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Spirit of Freedom, Part 5 of SnR's OZ TWO trip report

Spirit of Freedom, Part 5 of SnR's OZ TWO trip report

Nov 12th, 2007, 11:07 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 576
Spirit of Freedom, Part 5 of SnR's OZ TWO trip report

Day 20-23—October 22-25
Spirit of Freedom liveaboard boat $A1450/pp (snorkeler price) www.spiritoffreedom.com.au
Cod Hole and Ribbon Reefs 3-night tour

We dropped the car at the Hertz office in Cairns and were picked up by the SoF van. We had gotten the car drop-off point changed when we picked it up since SoF doesn’t pick up at the airport. We got a tour of the boat and went to our room. It didn’t have a porthole! What I thought was a porthole in the picture I had seen was really a picture of a fish. Oh, well, I put my clostrophobia to rest and just enjoyed the comfort of the room. The room was spacious enough with space under the bed for our bags. Our snorkel gear was on the dive deck where we had a storage bin that we shared with the other snorkeler, Sandy. HI, SANDY!! She and diver-husband Bill are also Fodorites and were delightful company during the trip. We met the other people, half of whom were on a tour from Japan and didn’t speak much English. Some Americans, a French couple, and some Aussies. We got underway and chugged to Norman Reef for a snorkel in rough water with low visability, but still nice. It was a “shake-down” excursion where the crew assessed the skill level of each of the people. We had a “babysitter” crew member who took us out with a life-ring in case we were not comfortable in the water. That didn’t last long since we (and Sandy) were all good to go. They did the same thing with the divers, but I don’t know the results of their tests. Then we started off on an overnight run towards Lizard Island. The seas were still a bit rough from the high winds (which were thankfully dying down) and there were only about half of the guests at dinner, and I was one of them!!! After all my fears of being seasick, it was Randy who got seasick and not me (although I admit to a bit of queasiness.) Thank you, TransDerm Scop (the prescription patch I had gotten from my doctor.) Randy perked up next day after I gave him one of my patches. The dinner was a nice chicken, but not too fancy—I guess they didn’t want to waste their efforts if people were going to be sick!

Day 2 SoF—Bright and early (about 6:45) we awoke to the sound of “dive time!” shouted by the director of the operation, Tanya. She would give a briefing prior to each dive about what the site looks like (with a drawing on a white board) and what to expect to see there. We opted to not go in the first dive because the second dive was going to be in the same place, Cod Hole. The boat serves a continental breakfast before the first dive and then a full breakfast afterwards. We had a little of both and were ready to jump in for the second dive. Snorkelers, we found out, had to wait until all the divers were in. Sandy said, however, that at least the divers were fine with having snorkelers, since on other dive boats she had been on with her husband, the divers were mean to her and wouldn’t allow her even on the dive deck until they left. We watched the divers feeding the cod and then we went off for a great snorkel. Highlights include a huge school of sweetlips (black and white fish with bright yellow lips with other yellow around their bodies). The sun had come out and the winds died down and we were set for great weather and a great trip. After a lunch of pizza and salads, we got ready for our second snorkel, Pixie’s Garden. It was really good with shark sightings, lovely abundant coral, big wrasses, anemone fish (i.e., Nemos), and some large clams. It was shallower water with coral all around and with the excellent lighting it was magical. Then a little nap until the 3rd snorkel at Challenger Bay. This was to be a drift dive, so they took us out in the tenders (like Zodiacs) a ways and dropped us off so we could drift back to the boat on the current. They took us last after all the divers had gone under. There wasn’t much of a current, at least on the surface, but we saw some white-tipped sharks and more lovely coral. After we all got out of the water (the crew helping if necessary) there were warm towels for everyone and a bin of disinfectant to rinse your wet suits and gear and a place to hang them or stow them, and even a camera place to wash the outside and then dry it with an air hose. The divers went for a night dive, but, of course, no snorkeling after dark—you look too much like food. Speaking of food, we had lamb chops for dinner.

Day 3 of SoF—another early morning dive call and this time, we were ready to go out. It was at Pixie’s Pinnacle which was a small outcropping of coral that has walls of coral all around for the divers to circle around. We just floated over the top, but it was shallow enough to see a lot. We saw a lion fish which was very exciting. There were schools of bright purple fish all around plus a lot of anemones with their own clown fish. The next place was called Pixie’s Wall (we were at Pixie Reef, can you guess??) Another drift dive and we had a nice snorkel with schools of bright blue fusiliers. The sunlight was excellent and made everything like a wonderland. On board again for lunch (lasagne) and then a motor to the next site. It was called the Lighthouse Bommie, another pinnacle, and was quite a disappointment. The top was in about 20 or more feet of water, so we couldn’t see any details, and it was only about the size of maybe a ping pong table, so we quickly got out and wished we hadn’t gone in. Some of the divers were disappointed, too, since it was so small that the bubbles of the other divers obscured their vision. The next site made up for it, though, because it was fantastic. It was called Dynamite Pass and we were warned that the current was “massive” and we had to be careful. I almost chickened out, but am very glad I didn’t. This time we were taken out in the second boat (and felt this was an honor) about a half a mile and dropped off. The coral wall was exquisitely beautiful with all the usual suspects of fish. The current was far from massive. But there was wind and some wave action, so I held onto Randy’s wet suit to keep us together since we were alone so far from the boat and in open water. I kept checking the deep blue behind us for any large creatures and we saw a huge, huge turtle (I think it might have been a loggerhead) and a ray, also a couple of huge wrasses and a large triggerfish. The crew sent the boat out to check on us about half way through, and then sent it out again when we were about 100 yards from the boat, saying that all the divers had come in and would we please come in, too. We opted to swim to the boat instead of embarrassing ourselves trying to get in the tender! I think the divers might have had a lot more current than we did since the crew said that about 9 of them had run out of air fighting it and had popped up early. That evening for our last dinner they had a festive BBQ on the upper deck (we were moored at Lizard Island). We had Cajun-spiced barramundi, teriyaki chicken, and steak. We took pictures of the sunset and each other and had a good time. There was a shopping time where we bought Spirit of Freedom tee-shirts (quite expensive) and chatted with our dive boat friends.

