The first time we came to Australia, 10 years ago, Todd wasn’t SCUBA certified and Kelly couldn’t justify the extra airfare to get up to the Great Barrier Reef by herself. She was frustrated to have come all that way and not be able to knock diving the Great Barrier Reef off her bucket list. So when we moved to Australia, diving the Great Barrier Reef was #1 on our to do list.
We decided to take advantage of one of Melbourne’s many sports related public holidays and we are turning a day off for the Melbourne Cup horse race (their equivilant of the Kentucky Derby) into a long weekend and heading to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef!
While researching the best SCUBA sites on the Great Barrier Reef we quickly realized either a liveaboard or flying out to a smaller island were our best options for good diving. We opted for the liveaboard. We’ve never done a SCUBA liveaboard and when we saw that we would have the opportunity to do 12 dives over three days, we knew that was the way we wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef.
We arrived in Cairns (pronounced “cans”) after a short 3 hour flight and were surprised at the beauty that surrounded us. Looking out from our hotel you could have easily thought you were in Hawaii – tropical plants covering the mountains with lush green colours surrounded the city. Of course, this being Australia, we quickly spotted the signs warning us about crocodiles on the beach, so no swimming here. Instead of strolling along the beach, they have a lovely walkway that gives you views of the ocean, but safely away from any dangerous things in the water. They also had a large community pool you can just walk up to and jump in.
We wandered around a bit and enjoyed dinner at a Thai restaurant, overlooking the beach, and the Central Night Market where you can buy all the touristy trinkets you could ever need. Then it was off to bed, we have an early day tomorrow.
We were up and ready for our pickup at 7:30am. We were shuttled to the transfer boat, Sea Quest. We had two dives from the Sea Quest on our way out to the larger boat that would be our home for the next two nights. We were instantly struck by the colours of the coral and the quantity of fish on our dives. It was obvious that there was a lot of bleached and dead coral as well, we can only imagine how amazing it was years ago.
When we arrived on the Ocean Quest we were gathered together in the dining room and given the overview of our schedule for the next few days. Our days followed, to almost military precision, the following schedule:
5:45am – early wake up for everyone who signed up for the morning dive.
6:00am – morning dive
7:00am – breakfast
8:00am – 2nd dive
10:00am – 3rd dive
12:00pm – lunch
4:00pm -4th dive
6:00pm – Dinner
7:00pm – night dive
Each dive takes about an hour to an hour and a half by they time you go through the process of suiting up, up, listening to the briefing about the dive site, diving, and removing and cleaning equipment. With 5 dives each day, our days consisted mostly of eating and diving and then sleeping any chance we got. Scuba diving doesn’t always look like an athletic endeavour, but dragging around a large air tank and swimming to and from the designated mooring lines to begin and end our dives takes a lot out of you. The certainly fed us well to keep up our energy. Every meal was enormous and carb filled. Kelly found that she couldn’t eat that much and then immediately go diving so by the 3rd meal she was making sure to leave some food on her plate.
We really enjoyed the live aboard style of diving. They would set up in a spot and tie off to a mooring line. Then they showed us a map at the beginning of our dive and we would jump in as buddy teams; free to explore however we wanted. We also stayed at a dive site for 2-3 dives so we had multiple chances to explore different areas of the site. This suited us well, since Todd is known to run out of air before everyone else, we didn’t feel guilty ending anyone else’s dive early and we had fun exploring at our leisure.
We made a point of doing every dive offered and while we were absolutely exhausted at the end of each day, it was amazing! We saw reef sharks, turtles, eagle rays, huge parrot fish and giant clams, along with more varieties of reef fish that we can count. Every evening after dinner and before the night dive they would throw the biodegradable leftovers from dinner into the water which attracted reef sharks and fish, so that when you went for the night dive, you essentially jumped into the water right next to them (or in some cases right on top of them if you weren’t careful).
On the 3rd day after the 3rd dive of the day, it was finally time to pack up and leave. We were sad to go. We transfererd to the smaller boat and made the 1.5 hour trek back to land, we checked into our hotel in Cairns and immediately fell asleep by 5pm, thinking we would just take a quick nap and get up for dinner. We actually ended up crashing for the night, not waking until our alarm went off at 7am!
Needless to say we were nice and refreshed and ready to spend a day driving and exploring the Daintree Rainforest that is just north of Cairns and a UNESCO protected region.
The drive north of Cairns took us through sugar cane fields, along scenic coastline, and though lush rainforests. We got to drive our car on a short river ferry crossing and then entered the rainforest. To our delight we saw an endangered cassowary bird with two chicks almost as soon as we entered the park!
After several more miles of driving through the tropical preserve, we arrived at our destination, Cape Tribulation. It was a beautiful scenic beach in the midst of the rainforest region, but similar to Cairns, we were greeted every few feet by a sign reminding us of all the things waiting to try and hurt us in the water. With the numerous warnings about crocodiles and jellyfish, we limited our visit to a walk along the beach and avoided the water, but soaked in the beauty of the area around us. On the way back to Cairns we made a point of stopping at all of the scenics turnoffs and boardwalks we could, just to get out and stretch our legs a bit and enjoy the unique plants and animals this region has to offer.