Ever since we learned diving with Roctopus in Koh Tao, Thailand, back in September last year (at the start of our round the world trip), diving the Great Barrier Reef in Australia was at the top of our dive 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. However, now it’s 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.
During our dive sessions in Amed, Bali we met an Australian couple. They told us that when we’d go diving the Great Barrier Reef, we should look out for deals on last-minute bookings. So upon arrival in Cairns, we stopped by the Cairns & Tropical North Visitor Information Centre, the only official, independent one. A friendly guy explained us the different options to dive the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately, the only organisation with a deal on offer was still way over our budget. We took a couple of minutes to review the information brochures he’d given us and after some consideration our decision was made. We would go explore the Great Barrier Reef on a 3 day/2 night liveaboard dive trip with Pro Dive Cairns, the one he recommended. He made all the arrangements and the next morning at 6h our diving adventure would start.
Diving with Pro Dive Cairns
Pro Dive Cairns is certified as an Advanced Ecotourism Operator. As I’m a bit of a wannabe eco-warrior, this was an important fact to take into account. However, we believe all diving organisations have to meet some requirements in order to be allowed to take tourists into the Great Barrier Reef. The 2,900 individual reefs forming this unique Marine Park are a World Heritage area and need to be looked after and preserved. Did you know it’s the only living thing on earth that can be seen from space?
Pro Dive Cairns was one of the cheapest options available for a liveaboard dive trip, and recommended by the guy at the information centre. We read some positive reviews online and decided to book the trip. We are certified divers, but newbies and snorkelers can join the trip as well. There were 31 of us on the trip, of which two snorkelers, a bunch of certified divers with different experience levels and some travellers doing an open water or advanced course. We (and I believe I can speak for all 31 of us) were very satisfied with our dive trip with Pro Dive Cairns. The crew (instructors, captain, cook) was very friendly and competent, everything was well organised, the food was good and the atmosphere great. We got excellent value for our money. If you’re interested in booking a 3 day/2 night liveaboard dive trip with Pro Dive Cairns as well, you can check out their website. Trips start every day except Tuesday.
What is (not) included in the 3 day/2 night liveaboard dive trip
A 3 day/2 night liveaboard dive trip with Pro Dive Cairns cost us $775 per person. According to the guy from the information centre, they don’t do any last minute deals. But like I mentioned earlier, we believed it was excellent value for our money. Now, what is included in that price?
On this 3 day/2 night liveaboard dive trip with Pro Dive Cairns, 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.
The price includes all dive equipment, including a stinger suit, a compass and a dive computer. 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. 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.
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’re travelling light, remember), 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.
Life on the Pro Dive Cairns boat
On a rainy Monday morning we were picked up at Cairns Holiday Park at 6h. 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 7h30, got some breakfast, and soon headed out to the Great Barrier Reef. The trip out would take about 3 hours, during which 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.
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.
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), so hopefully we meet some of them again.
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.
What (not) to bring on the Pro Dive Cairns liveaboard dive trip
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.
Diving the Great Barrier Reef
Diving the Great Barrier Reef was awesome! 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.
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 colourful 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!
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 tropical 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.
We now have 25 dives under our belt and are absolutely hooked! What an amazing world it is, underwater! Our first dives without guides were great, thanks to the clear instructions, guiding and information during the dive briefings. 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.
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!