Day 4 SoF—We had an early continental breakfast and then were ferried to Watson’s Bay on the island while the crew took our luggage over to the landing place for the airport. This was the same place we had come in 2004 with Daintree Air and we were longing to go to the Clam Garden for a snorkel, but were not allowed. The captain said that since the whole boat was leaving and a whole new bunch were coming on which meant full cleaning of the whole boat, and since one of the crew had injured himself and was going back to Cairns, there was no crew member to watch us (I guess for insurance purposes), we couldn’t do it. Darn. We walked up the hill to a viewpoint, and man, was it HOT. The wind which had been kicking up waves all trip long had died down and so the sun beat down. We still enjoyed the views and took pictures of the boat and the resort. Then we had a long wait at the resort outdoor place, then trooped up to the airport where we had another wait for the three little planes to come in carrying the next bunch of divers, who turned out to be a dive group from the LA area. We eventually got on the little plane (ours was a twin engine, the others single engine) and enjoyed the one hour low-level flight back to Cairns. We saw Cape Flattery which Barry the pilot said had the whitest sand in the world. That’s the third place now with that claim! We also enjoyed seeing Cooktown and the Daintree NP from the air, plus the reef and beautiful turquoise waters.

We think we got good value on the SoF, but have nothing to compare it with since it was our first liveaboard. We really liked all the snorkeling we were able to do at pristine locations without the 90+ minutes of boat rides to and from the site which you have on a day trip. The crew were helpful and professional, and the food was fantastic. I liked the roominess of the common areas—we had the upstairs open area with part sun-shaded and part open for the sun-bathers, we had the dining room area with four large tables, and there was a lounge area, too, with books. One could also go up to chat with the captain, which I did several times. The other boats we looked at seemed to be smaller and offer less. As I recall, the SoF was the only dive boat that mentioned snorkelers in their literature, so I felt that they would be friendly to snorkelers, and they were.
SnRSeattle is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 01:33 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,059
Sally - thanks for the trip report. Did you prefer staying on Lizard Island on your previous trip, or SOF. How rough was the water at night?
BarbaraS is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 02:26 PM
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Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 576
We didn't actually stay on Lizard before, we just went up with Daintree Air for a day trip. Can't afford the resort! And I believe that you have to pay more if you want to go off to the reef. All or most of our dives/snorkels were in sight of Lizard Island, BTW. At night the boat was fine. The first night when we were "steaming" north, I took a sleeping pill and the other nights I was too exhausted from all the snorkeling and sun that I slept fine and there was not a lot of rocking. Our cabin, BTW, had the beds parallel with the sides of the boat which the captain said was best for less seasickness when you are moored/anchored since your head doesn't go up and down as it would if you were perpendicular with the sides as some of the cabins were.
SnRSeattle is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 02:45 PM
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 3,680
Phew, Sally, am so glad the weather improved for Spirit of Freedom trip - I remember I had to cancel your Reef Magic trip from Cairns due to lousy weather, most peculiar for October.
pat_woolford is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 03:53 PM
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Posts: 576
Pat, yup, we were lucky. The crew said that the week before it had been awful out there. We sure enjoyed our time at your place and wish we had had more time to just "be" at your lovely home.
SnRSeattle is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 06:20 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,059
Thanks Sally - I had planned to do a SOF trip in two weeks, but due to back surgery, I have had to postpone our trip until next November. Were you glad you choose the 3 day trip?
BarbaraS is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 08:16 PM
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Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 576
Sorry about your surgery, Barbara. The 7 day (they said) wasn't for snorkelers since it goes out into the Coral Sea and the water is deeper. The one we did was on the ribbon reefs which are shallower. Although we were sad to leave and probably could have done another day, 7 days would have been difficult physically for us, I think. Not to mention very expensive. Hope you are all better soon.
SnRSeattle is offline  
Nov 21st, 2007, 12:57 PM
Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 446
Hi Sally, so pleased to read that you got to experience the snorkelling marvels you were researching for earlier this year!

Guess Lord Howe island might be on your next trip itinerary!

What an amazing trip report you have posted, so rich in detail, local colour and anecdotes.

Good luck with the 'holiday over' blues!


FurryTiles is offline  
Nov 23rd, 2007, 08:37 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,238
I loved this post Sally - we so enjoyed the SoF.....here are 2 links to photos we took underwater (we rented their underwater camera for a day)

My husband with his new best friend in the upper right hand corner


A shot during the shark feeding


Elizabeth_S is offline  

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