Scuba Diving Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – Travel Bucket List
Ask any scuba diver what’s on their travel bucket list and you’re likely going find Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in there somewhere. That’s because it is one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems in the world, let along underwater. But with the amazing beauty of the Great Barrier Reef also comes throngs of tourists trying to sneak a peek. And as any experienced diver knows, large crowds and scuba diving do not mix well. So when we traveled to Port Douglas to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef, we took extra care to have a unique experience.
The Great Barrier Reef is quite a ways off the shore of Australia’s northern coast, as far as dive sites are concerned at least. It’s about a 30 mile boat ride to actually reach the reef, and then a few more miles to find your dive site. This means that there aren’t too many dive boats like you would find in the Caribbean or southern US. There are two ways most people dive the reef: Huge high speed dive boats or live-aboard dive boats. As we were researching options, neither of those really seemed appealing to us.
But before I get into that, check out this video of an amazing snorkeling spot we stopped at along the way–the giant clams were amazing.
Ok, back to business. The mega dive boats carry hundreds of reef explorers from Port Douglas or Cairns to an off-shore platform where they can access the reef. This is an awesome concept because it provides access to the reef for people of all abilities. For experienced divers, however, it’s a nightmare. The dive sites are all over-dove, and many of the divers are beginners. We decided to skip this option and keep looking.
The next option we explored was a live-aboard dive boat. These boats take you out for 3 to 7 days and explore many of the amazing dive sites on the reef. This is an excellent way to see many sites most divers will never make it to. A solid option for sure. But for us, we didn’t want the commitment it came with. Three dives a day for seven days is a lot of diving, and it can really tire you out. Plus you are confined to the food and people that are on the boat. We wanted to explore both the land and the sea. We wanted to eat at a different restaurant every night, and dive every day. We wanted flexibility. There had to be a better option.
Finally we found it. A dive charter that would take us to the remote spots on the reef, bring us back each night, and be free of the large crowds the other boats have. Sure it was a bit expensive, but this is a bucket list item. It’s worth it.
When we arrived at the dock the first morning were a bit taken aback by what we found… A beautiful yacht with four eager crew members waiting to take care of us. They had coffee and espresso for us, pastries, and fruits. They took our gear and stowed it away, gave us a tour of the ship, and chatted with us about our dive options. We could get used to diving like this.
It took us about two hours to make our way out to the reef, but during that time we had the run of the boat. It was great not fitting for a spot up front or trying to find a place to stash our belongings. We chatted with our dive master during this ride to hear his stories about diving on the reef. One thing we picked up on quick was that he knew his stuff.
Once we reached our dive site we made our way into the water quickly. We descended down to our max depth of about 50 feet and were blown away by the beautiful coral and abundance of life. One of the great things about diving the Great Barrier Reef is that you don’t need to go down too deep to access the reef. This really extends your bottom time and means dives can last up to an hour long!
After finishing our first dive we took a hot shower, dried off, and munched on some snacks before lunch. We started making our way to our second dive site for the day as the crew served our lunch. It was a brilliant spread that included everything from salad to pasta to shrimp, and my favorite, Moreton Bay Bugs! Needless to say we had a wonderful surface interval before jumping back into the water for our second dive.
As we finished off an epic day of diving and made our way back into shore we sat on the top deck, soaked up some sun, and chatted about the different creatures we saw below. A few minutes into the ride one of the crew members popped up the ladder to ask us if we would enjoy some champagne with our cheese, crackers, and deserts. Could this get any better!?
Two bottles of champagne later we reached the harbor and caught the sun setting behind the mountains of the Daintree Rain Forest. This is the way diving should be. We we’re glad we got to come back for a second day.
So if diving the Great Barrier Reef is on your bucket list, and the idea of exploring the natural wonders of the reef with 500 other tourists isn’t appealing, consider looking into a private charter out of Port Douglas. For groups of 4 to 6 people the cost isn’t totally outrageous, and the experience is out of this world.