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Great Barrier Reef Liveaboard with Pro Dive Cairns

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We explored the majestic Great Barrier Reef on a liveaboard dive trip with Pro Dive Cairns. If you’re considering the same, keep reading for our Pro Dive Cairns review. Spoiler alert: we were very satisfied customers!

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Ever since we learned diving with Roctopus in Koh Tao, Thailand, back in September 2015 (at the start of our round the world trip), diving the Great Barrier Reef in Australia was at the top of our scuba diving bucket list. The world’s largest coral reef is supposed to be breathtakingly beautiful and the wide range of marine creatures living there fascinating. We’re proud to say we can vouch for that, having ticked this diver’s paradise off our bucket list. Without a doubt one of the best dive sites in the world!

Now, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is on our list of dive spots we want to return to. If it’s still there. Right now, 93% of the reef is affected by coral bleaching due to environmental changes like the rising temperature of the ocean water. If the temperature drops, the coral may recover, otherwise it may die.

Did you know the 2,900 individual reefs forming this unique Marine Park are a World Heritage area?

Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef

Dive conditions at the Great Barrier are usually wonderful. In March, we enjoyed a visibility of 10 to 15 meters (~ 33 to 50 ft), with a water temperature of about 30°C (~ 86°F). Visibility can even be a lot better, up to 25 meters (~ 82 ft), while the temperature can drop to an average of 22°C (~ 72°F) in September.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Life

Pleasant dive conditions are one thing, but there needs to be something to see as well! No worries, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world for a reason. With over 350 types of hard coral, 90 species of soft coral, 1500 species of fish, 6 types of turtles, 30 types of whales and dolphins, 125 types of sharks and rays, and many more fascinating sea creatures, you won’t know where to look!

Our underwater photos are taken with a GoPro, so the colours aren’t as bright as in real life.

We saw so many beautifully coloured fish and coral formations (bommies, as Aussies call them), turtles, and (for the first time) real sharks! Too bad it’s very hard to recall all the things you see during a dive, which means our dive logs aren’t really complete. What a shame. Moreover, there are so many similar fish with different names. So when you’re looking at the charts with photos of the fish, you begin to doubt yourself: was it this fish, or maybe that one? They should wear name tags, right?

Pro Dive Cairns is more than OKPro Dive Cairns is more than OK
Beautiful Coral wherever you lookBeautiful Coral wherever you look
Brecht smiling for the CameraBrecht smiling for the Camera

It took us a couple of dives to get the unguided navigation right, but that didn’t keep us from enjoying the stunning underwater world. There was beautiful coral everywhere, but we especially remembered a boulder coral called Majic Mushroom, the fan coral, looking like a flat tree, and the whip coral, basically just sticks. The nicest coral gardens we saw were at the Maze, at Gordon’s Mooring on the Flynn Reef.

All those tropical fish are wonderful to behold, but my favourite marine creatures are turtles and stingrays. They’re so fascinating! Too bad we didn’t see Bryan and Neville, the big green turtles that live at Gordon’s Mooring. Brecht’s favourite fish are the white-tip reef sharks we saw, so cool! We saw them for the first time during a night dive and we could almost hear the ominous music in our head. You know, like you hear in movies when the danger silently approaches.

We saw giant clams as well, more than 300 years old, titan triggerfish being all territorial, jellyfish, and Nemos (clown fish) playing at their anemone homes. We did a swimthrough for the first time, which was really cool, as there were so many little fish!

White-Tip Reef SharkWhite-Tip Reef Shark
Amazing Swimthrough with hundreds of fishAmazing Swimthrough with hundreds of fish
Turtles are amazing!Turtles are amazing!
Colourful Giant ClamColourful Giant Clam

If you want to have a chance of spotting a whale at the Great Barrier Reef, you’ll have to visit between May and August. That’s when they migrate here to mate and give birth.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Life at Night

The night dives were real dark. On Koh Tao we went in the water during sunset, but this time the sun was long gone. And knowing there are sharks swimming around near the boat, makes it even more scary to take that giant leap into the water. Of course you bring a torch, and we got glow sticks to attach to our tanks to easily recognise your buddy, but still.

It’s very special though, all colourful fish from during the day are gone and the predators come out. We saw lots of red bass, white-tip and grey reef sharks, and “towers” of bumphead parrotfish. It’s really cool to see those parrotfish huddled together, it took a minute before I realised they weren’t a coral formation.

Did you know the Great Barrier Reef is the only living thing on earth that can be seen from space?

Why did we choose Pro Dive Cairns?

As recommended by an experienced Australian diver couple we met while scuba diving in Amed, Bali, we headed to the Cairns & Tropical North Visitor Information Centre to check for last-minute liveaboard deals. Unfortunately the only deal they had was still way over budget.

