My brother, Chris, and I emerge from beneath the ocean after an exhilarating, super-exciting 20 minutes walking the sea floor, steered by two scuba-diving guides holding our hands.
The experience is phenomenal. And two lovely ladies holding our hands is a nice touch! Everyone over 12 years can do it provided they have no health issues.
We are supplied with space-age white helmets, black wetsuits, plastic sandals and an air tank.
Helmets don’t require sealing and are simply lowered over your head and onto your shoulders as you stand, half-submerged, on a metal ladder dropping down deep into the water.
At a hefty 32 kgs, the helmets need a crane to lower them onto your shoulders. The weight keeps you (almost) grounded underwater.
Air is pumped into the helmets and seawater can enter helmets from the bottom if wearers bow their heads. But if it happens, you simply raise your head and the water level drops while air is continually pumped-in from your tank.
Our start to the undersea walk was a real blast! With our party of four walkers and two guides just getting into the water from the jetty, a sudden blast of air and water shot into the air next to us.
A three-metre, young humpback whale surfaced, a rare sighting especially months ahead of the whale season (the ocean is warmer this year).
“In my 14 years working here, I’ve never seen a whale surface next to the jetty,” exclaimed our ecstatic guide.
With the whale cruising gracefully out to sea, it was time to drop below the surface for our adventure beneath a jetty of unexpected, natural beauty.
Helped, one-by-one, by a guide, we take two steps down the ladder and stop, given directions to reach up under our helmets to pinch our noses and blow gently to counter the water pressure.
Watching the others landing gently on the sea floor, seven metres below, conjures up images of astronauts dropping in slow-motion onto the moon’s surface.
Moving along the sea floor, feeling almost weightless, we need to adjust our movements and our sight perspective to avoid hitting pylons or each other or tripping over fallen pylons, now providing homes, protection and food to marine life.
Eyes adjusted, the sensational sea scenery around us begins to flourish.
Over the years since the underwater observatory and additional pylons were installed, the pylons quickly became coated in innumerable corals and fish-attracting weeds. How quickly fish were attracted was a boon for the observatory and divers.
An octopus creeps up a pylon through the pinkish coral.
Fish are circling, some in big schools, some solo. A pufferfish cruises up confidently, eyeing us and appearing to smile in bemusement.
Within minutes a massive, black ray appears, skimming the ocean floor. Stingrays and eagle rays in all sizes make appearances one-by-one. This one has wings wider than I am tall.
Another ray appears, closer but smaller and our guides, still holding our hands, ease us down on our knees for a different perspective and better photos.
Our guides, Sian and Amy, have a wide-angle underwater camera to include photos of us in the tour package ($416, all-inclusive for two people).
Sian steers us over to a coral-covered log and points to a football-size, brown ‘sponge’. But it comes to life and a head unfolds. It’s a cuttlefish, quickly changing colour to complete its camouflage.
A striped octopus eases along a log.
Then a giant ray appears and crashes into the sand in a flurry of wings, fins and fish. Whatever its prey, it is blanketed by the ray’s extraordinary wings, never to be seen again.
Quiet now, the ray comes within point-blank range, eyeing us off before gradually continuing its underwater flight. Gloriously graceful and in no hurry to swim away from humans.
The whole time underwater we don’t touch anything, as instructed. We respect this other world, a special place. We are the outsiders and feel it.
This is the sort of travel tour so rewarding that you don’t question what you paid nor begrudge the two-and-a-half hours involved in the briefing and preparation.
We can’t thank our guides enough for the unforgettable taste of life beneath the waves. It’s a place where wonders emerge – even a wallowing whale.
The tours have been introduced to Busselton by canny Ningaloo whale shark tour operators out of the north-west season, operating December-April.
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