A reef en­counter with Nemo

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Holidays Afloat - Ge­ordie Greig

WHERE do we find Nemo, apart from on the big screen? That is our hol­i­day quest, and the an­swer is an ob­scure is­land called Teng­gol, 30km off the east coast of Malaysia.

My chil­dren are ob­sessed by Nemo, the car­toon orange fish that’s been seen by more than a bil­lion gog­gle-eyed chil­dren. Vul­ner­a­ble, brave, cute and a sur­vivor, he is sort of ev­ery­gold­fish. Ex­cept that he isn’t. As we find out, he is re­ally a clown anemone fish. Yes, that’s right, of course, you spot­ted n-e-m-o in the word anemone.

But be­fore this all gets too fishy, first things first, and that is our flight to Kuala Lumpur, with no Nemo in the flight film choices; Shrek3 in­stead does the trick for the chil­dren. And so on to Tereng­ganu air­port on a 50-minute in­ter­nal flight east­wards, and the fi­nal fron­tier to find­ing Nemo.

Richard is our div­ing guide (OK, in my case, shal­low snorkelling guide). My idea is to take us all of 4m un­der. Richard has a colour pho­to­graphic chart of our quarry: the clown anemone fish. For­get the sergeant ma­jor fish, trum­pet fish, ze­bra fish or even the more ex­otic types of shark, we tell him. We are laser­fo­cused on Nemo.

Or at least we were be­fore our chil­dren’s lovely nanny pro­jec­tile-vom­its her break­fast (fresh mango) on to a hap­less Ger­man tourist sit­ting with his teenage girl­friend.

We are in the mid­dle of the only prop­erly stormy day recorded in Au­gust in Malaysia in the past 50 years. It usu­ally pours only at night in Teng­gol. Thun­der and the rolling waves make two Ja­panese tourists turn green and lie down on the boat while hearty Scan­di­na­vians scoff and quaff around us.

All three of my chil­dren go very quiet on our hour-long sea voy­age and even­tu­ally also turn green as we head to snorkel par­adise. And so on to our elu­sive quarry.

Snorkels on and we are off. Baby sharks come and go. The sea is not the tran­quil turquoise glass sur­face seen in our brochure. The waves are briskly choppy but my daugh­ter Oc­tavia, 7, is undeterred. As the Ja­panese lie corpse­like on the floor, Oc­tavia pleads with me to head to­wards the reef with Yus, a Malay diver, as our guide. Richard has gone with the real men to do some real div­ing.

And fi­nally there he is. Wig­gling and whirling and wav­ing among the coral: Nemo in all his iri­des­cent orange glory. Jasper, 9, and Mon­ica, 7, are too scared by the waves but Oc­tavia and I hit gold. We’ve met Nemo. Not, how­ever, with­out a price. My sea legs are em­bar­rass­ingly fee­ble and as soon as I put on a mask and breath­ing tube in the sea, I feel like death. I amso nau­seous and en­fee­bled that if even lightly pressed, I would give away ev­ery state, or even mar­i­tal, se­cret.

But when you are 100m out and ac­com­pa­ny­ing a young child with a dream, you have to try pre­tend­ing you’re a ma­cho dad, or at least one who is try­ing. ‘‘ Please don’t throw up, Dad,’’ she shouts. We both keep go­ing and Nemo makes one lit­tle girl very happy.

Elu­sive quarry: A clown anemone fish

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