Luckily the friendly guy working there gladly explained us the different options for a Great Barrier Reef liveaboard leaving from Cairns. He actually recommended Pro Dive Cairns as being good value for money. We looked for some trustworthy reviews online, which were all positive, before deciding to book.

Here are some of the things we took into account in our decision:

  • Pro Dive Cairns is certified as an Advanced Ecotourism Operator, committed to the long-term conservation of the Great Barrier Reef
  • The maximum number of passengers is 32, with a 6 person crew
  • The boat you leave Cairns with is the boat you’ll stay on for the entire trip, no boat to boat passenger transfers
  • Free WiFi on board (necessary for our job)
  • Freshly prepared meals
  • No hidden costs, everything’s included, except for soft drinks and chocolate bars

Another thing that’s good to know, even though not relevant to us, Pro Dive Cairns also welcomes newbie divers and snorkelers on their liveaboard dive trips. You can combine this Great Barrier Reef experience with a course to get certified, or join your diving travel buddy without having to be scuba diving yourself.

Are you already convinced? Then head to our section about how to book now!

Usually people recommend heading to the dive shop before booking, to see if it feels right. Unfortunately you don’t always have the time to wait with booking until you’re at your destination. Anyway, we had to go to the Pro Dive Cairns shop anyway to sign some papers, and we had a good feeling!

A 3 day/2 night Great Barrier Reef Liveaboard Dive Trip with Pro Dive Cairns

What’s (not) included?

A 3 day/2 night liveaboard dive trip with Pro Dive Cairns cost us, certified divers, $775 per person back in March 2016. Obviously, prices have gone up slightly by now.

On this Great Barrier Reef diving trip, you’ll be given the opportunity to do 11 dives in 3 days: 9 daytime dives and 2 night dives. You paid good money for it, so it’s up to you if you want to do all dives or maybe skip one or two. We did them all, but I don’t think my ears could take any more. Equalizing became difficult on the last day. Make sure you listen to your body and don’t overdo yourself.

Our Diving GroupOur Diving Group

The price includes all scuba diving equipment, including a stinger suit, a compass, a dive computer, and a dive torch for night dives. If you like, you can rent a high-quality underwater camera to take on one or more dives. The crew will advise you on which dives you should definitely take a camera. We’ve seen pictures and they are way better than our GoPro photos.

There won’t be a guide going with you on the dives, which we admit scared us a little at first. We had only 14 dives under our belt at the time, all guided. But apparently going unguided is normal in Australia as guides are just too expensive (especially compared to SouthEast Asia).

They do offer one guided orientation dive and one guided night dive. After having had an elaborate and very clear briefing about diving and the equipment, we felt like we could handle diving without a guide, just the two of us. Looking back, we have to say we really liked heading out there on our own, going and stopping wherever we wanted. Of course there are some limitations and agreements made in the dive briefing, but more on that later.

Our Room on the LiveaboardOur Room on the Liveaboard
Loved the Pro Dive Cairns foodLoved the Pro Dive Cairns food

Serving your basic needs is obviously included in the price as well: a bed, bed linen, showers and toilets, all meals, fruit, cookies, and drinking water. At the start of the dive trip everyone gets a Pro Dive Cairns drinking bottle to fill up at the drinking water tap on the upper deck. A nice gesture, very much appreciated. Unfortunately we couldn’t take it with us (we were travelling light), so we left it on board to be recycled into new bottles.

Soft drinks and some snacks are available for a decent price. There’s no alcohol for sale on the boat, but you can bring your own. There’s even a guest fridge to keep those drinks cool.

Pick up and drop off at your accommodation is arranged for you, and dive insurance is included as well.

Convinced yet? Then skip to our section about how to book!

What (not) to bring?

We took way too much stuff on the Pro Dive Cairns liveaboard dive trip. Two things you definitely shouldn’t bring are shoes and food. You’re always bare foot on the boat and there’s plenty of food. The cook makes sure there’s always food when you get out of the water: breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a homemade snack. The food is really good, so no need to bring a backup plan. Fruit and cookies are available 24/7. I liked the cookies so much we bought them ourselves at Woolworths afterwards!

What you should bring is an overnight bag with toiletries, a towel (preferably one for showering and another one for in between dives), swimwear, sunscreen, and evidence of your dive certification. Bring some comfortable clothing for in between dives and after a nice shower at the end of the day. If you have your own dive equipment, you should bring that as well, of course. You can leave all your other luggage at the Pro Dive Cairns shop.

Which dive sites will you visit?

Pro Dive Cairns can take you scuba diving on 19 dive sites, spread over 4 reefs of the Outer Great Barrier Reef. Pellowe Reef, Milln Reef, Thetford Reef and Flynn Reef are all situated east of Cairns.

Which dive sites you’ll visit on your liveaboard dive trip with Pro Dive Cairns will depend on the weather.

