We just ticked a pretty big box off our bucket lists: Dive the Great Barrier Reef.
Stretching over 2,300km and composed of 2,900 individual reefs, it’s pretty hard to grasp the size of the thing.
We pretty quickly got the best possible view of the thing: flying into Cairns, I was lucky enough to be sitting in a window seat, on the right side of the plane, on a perfectly clear day.
Seeing it from 35,000 feet in the air is probably one of the most mind blowing things I have ever witnessed. It just goes on and on and on, every reef more massive than the previous one.
Sitting in my seat there, I was as excited as the day I got my first SNES console on the Christmas of 1996.
The city of Cairns is all about the Barrier Reef. Cruise ships stop there (and we were there during Chinese New Year, so I can let you picture how crazy it was).
Since Nicaragua, I have definitely caught the diving bug. There’s something magical about being weightless, with the sound of your slow breathing being the only thing to disturb the complete silence around you.
So the plan was to take it up a notch: we booked 3 days on a liveaboard — a boat designed to support dozens of divers for multiple days. Ours had over 40 divers on it, private rooms for everyone to sleep, a kitchen, dining room, a suntanning deck, a bar, and much more.
Here’s the typical experience you’ll have scuba diving in most places. You find a dive shop, and book for the next morning. You try on their rental gear, see what fits. Then you go home, and come back to the shop for your dive(s) the next day at the crack of dawn.
You go to a small 10-man boat, which will take you out to the reef, often a 30–40 minutes bumpy ride, and you dive from there. Once you’re done, you take an hour break on the small boat having a disappointing lunch, moving back and forth in the waves (and if you’re like me, you spend that time focusing really hard on the horizon trying not feed your lunch to the fish). Then you head back, another 30–40 mins ride back, in the blazing sun, toasting.
This comes with it’s costs, too! The biggest expense for the companies running these trips is fuel.
What I just described is the 2-star motel of scuba diving.
Liveaboards are the 5-star hotels of scuba diving. You are brought to this huge vessel, and right away you’re thrown into this all-you-can-eat scuba-diving marathon. The rooms are super comfortable and the food is amazing.
The best of all though: when the PA system turns on, and you hear dive manager through the boat saying “Alright everyone, it’s time for your next dive briefing”, you get up from your bed, walk 30 seconds, get your dive briefing, walk another 30 seconds, put on your gear, walk 30 seconds, and jump into the sea.
It’s my new definition of paradise. It makes diving 5 times more fun.
Oh, and of course, after your dive, you’re only 30 seconds away from your bed. However you don’t get to enjoy your bed that much, because with 5 dives every day, you’re pretty much hearing: “Alright everyone, it’s time for your next dive briefing” all the time. It’s a marathon, one dive after the other.
Over 3 days, I did 12 dives — I previously only had a total of 7, so you can imagine the experience we gained through that.
To Hell With the Dives Guides
Every dive we’ve done before, you’re assigned a guide and a group. That’s essentially part of the package. The dive guide is usually quite experienced, and knows the dive site inside and out.
Having someone who knows the place is really nice: they know where the interesting things are, they know how to find fish that are hidden or tricky to find.
The downside, is that you end up in a group of 6 people, and everybody is stepping on each other, the person in front of you is finning in your face (a big risk is getting a fin in the face, and losing your mask or your regulator).
Now with 40+ divers on the boat, that’s not really an option. You essentially just find a dive buddy (👋 Hey Maeghan!), and they give you a site briefing. Essentially it’s a map of the dive site, and a dive master who knows the site inside out tells you what the interesting things are.
And off you go, alone with your buddy, with only a full air tank, a memory of a hand-drawn map and all your courage.
It is SO much better than being in a large group. No strangers swimming into you, no confusion, the decisions are easy to take… I don’t want to go back.
Want to hear something scary? It’s jellyfish season. Normally that wouldn’t stress me too much, but this region of Australia is home to the Irukanji jellyfish. A jellyfish smaller than your fingernail that has a sting poisonous enough to kill you. At this size, it’s essentially invisible while you’re diving.
The poison induces what would be a 10 out of 10 pain that you’ll hang on to for 6 to 12 days, and someone is intense enough that will give you heart problems, and maybe kill you.
So if you saw our diving photos, and were wondering what these weird black and yellow full bodysuits we were wearing are… well they’re stingsuits, designed to protect us from jellyfish stings.
I Wear My Sunglasses At Night
I also had the opportunity to experience my first night dives. Yeah, that’s a thing. Essentially as the sun is going down, you get your gear ready, and jump in the water with a light torch or flashlight.
Why would you want to do that??
At night, the life on the reef is actually very different. A lot of smaller fish come out of the corals to use the cover of darkness to go about their business.
That’s also when a lot of predators come out to prey on these unsuspecting fish. Sharks. Hell yeah.
It’s pitch black down there. You can’t see anything but what’s in the beam of your torchlight. Sometimes, you’ll shine your light into the abyss, and catch a quick glimpse of a black-tip reef shark, on the prowl. It’s a pretty cool experience.
Some of the larger fish actually learned to use the divers’ lights to hunt. As we’re exploring, they will start following us, just hanging around. If you shine your light for too long on a school of small fish that were using the cover of darkness to swim around, these bigger predators will quickly attack them for an easy dinner.
As the dive masters asked of us: “Please only shine your light on ugly fish so that we still have pretty fish to look at tomorrow morning”.
For me, this was the coolest experience we’ve had on this trip. I would have stayed much longer (although I was quite wasted after 12 dives), but we’ll have more opportunities.
As I’m writing this, I have a bunch of open tabs on my browser for liveaboards in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.
If you are a diver and have never tried this, don’t wait and make this your next dive vacation, you won’t regret it.
See more on our website www.alittledetour.ca🌏✈️👫