I look down, and realize my feet have touched the ocean floor. It’s a strange feeling a first, walking underwater. The others in my dive group stand next to me and form a half circle, and our guide instructs us to kneel down. We do as told, look ahead of us, and see a huge turtle grazing on some reef plants. For several minutes, we kneel there in complete underwater silence, watching this massive turtle grazing quietly. It was one of those moments that is hard to process, and is just one of the many incredible experiences that can be had on the Great Barrier Reef.
If you’re a diver, you’ve probably thought at least once or twice about diving the Great Barrier Reef. Lots of people wonder if the reef is worth visiting, or if it’s still alive. During my time living in Australia, I worked as a travel agent in Cairns, which is also called the “gateway” to the Great Barrier Reef. So if you’re interested in diving the Great Barrier Reef but aren’t sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place!
Is the Great Barrier Reef dead or dying?
Unfortunately, with climate change on the rise, it is very common to see bleaching events affecting reefs around the world. The Great Barrier Reef is a huge reef system (about 2,300 kilometres!) so every part of it is a little different. It has experienced two mass coral bleaching events in 1998 and 2002. Bleaching was more severe in 2002, when aerial surveys showed that over 50% of reefs experienced some coral bleaching.
So it’s safe to say there are areas that are bleached, but that does not mean the entire system itself is dead. Quite the opposite!
In the spots that I have visited, I have seen rays, all types of reef fish, and even reef sharks! I’ve seen huge reef bommies cascading out of the ground, and giant turtles biting the plants.
Who are the best dive companies?
As a travel agent, I placed people on dive trips that suited what type of adventure they were after. Everything from night dives, day trips, to 7 day liveaboards! So depending on what you’re looking for and what budget you have, there are a few trips that are the best in my opinion.
Day Trips with Quicksilver Cruises ($264.00 $400.00 AUD)
I’ve been lucky enough to go on 3 different dives with Quicksilver. I talk about my experience on their boat Ocean Spirit here, which was a great dive if your diving for the first time or a beginner.
They also have a boat called SilverSwift which takes you out to 3 locations in the outer reef, which is further into the sea and much less affected by bleaching. I would highly recommend this one for diving if you are looking for a day trip. The crew is professional, all gear is provided, and the dive spots are fantastic!
3 Day Liveaboard with Prodive ($890 AUD)
Prodive is known for their expert dive courses, but for certified divers, they offer you the opportunity to experience sunrise on the Great Barrier Reef . The crew is PADI certified, and you will get a chance to do up to 11 dives, including two-night dives, as well as some great snorkelling.
Can I get certified on the Great Barrier Reef?
Absolutely! There are a range of diving options on the reef if you are looking to get certified. Prodive has one of the best (and more expensive) open water courses.
Do I need to be certified to dive?
No, the majority of people I organized dive trips for were for intro divers who wanted to try diving. I even had people ask me if they could dive even though they couldn’t swim! There are a range of options for intro divers, but Quicksilver’s boat Silverswift has a really good option for intro divers with the option to dive more than once in a different location.
So you will not need a diving certificate to try diving on the reef. They will put you in a small group with other intro divers and a guide will show you what to do. It is a great spot to learn to dive as it’s relatively shallow and the crew are really helpful. You just need to be confident in the water, be physically fit, and able to follow directions.
Where are the best diving spots?
Planning your trip to the Great Barrier Reef starts with you location. The reef stretches across many towns, but the most popular for seeing the reef are Cairns, Port Douglas, and The Whitsundays. I have only dived out of Cairns and Port Douglas, which are known to be more popular diving spots on the reef. There is not too much difference between Cairns and Port Douglas reefs, although I did spot a reef shark at the edge of the reef out of Port Douglas!
Cairns is a coastal town with lots of options for travellers. Aside from diving on the Great Barrier Reef, you can also visit one of the world’s oldest rainforests, and even skydive! There are also plenty of lively backpacker hostels and nice hotels. Port Douglas is only an hour away by car, and is worth the trip too.
When is the best time to go?
The Great Barrier Reef is beautiful all year round. However the “stinger” season is from around November to May. So around this time you need to swim inside stinger enclosures at the beaches or wear a stinger suit. “Stingers” are tiny jellyfish actually called “Irukandji” and can be deadly. This does not affect the reef as the jellyfish are mainly on the coast, but you do need to wear stinger suits when in the water.
A great documentary to learn more about the reef is Chasing Choral, which talks about the effects of coral bleaching on reefs around the world.
Diving the Great Barrier Reef was one of my favorite travel memories, and I would recommend the experience to anyone looking to travel in Australia.
All photos provided by https://quicksilver-cruises.com/obr_activities/diving/