Life on the Pro Dive Cairns boat, our experience

On a rainy Monday morning we were picked up at  Cairns Holiday Park at 6:00. We hopped on a Pro Dive Cairns minivan filled with excited (soon to be) divers, which brought us to the dive shop.

After checking if everyone was present and putting some excess bagage in storage, we drove over to where the Pro Dive Cairns boat lay waiting for its passengers. We boarded the vessel at 7:30, got some breakfast, and soon headed out to the Great Barrier Reef.

The trip from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef would take about 3 hours. We got a short explanation about what was going to happen, watched a safety video, and got an elaborate briefing about diving and the equipment. After some free time we set up our gear, so we would be ready to dive in the water the minute we arrived at the first dive site.

Which of these did we see again?Which of these did we see again?
Don't Forget to Log your DivesDon’t Forget to Log your Dives

Our waking hours on the trip were spent mostly in the water. In between dives we relaxed in the airconditioned lounge/dining area or the sun drenched upper deck. To be clear: there’s shadow as well on the upper deck, and the boat is fully airconditioned. Snacks (fruit and cookies) are available 24/7 and there are big charts with pictures of the marine life you may or may not have spotted during your dives.

There are only a couple of rooms with a double bed, so Brecht and I (as we booked two of the last three spaces) slept in bunk beds. There are 8 shower/toilet rooms for 32 passengers, which was definitely sufficient. You’re on a dive boat, not a cruise ship, so all rooms are small and all space is used efficiently.

As you’ll be doing 11 dives in 3 days on 5 different dive sites, time is to be used efficiently as well. All dive times are on the board in the lounge/dining area, and 30 minutes before each dive there’s a dive briefing on the upper deck. During the dive briefing the dive master (that was Mark on our trip) draws a map of dive site, suggesting one or more possible routes, explaining recognisable points and what fish or coral you should look out for.

We agree to be BOB (Back on Boat) within 60 minutes or with 50 bar left in our air tank, whichever happens first. After that we put our gear on and descend to the platform at water level. There, one of the staff will be waiting to check if your air cylinder is open, if you have a dive buddy and note the time you hit the water. Don’t forget to spray your mask against fogging, and off you go. When you get out of the water they note the time again and check the air you have left in your tank.

Briefing before every DiveBriefing before every Dive
Clear Dive Map for every DiveClear Dive Map for every Dive
BOB after another fun DiveBOB after another fun Dive

It’s a pretty small group and you all share a common interest so you get to know each other in between and after diving. We had a lot of fun and met some amazing people. We were even offered a bed for our upcoming trip to the US (and for an as of yet unplanned trip to Ireland). We ended up taking up both of those offers and had a great time!

The crew was very helpful, friendly and competent. The atmosphere on the boat was great and if we had to do it over, we would go with Pro Dive Cairns again, no doubt about it! We did notice all the crew members had a four letter name: Adam, Lucy, Eddy, Carl, Mark, Gary, and Cloe. Guess that’s one of the requirements for the job.

Should you go scuba diving with Pro Dive Cairns?

Wether you’re a certified diver, want to become one, or just want to snorkel, you can join the 3 day/2 night Great Barrier Reef liveaboard dive trip with Pro Dive Cairns. In fact, there were 31 of us on the trip, of which 2 snorkelers, a bunch of certified divers with different experience levels, and some travellers doing an open water or advanced course. A great mix!

Although we were a tad scared at first, our first dives without guides were awesome, thanks to the clear instructions, guiding and information during the dive briefings. It’s important to start every dive with confidence!

Call us lazy, but not having to rearrange your dive gear on another cylinder after every dive is very convenient as well. They just refill your tank on the spot.

Brecht in his Stinger SuitBrecht in his Stinger Suit
Birthe in her Diving GearBirthe in her Diving Gear

Pro Dive Cairns was one of the cheapest options available for a liveaboard dive trip, but we got excellent value for our money. The crew (instructors, captain, cook) was very friendly and competent, everything was well organised, the food was good, and the atmosphere great. We (and I believe I can speak for all 31 of us) were very satisfied with our dive trip with Pro Dive Cairns.

How to book a Great Barrier Reef Liveaboard Dive Trip with Pro Dive Cairns?

Interested in booking a 3 day/2 night liveaboard dive trip with Pro Dive Cairns as well? Then go check for deals and availability now! Trips start every day except Tuesday, all year round.

If you prefer a one day dive trip (or snorkel trip) from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef, check out the Pro Dive Cairns website for more information.

Diving the Great Barrier Reef was awesome! Anyone who wants to dive the Great Barrier Reef (you should!) should hurry up and book a liveaboard with Pro Dive Cairns. It was an amazing, never to forget experience and great value for money!

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Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef with Pro Dive CairnsScuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef with Pro Dive Cairns