Diving At The Great Barrier Reef
One of Australia's most remarkable natural gifts, the Great Barrier Reef is blessed with the breathtaking beauty of the world's largest coral reef. The reef contains an abundance of marine life and comprises of over 3000 individual reef systems and coral cays and literally hundreds of picturesque tropical islands with some of the worlds most beautiful sun-soaked, golden beaches.
While it is up for the debate whether the Great Barrier Reef is the best diving place in the world, it is definitely the most famous one. Therefore, when I decided to come to Australia on this trip, diving at the Reef was a must do on my itinerary. Stephen, a couchsurfer I met in San Antonio last year while running one of my five half marathons there, recommended that I look into a three day/two night diving trip to the outer reef with Pro Divers in Cairns. After reading raving reviews, I went ahead and booked the trip with them. While it was not a cheap one at over $600, it included eleven dives, making for a very reasonable $60 per dive price plus meals and accommodation on the boat.
Pro Dive And ScubaPro III
The Pro Dive experience exceeded my expectations in all ways possible. The crew was great providing lots of information and being available anytime we needed something. Accomodations on the boat featured either double beds or bunk beds. My bunk was much bigger than I expected - I could almost lay down flat, save a couple inches and I had a large window with a beautiful view. Facilities were plentiful, clean and spacious. There was a strong culture of safety manifested in many ways throughout the trip (a refreshing experience after three months in Asia). Even the meals were large and plentiful with something served between every single dive. I did bring a few snacks with me just in case, but ended up barely touching them as it seemed that we were always full - also a stark contrast to some of my other 'all inclusive' experiences.
Pro Dive folks picked everyone up at 6am on Day 1 and shuttled us to their dive shop where we checked in, left our bags, and grabbed our gear. Soon we were on the boat and on the way. It took us good three hours to reach our first dive site - the Wild Side on Milln reef. Our first couple of dives were there and the most exciting thing for me was diving without a dive master for the first time. Still, me and my dive buddies were able to navigate back to the boat, a feat on itself. We did see lots of fish and corals and our first turtle. We then moved the boat to Petaj site, where we dove once in the evening and then went for my first night dive. I actually loved it since it was a lot more relaxing with me and my buddy just taking it slow and exploring the little things. During the evening dive I saw my first reef shark and a few more turtles, while the highlight of the night dive was an octopus (or what we thought was an octopus).
I did not hear our dive supervisor banging on our door so I almost missed the first dive - I woke up, there was light outside my window, my roommate was gone and I could not hear any voices so I ran out of my room just to find everyone suiting up. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that my dive buddy had his own underwater camera so we would not need to rent one at steep $35 per dive. We once again dove at Potaj trying to find some sharks, but the visibility was very poor after pretty windy conditions during the night so it was not that exciting. We stayed at Milln reef for the second morning dive at Pleasurville site before moving to Gordon's Mooring at Flynn reef. Once again, we did the evening and the night dive there and being a shallow site, we were able to see lots of colorful corals and fish, some rays, turtles, and half a dozen reef sharks circling our boat at night.
As we needed to cram in three dives in half a day, we got up at ungodly 5:45am for our first dive briefing. Staying at Gordon's Mooring, we explored the other part of the reef seeing another ray and a couple more reef sharks before moving to our last site - Boulders, still on Flynn reef. There we had our last two dives with a short cake break in-between. While we did not see anything big there, the site by itself was pretty exciting as there was a decent current underwater. After realizing that we were drifting pretty fast, I signal my buddy to turn around only after about twelve minutes down there and we saw lots of people passing us as we struggled to get back (it got easier as we moved to the shallower part). As it turned out, we were two out of six people that actually made it back to the boat - everyone else surfaced way back behind the boat and had to be picked up by our dingy.
After doing all eleven dives, I almost doubled the number in my logbook to 25. I spent a grand total of seven hours and five minutes 'down there', which averages out to about 38 minutes per dive. This is something I would love to improve on - I am still usually the first one to run out of air with my huge lung capacity (long distance running last year only made it worse as far as diving is concerned). On the positive side, I enjoyed the pace of most of our dives as we were able to slow down and really explore the reef rather than rushing through it. I think my dive times should go up, especially considering the fact that we were using less air than I am used to, starting out at, or a bit below, 200 HPA. But the most important thing is that I had a ton of fun - the dives, the crew, the live-aboard experience - everything seemed to be top notch. Big thanks to Stephen for Pro Dive recommendation!