There are certain things that sit high on any backpackers tick list when traveling around Australia.
One thing most backpackers will want to experience on the east coast trail is the Great Barrier Reef – one of the natural wonders of the world.
And of course there’s no better way to explore this immense natural landscape then by heading under water for a spot of SCUBA diving – with the most popular jump off point being Cairns in northern Queensland.
Back To Where I Began My Backpacking Adventures
Cairns is actually where I started my backpacking adventures back in 2009 and heading back there after nearly 3 years was an amazing walk down memory lane – with the goon fuelled nights in Gilligans hostel being the majority of them!
In actual fact Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef is also where I first learnt to dive myself – on a live aboard boat with Deep Sea Divers Den, so on my return I could think of no better company to head out and revisit the reef..
Maximum Dives, Maximum Comfort
Given the brief stint I had in Cairns and the fact I needed to fly back down to for the Vivid Sydney Festival (and you can’t dive within 24 hours of flying) I was pretty pushed for time, but at the same time wanted to fit in as much diving as I could.
The answer was a 2 day, 1 night stint on Deep Sea Divers Den Taka boat – an all inclusive experience which covered food, refreshments, all dive equipment, a night on the boat and up to 7 dives during that time period. Perfect!
So I jumped aboard their day boat and was ferried out the the GBR, some 90mins boat journey away and it wasn’t long before we geared up for our first dive of the day.
Now I’ve dived alot in the last 12 months (mainly due to getting started on my dive masters in Phi Phi, Thailand) and have had some incredible experience underwater – including diving with whale sharks on Koh Tao and the gorgeous seascapes when on a live aboard with Khao Lak Scuba.
In comparison with the warm tropical waters I must admit the barrier reef second time around was a slight let down mainly due to the fact unfortunately the visibility wasn’t entirely favourable during my 2 days on the boat.
Even so the sheer scale of the coral walls and the marine life that inhabits it is amazing – but I must admit that these days I favour diving with big marine life.
One of the great things about heading out to the reef with DSDD is the fact they have an amazing underwater photographer called Tom Fone who dives around and grabs some great professional shots of your diving experience – including a great shot of you ‘finding nemo’, always a great one to annoy people on Facebook with!
After moving dive site and exploring another underwater wonderland which included rays, white tip sharks and coral trout it was time to board our boat for the night – the Taka.
Diving in The Dark
Now the Taka is actually a different boat than what I stayed on during my last visit – mainly due to the fact it’s low season and their premium over night vessel had been rented out by a mining company for floating accomodation for workers further north!
The Taka is usually the longer stay boat for dives at the infamous Cod Hole (something that is firmly on my travel bucket list for the future!)
Still the Taka boasted all the comfort of it’s slightly more upmarket sister, with a spacious dinning and living room, comfy air con bedrooms and a generous upper deck space for catching some sun in between dives!
After pairing up with another solo traveller as a dive buddy we hit the water for some more dives and I was stoked to find out I hadn’t lost all the dive skills the lovely Ally Toullec passed on during my time in Thailand – although my navigation skills unfortunately failed to turn up a turtle sighting!
The highlight of my time onboard the Taka came during the last dive of the first day – a night dive.
Yup, diving in the pitch black in the arse end of no where off the back of a boat surrounded by complete strangers!
Weirdly enough though I actually prefer night dives to day dives sometimes. The coral is most active and you get to experience the marine life that usually hides away at night – such as lobsters and crabs.
And of course with the cover of darkness the sharks come out to hunt alongside the GT’s!
Plunging off the boat into a horde of fish attracted by the boat lights and a heap of reef tip sharks was still rather daunting, but with my dive guide for the night and a torch the nerves soon subsided as we descended into the black.
Now GT fish (which are pretty bloody big!) have quickly learnt they can hunt at night easily in the light of diver torches – so we were escorted throughout our dive by a good pack of them – which was amazing to watch.
The downside to this is any amazing fish you pointed your torch at quickly became a snack! The upside though is that it’s pretty fun to let that happen!
Whats more fun though is moving the torch away as a GT speeds past towards a fish and then panning back to see it slightly concussed after hitting the reef!
The Deep Sea Divers Den Experience
Overall I still vouch for Deep Sea Divers Den as an epic company for your experience of the Great Barrier Reef. The staff are great, the boat is spacious and comfortable and the included food is nothing short of amazing!
The fact that you have access to a professional photographer on the trip is also a great bonus – especially if you want some quality shots of your time underwater (which for alot of people will be a one off) and with a CD of images costing only $49 including some of his portfolio it’s also great value, check out some of the shots he included for me [click to enlarge]
The onboard crew were super friendly and helpful and when it came to diving they were efficient and safe, allowing you to enjoy your dive and spend as much time underwater as you could, and for those wanting a bit more support they were more than happy to guide your dives and show you around.
If you’re looking for good bang for your buck – whether that be a single day intro dive package, a few nights on the reef or a full blown dive master course, a solid team of divers and a good amount of comfort they come highly recommended by myself.
Day trips to the reef start at $225 for 2 dives (or $160 for snorkelling) or you can complete your full PADI Open Water from $715 on the live aboard.
**all images on this post are © Tom Fone**