Scuba Diving at the Great Barrier Reef

Itinerary: 

  • Days 1-4: Sydney
  • Days 5-9: Tasmania (Strahan, Launceston, Bicheno)
  • Days 10-15: Sydney to Noosa Road Trip (Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley, Port Macquarie)
  • Days 16-18: K’gari Island
  • Days 19-25: Noosa to Ciarns Road Trip (Byron Bay, Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Airlie Beach, Townsville)
  • Days 26-29: Cairns and Great Barrier Reef
  • Days 30-33: Melbourne
  • Days 34-41: Alice Springs & Uluru
  • Days 42-43: Back to Sydney then flying home

RTW Trip 2014: Peru→ Chile → Argentina → Antarctica → Argentina → Uruguay → Argentina→  Chile→ England → Morocco → Spain → France → Belgium → Netherlands → Germany → Czech Republic → Austria → Hungary → Croatia → Italy → Thailand → United States → Thailand → Laos → Vietnam → Cambodia → Australia → Taiwan

Dates: October 23-December 3, 2014

Our Odyssey: 

It is hard to fully appreciate the vastness of the Great Barrier Reef when you are there- afterall, from up close you can only ever see what is right in front of you. But that doesn’t make it any less impressive. The Great Barrier Reef expands between 280,000 and 344,000 square kilometers, is bigger than the United Kingdom, made up of over 3,000 separate reefs and 600 islands, and contains 1,500 species of fish, 400 types of coral, and 4,000 varieties of mollusks, all developed over 18 million years. All of those numbers are big and so is the reef, and we were about to see it quite intimately during our two day, six dive PADI advanced scuba course.

Our first night in Cairns, after relaxing and enjoying our spacious bed room and comfortable queen-sized bed, we met up with some friends we had met while on Fraser Island who happened to be in Cairns over the same period of time- three girls from St. Johns in Newfoundland, Canada, and a couple from England. We met for drinks at the “backpacker resort” the girls were staying at, which is very appropriately named. In addition to the standard hostel-style dorm rooms, Gilligan’s offers a spacious bar with live music each night, a restaurant and a nightclub. Tim and I did not stay out too late this night since we had our first dive early the next morning.

Around 7am we were picked up at our hotel and taken to the dive company’s office to have our photo taken for our PADI Advanced ID cards we would get upon completion of the course. We met the two other people in our course- Maarten from the Netherlands and Hayley from England. Maarten was doing his one-day adventure diving certification, and Hayley was on the second day of her advanced course.

We then went to the marina to get on the boat that would take us, as well as way too many snorkel day-trippers, out to the reef. Onboard our instructor explained to us that to be considered “advanced” you must complete at least one deep dive (more than 18 meters, but fewer than 30), one navigation dive where you demonstrate skills using a compass, and then a few adventure dives pulled from a list of options like “fish identification,” “boat dives,” or “underwater naturalist” to name a few.

Around 10am we got to our morning dive site, called South Hastings. This would be our deep dive. I was a little nervous since we hadn’t dived since August and had forgotten a few of the steps in setting up and checking the equipment, but once we were ready to jump in I felt prepared. During this dive our instructor guided us through the reef, making sure we hit some depths to qualify for our deep dive (we got down to 23 meters). It was definitely beautiful, with a huge array of wildlife, colorful coral and more diversity than the (still beautiful) reefs off Koh Tao, Thailand where we completed our PADI open water certification.

This dive was relatively short- only 23 minutes, because the deeper you go, the shorter amount of time you can stay down without risking decompression sickness or other dive-related maladies. There is a whole chart we had to learn about in our open water course that helps you calculate how many dives you can do, for how long, to what depths, and with how much time in between in order to stay in safe ranges. Lucky for us, after our deep dive we only needed a 15 minute break before our next dive at the same site.

For this dive, I opted to try the “fish identification” specialization. This ended up being a lot of fun. Our instructor gave me a card with pictures and names of types of fish I might see, and during the dive I basically got to play a scavenger hunt. I saw hamlets, damselfish and many others during this dive, which was about twice as long as our first one.

After this dive, we came up to the boat for lunch and a break as we set off for the afternoon dive site at North Hastings. This site was very spectacular. During our dive, again with our instructor, we saw a white-tipped reef shark (completely safe), barracudas, a bumphead parrotfish that enjoys being touched on its side, and a Napoleon Maori wrasse (a very colorful tropical fish). This was also our navigation dive where we had to wear a compass and navigate a square- it was pretty basic, even for someone like me who had never actually used a compass before.

It was a phenomenol first day at the reef, and we were excited to do it again the next day too!

That evening we were pretty exhausted- diving takes a lot out of you. We went to bed early and enjoyed a relaxing evening.

The next morning we were back on the boat at 8am, and as we made our way to the first reef, this time one called Norman, our instructor, a different guy from the one we had yesterday, told us we could pretty much be on our own that day. I was a bit intimidated by this- the only way we really knew where we were going on our previous dives was by following our instructor. I was initially annoyed that they would not have someone more dedicated to us on the crowded boat (a very different feel from our intimate experience in Koh Tao), but after talking through a dive plan with Tim, we decided we would give it a try on our own. If we felt unsure of our location at any time while under water, we would just need to come up to the surface, see where the boat is, and then go back down. No big deal.

It ended up being amazingly fun. It was a bit surreal to be deep under the water just me and Tim, floating weightless in this crazy coral landscape. During our first dive Tim and I made it down 14 meters on our own for 38 minutes, and we saw another reef shark, a whole swarm of barracudas, and Tim even saw an octopus (he tried to show it to me but I’m blind or something).

After our break back on the boat, we went down again for our second dive of the day, this time getting to 15 meters and for about the same amount of time. We didn’t see anything additional notable on this dive, but it was great for building our confidence diving on our own. This was also the dive where we officially became advanced PADI scuba divers!

After lunch, the boat took us back to North Hastings (this is where they go every afternoon). On our last dive in the Great Barrier Reef, our third solo dive, we spent some time observing a blowfish on the ocean floor, saw a triggerfish (which is kind of scary because they attack sometimes), a barracuda, and, to my delight, a sting ray. I saw the sting ray’s shape swimming in front of us and then saw him gracefully slip down onto the sand, nestling between bits of coral but with his body and impressive stinger still fully available. Amazing!

After this dive, we had some free wine on the boat and celebrated our new certification.

We made plans to meet up with our Canadian friends that night, as well as another British couple, Lucy and John, we met on the boat that day. Unfortunately, we napped through our alarm. Fortunately, Megan and Teri were still at Gilligan’s when we got there two hours late, and John and Lucy came and met up later. It ended up being a really fun night of talking and dancing- we stayed out until 3am (which makes sense given our lengthy nap).

The next day we did not do much of anything- we just relaxed at the hotel and pool, before meeting up with John and Lucy for one more night out.

The next morning, Friday, we flew out for our next destination, on the opposite end of the country- Melbourne!

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