If you are anything like me, then you have a bucket list of things to do around the world. On my list was the opportunity to dive the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. After finding a great flight deal from my home base, I knew I would have to seize the moment and go for it while there.
I did some research about 2-weeks prior to my trip. I found that the most popular way to see the reef was via Cairns (pronounced Cans). I booked a cheap flight from Sydney to Cairns for 3 nights. I had read on many of the websites for diving that you must wait at least 18 hours to fly after diving. Your tour company will also ask you several times about your flight time.
I came across a company via Viator.com and initially booked with them. However, after actually getting confirmed, the company let me know that they would not be sailing on my dates. So the booking was cancelled. I asked for their recommendation on a new operator and they led me to Passions of Paradise.
The price for Passions of Paradise was about $10 more than my original ticket at $168 USD. I booked the snorkel and intro dive package which included lunch, snacks, water, all dive and snorkel equipment including wet suits, and a short marine biology presentation.
On the day of the sailing, I headed to the Cairns Reef Terminal. This is where all of the boats dock that head out each day. After a quick check-in to receive my boarding pass, I made my way to the boat. Once on the boat, we were given medical questionnaires to complete to ensure we were eligible to dive. While some of the restrictions can be found on each companies website, they are not all listed. I know for a fact that certain medical conditions as well as actively taking certain medications will prevent you from diving. You should get a medical clearance from your primary care physician if you are in doubt, just so you won’t have issues the day of.
The questionnaire asks detailed information about any medications that you may be taking, the dosage, and frequency. I suffer from sinuses and allergies so I take a daily pill. The staff onboard had to get this approved before I was able to dive. They wanted to ensure that I would be able to equalize aka pop my ears from the pressure when needed underwater. After having to get two approvals, I was finally given the green light to dive.
Based on the number of people onboard doing an intro dive, the staff will split you into smaller groups. With the intro dive, up to 4 people are assigned to one professional diver. They must be able to guide you the entire time during the dive so the groups are small.
We suited up in our wetsuits, vests, tanks, and masks and waited for further instruction. We had to go through a series of tests to make sure we could handle the dive. They were pretty simple tests that taught us how to clear our masks underwater, how to clear our air tubes, and also basic hand signals to use once under.
After going through the tests once above water, we were slowly lowered down via ropes that were set up to go over the tests again underwater. Once the dive instructor was satisfied with our handling of the test, they slowly guided us down for the initial dive.
The initial dive lasts about 30 minutes, just long enough for the amount of air that was in our tanks. It was pretty cool. We saw quite a few corals and fish. However, if it is your first dive it is hard to truly enjoy it because you are focused on making sure you don’t drown. By the time the dive is over, you are finally comfortable underwater.
Once you come up, you are offered the chance to do a second dive for $45 AUD. With this dive, you are given more time underwater since you will no longer need to do all of the tests. You are also taken to a second dive site, which for my sailing had better underwater life as well. However, each sailing varies as far as where the ship may stop.
After you complete your dive, you are able to spend the remaining time at the site snorkeling. There is a photographer onboard who takes awesome photos underwater. The key to getting a great shot is to try to keep your body parallel to the ocean floor and swim toward the camera. The photos were $25 for one shot or all of your photos for around $60 AUD. (Keep in mind that AUD is higher than what it would convert to in USD so it’s not that much honestly.) Lucky for me, the photographer gave me 3 shots for the price of 1. (WINNING!)
All in all, I definitely say it was money well spent. I opted to do both dives because in my mind I realized I may never get this opportunity again. I felt way more comfortable during my second dive, but I didn’t dive for the entire time because I was starting to get tired.
It does require some strength to be able to kick your legs and move as needed. There is a built in flotation device on your vest that the guide will adjust as needed to help you sink or float while under. Having the guide was very helpful because they knew exactly where to take you and it was just great having that reassurance while diving for the first time.
I would definitely dive again one day. It was just like being in a giant aquarium.