long as they did. Perhaps they were running off an eclipse high as well.

Dolphin action
I spent a fair bit of the remaining journey swapping pictures with some of the other divers. The Gopro time lapse shots aren't mine. I've forgotten everyone's names already but thanks – it was great sharing the whole experience with you.

Happy Eclipse watchers!
Now I'm well and truly back home from this round of adventures. In time, I will get all my pictures up onto flickr (, in addition to the ones attached to this blog. I might even add some older travel stories from my 2010 Aussie road trip and 2010/2011 New Zealand adventures.
Or I might just go somewhere else exciting next year. Wait and see. For now though, I'm signing off. Enjoy the pictures!

P.S. You can also enjoy any strange videos I might make from time to time on youtube and/or vimeo. See and - and don't forget strange music and sounds at (notice a pattern in the URLs yet?)

Here's a timelapse of the eclipse - I have slowed it down for the totality part - you can't really see the sun, but watch how the moon's shadow moves across the sky! Very cool.

In time I will also embed an edit of all my diving videos from the trip here. I just have to make it first...

Edit: Here it is!

Ciao for now!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome pics mate. I love that turtle, and the description of the eels coming out to play. Our body clocks are such fickle little instruments.