From the day I earned my open water diving certification in the Cayman Islands, I knew that someday I wanted to scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef. I had heard so much about how amazing it was and I wanted to experience it for myself. It was my ultimate diving dream.
My time to fulfill that dream occurred in 2017 when I decided to finally book a trip to Australia. The trip was two weeks long and included time in Sydney, Canberra, Uluru and finally, the Great Barrier Reef.
Where to Stay
I stayed in the town of Port Douglas while I was visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Port Douglas is roughly a one-hour drive north of Cairns. It is said to have it all, including:
- The aquamarine waters of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR)
- The canopy of the Daintree Rain Forest
- The creeks of Mossman Gorge
- The palm fringed sands of Four Mile Beach.
Port Douglas is the only place on Earth where two World Heritage sites (the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rain Forest) meet.
I stayed at the Shantara Resort. It was clean, safe and within walking distance of the main road lined with many restaurants and shops. The rooms were full of hard surfaces, no carpet, which was perfect for all of my wet swimsuits and diving gear. The resort also had a couple of nice pools, which I liked to dip into after long days of diving.
It was the perfect home base for visiting the GBR and I would definitely recommend to others.
Choosing a Dive Company
There are lots of things to think about when choosing a dive company. I do extensive research before booking reservations with a dive company, no matter what part of the world I am in. My life depends on the quality and maintenance of their equipment and the expertise and experience of their dive masters. I will not compromise of any of these things and will pay more for them.
Because I booked this trip through a travel agent, I didn’t get to pick out the dive company. It would be the first time I didn’t get to research and choose my dive company. It made me very nervous. .
The travel agency chose the company Quicksilver. When I first looked at the company’s website, I was nervous because the boats are very large. Large boats means a lot of people on the boat.
Instantly I wondered “What is the ratio of dive master to diver?” This is very important to me. I was assured there were only a safe number of divers per dive master for each trip under the water. Since they had experience with this company, I decided to trust them.
I found out on our first day of diving that most of the passengers on the boats were snorkelers, not scuba divers. This worked out well so my worries were for naught. The process was always the same. Once we arrived at our dive sight, the divers would get their gear on and get into the water and take off and then the snorkelers would jump in after that.
The reefs we dove were over two hours from shore both days so the large boat was appreciated (and probably necessary). The boats had decent food and the staff was always really friendly.
The first day, I was on a boat called Silversonic. The second day, Poseidon.
Day One of Diving the Great Barrier Reef
Before Australia, my last time scuba diving was four years prior in Maui. I was nervous about being rusty so before I left, I took a refresher course in Chicago at Underwater Safaris. Underwater Safaris is where I did my pool training before getting my certification so I was very familiar with the place. The refresher course went fine. The instructor told me I was all set.
Except I really wasn’t.
My first dive at the Great Barrier Reef did not go well.
My weight belt wasn’t adjusted correctly on the boat and when the dive master went to fix it in the water, it ended up being way too tight. I couldn’t breath and then I panicked. Then I decided I couldn’t do that dive so I went back to the boat. I was very deflated, sad and angry with myself. Diving is easy for many people but it is not for me.
There is a lot of equipment involved and so many rules to remember. I get overwhelmed. Diving is one activity that I would probably do better with if I was doing it with a friend or partner. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often so I had to let it go and figure out how to move forward.
Instead of just hanging out on the boat feeling sorry for myself, I decided to grab some snorkel gear and snorkel instead. In hindsight, I should have done that from the beginning. It turned out to be a great way for me to get re-acclimated with the ocean and breathing through a device. And to make it even better, the snorkeling was really good too! I saw a shark, many schools of fish and lots of pretty coral.
The fact that I liked snorkeling was surprising to me because usually, I hate it. Most of my snorkeling adventures in the past have involved lots of getting kicked in head by other snorkelers because everyone is trying to stay together with a leader. It would drive me bonkers!
With Quicksilver, everyone jumped off the boat and did their own thing. It wasn’t coordinated with a leader. We had the freedom to swim off in any direction and go at our own pace. It was relaxing and kicked-in-the-head free. Of course after each session, they would count everyone on board to make sure everyone (divers and snorkelers) made it back on board.
Then came time for the second dive. I was determined I could do it this time!
They dropped me back with the less experience divers so I could continue to acclimate to being underwater and it went really well. We went slow. The dive instructor was very patient. It was perfect and I was happy.
So I wasn’t actually supposed to do a third dive. I only signed up for two. But because I bailed on the first one, they let me do the third and do it without being charged. This was very kind of them. It might seem like it wouldn’t matter but I wasted an air tank with my failed first dive. Luckily they had extras on board and let me use one.
I am glad they did because this dive was my favorite. It is actually my favorite dive ever, of all of them I have done since getting certified.
The less experienced divers sat this one out so it was just the dive master and me. We were at a reef called The Nursery.
There were easily thousands of fish swimming around this reef in all different shapes, sizes and colors. I have never seen anything like it. There was also vibrant coral all around. At one point, I was swimming along, looking at the coral. I looked up at my dive master and he pointed to my right. I turned that way and unbeknownst to me, I was swimming among a large school of large fish. They were right next to me, swimming along as if I was a member of their posse. It was one of coolest things I have ever experienced. I wanted to pinch myself and ask if it was real life. It made my day and helped me forget the struggles from earlier.
Day 2 of Diving the Great Barrier Reef
Diving on day two was a breeze for me. I did three dives. All of them were successful. I was comfortable being back in the water again. I was fortunate to be assigned a great diving partner on day two, which was great! We worked well together and looked out for each other. That always makes diving less stressful for me.
The actual dives were all good. There was a lot to see but none of the dives on day two compared to the dive at The Nursery from day one.
So Was Traveling All That Way to Dive the Great Barrier Reef Worth It?
Yes. Absolutely. Without a doubt in my mind.
Reflecting back on my two days of diving the Great Barrier Reef, there were some struggles but I am so glad I fought through them and did it. It truly was the experience of a lifetime and I won’t soon forget it.
If you to try diving the Great Barrier Reef, I highly recommend Quicksilver and their boats, Silversonic and Poseidon. Don’t let the size scare you away. All of their equipment and dive masters are top notch. Everyone on board is treated (and fed) very well.
If you want to read more about my adventures in Australia, you can check out other posts here and here. Happy reading! 🙂