Updated: 11/4/2018 | November 4th, 2018
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the best dive sites in the world. Running up and down Queensland’s east coast in Australia, there are tons of fish to see as well as beautiful, vibrant coral. I was excited to use my newly acquired dive skills and dive the Great Barrier Reef while I was in Cairns. You always hear how great it is and I wanted to see it first hand.
The reef itself is massive, covering over 344,000 square kilometers. For comparison, that’s the size of 70 MILLION football fields. Attracting over 2 million visitors each year, it’s often considered one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, and it’s so big that it can actually be seen from space! The Great Barrier Reef is actually a collection of almost 3,000 individual reefs, making it the world’s largest structure made by living organisms.
Over the past three decades, it’s seen a rapid decline in coral, losing almost 50% of its coral due to climate change and pollution. But there is still plenty to see during your dive.
You can expect to see clownfish (like Nemo!), groupers, butterflyfish, and maybe even some turtles (there are actually 6 species of turtle living around the reef), sharks, and more when you go diving there.
What’s diving the barrier reef like?
Simply put, it’s amazing! I went with Tusa Dive. Waking up early, I checked in for my dive around 7:30am and we headed out to do 2 dives. There were about 90 minutes of travel time before the first dive site, and then another 90 minutes to get back to land afterward. The dive sites were close together so we only had a short break in between. Expect to get back to land between 4-5pm, depending on which sites you go to.
And, while I can use words to explain it, a picture is worth a thousand words — and a video worth 10,000 so here’s a video of my dive experience:
Tips for Diving the Great Barrier Reef
- Make sure you go with a company that has many dive permits. That allows them to choose the best dive site based on the same conditions and change reefs if one might be too popular.
- Though Cairns is the most popular jumping off spot, leaving from Port Douglas, Townsville, or Cape York will get you to much less touristy parts of the reef that are better preserved.
- Even if you don’t want to dive, most dive trips will let you join and snorkel the reef.
- If you don’t have a dive camera, most of the bigger boats have some for rent. Expect to pay at least 60 AUD for a rental.
- Consider a multi-day trip if you’re a seasoned diver. You’ll get much more time on the reef and be able to visit different areas. Expect to pay at least 500 AUD per person for a multi-day, liveaboard trip.
- Don’t touch the coral. It’s a living organism and touching it can kill it. Do your part to preserve the reef and only touch areas your instructor says you can.
- Make sure your travel insurance covers diving before you go.
- Make sure you bring a hat and sunscreen. Don’t get sunburned or dehydrated before you dive!
Diving the Great Barrier Reef Logistics
Introductory dives (which are shorter in duration) for new divers will cost between 100-200 AUD, depending on where in the reef you go. Standard dives and dive packages will start around 200 AUD per person. The best way to save money is to book multi-dive packages. That way, the more you dive the more money you save. Discounts will also be available if you have your own equipment.
I went with Tusa on the Tusa T5 and they have 15 dive spots, which is apparently the most out of any company in Cairns. Some other suggested companies are: Quicksilver, Pro Dive Cairns, and Silverswift.
If diving isn’t your cup of tea, you can also go snorkeling. There are companies that can take you out to the reef for snorkeling tours (many of the diving companies also run snorkeling tours). They provide all the gear, and you can book for single or multi-day trips (just like with scuba diving). Each session usually lasts around 30 minutes for beginners and 40-60 minutes for more experienced snorkelers.
Snorkeling day trips, which usually include visits to multiple spots on the reef as well as lunch, will cost at least 200 AUD per person.
Generally, the best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef is between June and October. This is because the temperatures are consistently warm and it doesn’t rain often so the water will be clearer (leading to better conditions for diving/snorkeling).
The Great Barrier Reef was like nothing else I’ve ever seen. I’d done a bunch of diving before but diving the reef was one of the highlights of my entire time in Australia. It was really nice to get away from the other boats and get to have the reef to myself. The further out you go, the nicer the reef gets.
With reports of coral bleaching increasing and large parts of the reef dying off due to warmer ocean temperatures, it’s probably best to try to visit and dive the reef as soon as possible before it all disappears. It’s worth the trip! Trust me!
Book Your Trip to Australia: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned. Start with Skyscanner first though because they have the biggest reach!
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. My favorite places to stay are:
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- Safety Wing (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.
Want More Information on Australia?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Australia for even more planning tips!