When Kevin and I decided we were going to travel through Australia, the top thing on our list was to dive the Great Barrier Reef!
Over 2,000 kilometres long, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on the plant and is so large it can even be seen from outer space! It includes the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, has around 3,000 coral reefs, and is between 60 – 250 kilometres wide.
In summary, it’s the most bad ass place in the ocean…. and we couldn’t wait to explore it!
In doing our research, we found that the best way to experience the Great Barrier Reef is to join a liveaboard trip. Most provide three amazing days out on the reef including accommodations, food and equipment. Sure, day trips are available but to get to the reef can be up to 3 hours each way. If we were going to do it, we wanted to do it right!
After all, you can’t come all this way and half-ass it…
So I started researching diligently to make sure that I found the right liveaboard for us. When I found ProDive, I knew that they were exactly what we were looking for!
As Kevin wasn’t certified to dive, finding a liveaboard that provided PADI Open Water Certification was key. We also wanted to make sure that we were able to dive together once he received his certification. ProDive ensured us that both of these things were possible. Even better, as it had been over a year since my last dive in Thailand, I was able to retake the classroom and pool training with Kevin, as a refresher, for free!
Our first couple of days in Cairns were spent at the ProDive training centre. Together we completed the classroom sessions and pool training. Lucy, our instructor, was amazing! She had all of us feeling confident in the water in no time.
Before we knew it, it was time to get on the boat and go diving in the reef!
The boat was fantastic! Our group consisted of about 20 divers and snorklers, in addition to, an amazing staff available to help any way possible. This also included an incredible chef who provided us with meals all day long.
I love when people cook for me.
Our bedroom view for the next couple of days!
It was a choppy ride out to the reef and I was thankful that I was prepared. To be honest, I almost never get in a moving vehicle without taking a motion-sickness pill, so I was ready! Others on the boat were not so lucky…
I was super nervous on the ride out to the reef. Other than diving for my PADI courses with an instructor, I never dove on my own. This terrified me. I had so many questions…
What if I get lost? What if I run out of air? Who will I dive with? How will I remember what depth to dive at? What if I forget to do a safety stop? Am I going to hurt myself?
Kevin was lucky because his first four dives were with his instructor. But me?
I was on my own.
But it turns out there is nothing to fear! What’s awesome about diving in the Great Barrier Reef is that the dive sites are exclusive to each Company, so it doesn’t get crowded. Also, the water is generally shallow enough that decompression stops are not required.
In regular English, if you get turned around or lost under water, you can slowly swim up to the surface and checkout where you are without the fear of boats running you over, getting confused as to which boat you are on, or getting decompression sickness.
Well, that all sounded great!
Before our first dive, we headed to our first briefing. This was held before each dive to give us background on the reef, provide us with recommended routes and navigation tips, and identify any marine life we should keep our eyes out for during the dive.
Sounds good! Now just to find a buddy….
On our first dive, Kevin headed out with his instructor and I teamed up with a couple of girls on the boat. As soon as I took my first steps into the water, I was ready to go! All of the fear rushed away and it was replaced with the thrill and excitement of getting to explore this magical world.
I am in love with the ocean.
Over the next three days, we had the opportunity to explore some of the best of the outer reef. Together we got to see beautiful corals, a huge variety of fish, whitetip reef sharks, and turtles.
While we were worried that bleaching damaged the reef from everything we saw in the news, the outer reef appeared to be unaffected. The ProDive crew confirmed, however, that the high temperatures in the ocean had been present longer than normal.
When water temperatures rise, coral expels the algae living in their tissues. When temperatures decrease, the algae returns to the coral. As long as the algae returns to the coral in a short period of time, there is no permanent damage to the reef. The issue comes, however, when temperatures are high for an extended period of time delaying the return of algae to the coral. During this extended period, the coral is at risk for dying and causing permanent damage to the reef.
So like I said, we never experienced any bleaching but we did experience water that was 30 degrees Celsius mid-April! No wet suits were required for our dives but we did get to wear fashionable stinger suits to protect us from the jellyfish.
Anyway, back to the dives!
One of the highlights of a liveaboard trip is doing a night dive. If you ever have the opportunity to do one, I highly recommend it. I did my first one in Thailand, so I knew there was nothing to fear.
Or so I thought…
As everyone peered over the railing before the dive, we noticed how the light from the boat drew in a mass of red bass. It was amazing to see so many big fish around the boat. Eventually, another type of fish began swimming amongst the bass. Wait, those aren’t just fish… those are whitetip reef sharks!
I gripped the railing tighter in fear with my eyes fixated on the sharks near the surface of the water. Suddenly, my fear was interrupted with music playing from the boat.
Wait, is that the Jaws theme song?
Oh my god.
But it turns out reef sharks are nothing to fear. They are about as interested in you, as you are in them! Regardless, it definitely got my heart beating before jumping into the water.
Unlike the day dives, the night dives are guided. Thank god too! I can do it on my own during the day but I’m not into it at night. With the sharks too? Forget it!
So we each got armed with flashlights and broke into groups. One by one, we plunged into the pitch black waters. As more and more of us jumped in, the waters around us started to light up. Slowly, I started to relax.
Let’s do this!
Our mission on the night dive was to find Brian, a HUGE and amazing sea turtle that occupies Flynn Reef. When I say huge, I mean the size of a king size bed huge! He is not your average turtle.
So when we swam up to a giant hole in the reef and our guide started circling it with her flashlight, we all immediately knew that she had found Brian! One by one, everyone in our group peered into the hole and gave the “okay” symbol that they had seen him.
When I swam up and stared into the hole, I saw nothing.
Now, I was looking all around the hole and shining my flashlight around it but I couldn’t see anything! While my vision under water was great without my glasses during the day, at night I couldn’t quite make out the fine detail I otherwise was able to see.
I will be ordering contacts when I get home….
While I was devastated I didn’t get to see Brian, on our last dive Kevin and I got the amazing experience of swimming with a turtle eating a jellyfish!
I have always loved turtles. Do you know they eat the jellyfish to get high?
We were also super lucky Kevin rented an underwater camera from ProDive on this dive to get the most amazing shots of the turtle!
Overall, diving the Great Barrier Reef was the perfect way to end our Australian adventure! I would recommend ProDive liveaboards to anyone looking to experience the Great Barrier Reef. I could not imagine doing it any other way. Better yet, it was Kevin and my one year anniversary on the boat which made it even more special!
Thanks Australia for an amazing trip!
We will definitely be back!