Michaelmas Cay: A Hidden Gem on the Great Barrier Reef


Spot: Michaelmas Cay, Great Barrier Reef

Where: Cairns, Australia

Cost: $212.50 – $350.00 AUD

  • Introductory Dive (Dive Gear and Wetsuit included) $128.00 AUD
  • Guided Snorkel Tour (All equipment & lycra suit included) $64.00 AUD

Spotted: Giant Clams, Turtles, Coral

The Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef

I remember when I first arrived in Cairns, Australia. My boyfriend and I drove across the country for a month to get there, and I had no idea what to expect. The small town sits at the very top of Australia and is known as the “Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef”. 

For anyone looking to get a taste of that tropical sunshine, Cairns is the perfect place. So what makes this place so special? The Great Barrier Reef attracts all types of divers, from beginners to experts.

For me, personally, this was the first place I ever dived. For many, diving on the Great Barrier Reef is a bucket list item that brings most travelers to Cairns, but I didn’t know any of this when I first arrived. Becoming a travel agent would be my first step into the underwater world that is the Great Barrier Reef.

The Dive

When most people think of Australia, two places come to mind: the Sydney Opera House and the Great Barrier Reef. So when I became a travel agent in Cairns, I knew I had to become very familiar with the reef.

So, I went on a dive mission to Michaelmas Cay with Ocean Spirit, a local dive boat company.  Michaelmas Cay is a small reef sand island that is perched on Michaelmas Reef about 40 km north-east of Cairns. The crystal clear turquoise water teeming with marine life made me feel as if I was in the middle of the Maldives. Michaelmas Cay is also the only place in the Cairns section of the Great Barrier Reef that is a protected bird sanctuary. I had never been on an island so small and yet so alive.

Having never dived before, I was a bit nervous. How would I breathe underwater? How was that heavy looking gear going to fit on me? Thoughts raced through my head as I walked further into the sea.

I tested out the gear, taking my first few breaths underwater. As I took that first dive beneath the sea, I saw that the Cay was rich with sea life. Everything from green sea turtles (which nest on the cay), to giant clams, and tons of beautiful reef fish! The shallow depth made it easy to navigate and much less intimidating. The longer we dived, the more I grew more confident and started taking in everything around me.

Needless to say, the nerves melted away with the help of an experienced guide and the beauty making it all worth it. I have been lucky enough to dive many times since then. That initial step outside the comfort zone is essential to what lies on the other side of fear.

Bringing Divers Together

The Great Barrier Reef has the ability to turn anyone into a curious diver. People who have never dived in their lives or even considered it will give it a try here on the reef. Most people I spoke with who wanted to try diving had never even snorkeled before. Because of this, I always recommend this tour for people who are nervous about diving but want to give it a try.

Michaelmas Cay is a perfect environment for first-time divers. The waters are shallow so the max depth you can reach is roughly 10 meters. For many, the thought of diving off the back of a boat in the middle of a vast open ocean can be terrifying. At Michaelmas Cay, new divers can walk into the water right off the sand, easing their way in at their own pace.

A Tropical Lifestyle

Cairns is a tourist destination, so there are many dive businesses in the area and it can be hard to know which one to go with. In the end, it comes down to personal taste. What type of reef experience are you looking for? If you’re an experienced diver looking for a new adventure, or a nervous beginner, there is a dive tour for you. Many people are pleasantly surprised to hear that they can dive without a license. I recommend talking to one of the many travel agencies in the area to help plan your trip. Most tour agencies can also get discounts and special deals on dive boats, so you may even save a bit of cash as well!

Cairns is also an exciting backpacker destination. Many use it as a starting point for an Australian east coast adventure. The small town boasts exciting nightlife, plenty of restaurants, and beautiful scenery.

It is also surrounded by world heritage rainforests and gorgeous waterfalls. Plan to spend a few days exploring the incredible nature surrounding Cairns.

Ocean Spirit Cruises

Ocean Spirit is a fantastic tour company that has been sailing to Michaelmas Cay for over 25 years. The boat is one of only two that are allowed on the cay, meaning there will only be about 50 – 70 people on the island at a time.  No big tourist crowds!

The tour is also a great option for bringing family and friends who are not divers. They can still do a submarine tour, snorkel, bird watch, and of course, sunbathe on the sand.

For $212.50 AUD, the trip includes a buffet lunch, snorkel, and dive gear, and free champagne on the way back!

Final Thoughts and Impressions

Every experienced diver was once a nervous beginner, taking that first plunge into the open water, only to be left in wonder at what lies beneath. If you’re looking to try diving for the first time or diving with an inexperienced friend, Michaelmas Cay is a beautiful location for a first dive. It is also a great way to travel with friends and family with different skill levels and interest.

Who knows? It may even spark an interest that can open up a whole new underwater world.

Harmony Riveros, Guest Contributor, Deepblu


Our Deepblu Travelogues series takes you to places via the voices of those who live in or frequent them. This week we get a bit of Down Under from Harmony Riveros. To read more of this talented author’s work, please visit her site here!

For more writing by Harmony Riveros, click here.

To plan your next Australian adventure, click here.