Cairns

Checking Off a Major Bucket List Item: Diving the Great Barrier Reef

Tropical north Queensland, where rainforest meets reef.

Queensland has it all- idyllic islands, ancient rainforest, wildlife experiences that cue Australia, and of course, the Great Barrier Reef.

One of the top activities we were excited for, planning our road trip around Oz?

Diving the Great Barrier Reef.

For both of is, it was a major bucket list item, and one we planned to both splurge on.

Why the Great Barrier Reef?

Found in the Coral Sea off the northeastern coast of Australia, the reef stretches all the way from Queensland’s coast, up beyond the northern tip of Australia to the south coast of Papua New Guinea.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world for a reason. With over 350 types of hard coral and 90 species of soft coral, plus 1,500 types of fish, 6 kinds of turtles, 30 types of whales and dolphins, and 125 types of sharks and rays, it’s an astounding place.

Plus, it’s the only living structure on earth that can be seen from outer space.

We just felt like, you can’t visit Oz and not dive the Great Barrier Reef.

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Selecting a Tour Provider

The kind of tour you go on will likely be most influenced by your schedule, diving certifications, and interest.

When it came to selecting the type of cruise we’d do, we looked at option for day trips, as well as 2-3 day long liveaboards.

Since neither of us were dive certified, and didn’t plan on becoming so before venturing to Oz, we landed on doing a day cruise.

The option of doing a day cruise (less of a time commitment) also meant we’d be able to visit WA prior, to do a week long road trip we’d been dreaming of.

After reading a few reviews for Silverswift, and having them recommended by friends, we booked in for a day at sea.

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A Day at Sea with Silverswift

Silverswift takes you to three outer reef sites at Flynn, Pellowe, Millin, and/or Thetford Reefs. Locations vary, based on the day’s condition. Sites are chosen for visual impact and ecological diversity.

Your day begins at 8:30 am (check in from 8 am), with a return to the marina at 4:30 pm.

We thought the timing was perfect- early, but not too early. Plenty of time to grab a coffee from one of Carin’s cafes in the morning.

And, a return at 4:30 pm meant we were hungry enough to think about dinner, and chose to head straight to a brewery- Hemingway’s at the wharf for pizza and pints.

It takes about 60-90 minutes to reach the outer reef sites. Once you’re there, you’ll spend 5-6 hours on the reef, with a little over an hour allocated for each stop.

One of the biggest reasons we went with Silverswift?

They’re mega accommodating of divers of all ability- seasoned or newbies.

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Your purchase includes one dive, plus snorkeling at other stops with an option to add another dive on board.

We’d been told by friends, who were also first time divers on their visit, that the Silverswift team took them through all the diving basics, were patient with helping set up equipment, and stayed close, but weren’t overbearing, underwater.

At the first stop, we were part of the group that snorkeled.

Even snorkelling blew us away- it was incredible. When it was time to dive at the second stop, we couldn’t believe what we were seeing.

I’m aware we’re ultra spoilt- having our first dive, ever, being at the Great Barrier Reef.

But, wow.

I know dive sites in the Red Sea and Belize are revered for being the best in the world, but it’s hard to believe it gets any better than what we saw.

We were so enamoured with our first dive, we signed up for a second dive at the third stop.

Silverswift offers the chance to buy underwater photos, which we passed on since they were so expensive- priced the same as an add on dive.

Another thing we loved about Silverswift?

On our visit, 80% of people on the boat were snorkelling. Only a handful signed up to dive, which meant we received ultra-personal attention, usually we had our own instructor or were paired with the same one. This was fantastic, because it meant we could ask to look for certain coral formations or types of fish, and search for what interested us most.

The boat, itself, is also beautiful- plenty of space to sit; hot, freshwater showers; breakfast when you board; a great lunch buffet that caters to loads of food allergies and intolerances.

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When to Dive the Great Barrier Reef

We visited Cairns in the midst of their summer season- mid-August. This meant we had clear skies, and hot, but relatively mild temperatures.

Our dive conditions were wonderful, albeit the water was a bit cold.

However, if you’re diving, you’re provided with a bodysuit, plus a thermal suit. If you’re just snorkelling, you have to pay extra for a thermal suit.

While the water felt chilly initially, we soon got used to it.

And, an added bonus to diving during the time of year we visited- far less likely there’ll be jellyfish in the water.

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Diving the Great Barrier Reef Responsibly

According to dive experts, up to 50% coral mortality has been found in Australia’s northeastern reefs.

When you book a dive to the GBR, you’ll hear the word ‘bleaching’ tossed around a lot, with tour providers claiming they avoid sights where there’s bleaching.

What is bleaching?

Coral bleaching is when warm sea water causes stress to the corals. When this happens, the corals expel their algae, which they feed and get their colour from.

With constant polluting activities, coral aren’t given the chance to recover. Without the algae to feed from, stretches of coral have simply died out.

Scientists believe the biggest threats to the GBR are fossil fuel emissions from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Efforts are being made to make the Great Barrier Reef tourism as eco-friendly as possible, but it was something we did discuss before we went- as to whether it was really a responsible choice.

Ultimately, we decided to do so if we could find a company we felt good about that also supported conservation efforts.

And, of course, you can do your direct part by not touching anything you see underwater.

Everything you see is a real, living creature and deserves respect.

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Where to Dive the Great Barrier Reef

You can dive at spots up and down Queensland’s cost. We chose Cairns because the city has its own airport, and you’re able to visit various outer reefs from there.

However, it’s also possible to stay in Port Douglas or Mission Beach and dive the reef.

We left Cairns feeling beyond inspired.

Inspired to do what we can to protect our beautiful planet.
Inspired to become dive certified.
And, mostly, inspired to get in the water again, asap.
The underwater world is truly something else.

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Have you ever dived? Is diving the Great Barrier Reef on your bucket list, too?

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2 comments

  1. The most I’ve done is snorkel in the Caribbeans and Croatia, but all the same, I’d love to dive some day! I’ve heard that the Great Barrier Reef is dwindling due to global warming, which is a tragedy, so I better visit there within the next couple of years! It would’ve been cool for you to have gotten underwater footage of your dive, although that’s often one for the professionals! In any case, thank you for introducing me to the natural beauty of Australia. 🙂

    1. Same re: snorkeling- the most I’d done before this was snorkeling in a few places. Underwater diving is a whole other world.

      And, I never wished more I’d bought and brought a GoPro on my trip than in this moment! The instructors took some photos, but believe they were charging upwards of $40-50 AUD per photo, which was nearly half the price of a dive (insert shocked face). Def recommend bringing an underwater camera if you get the chance to visit!

      And, although I haven’t dived elsewhere yet – I was surprised by how vibrant the reefs we visited were. Research companies before you go, I’ve heard some take people to reefs that’ve experienced too much bleaching, while others try to visit different sites to limit repeat exposure.

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