Scuba Diving The Great Barrier Reef

Scuba Dive Great Barrier ReefDid you know that the Great Barrier Reef is larger than the UK, Switzerland and Holland combined? At 2,300 kilometers long, it’s as long as the west coast of the USA—yea, Vancouver to Tijuana. That makes it the largest living structure on the planet, teeming with 600 types of corals, 1,625 species of fish, and 3,000 varieties of mollusks, and a quantity of sharks I don’t even want to know about. The Great Barrier Reef has always been a definite stop on the HoneyTrek and one we’d been training for. We got certified as open water scuba divers in 2007, with a distant dream of diving the GBR, and stepped it up to Advanced PADI divers so we could go deeper into this underwater world. The day had come and we were going to do it right with a three-day liveaboard scuba trip from Cairns to Lizard Island, exploring the far reaches of the Great Barrier Marine Park by boat and rubber fins.

 

Spirit of Freedom BoatThe tricky thing about experiencing a place as famous as the Great Barrier Reef…the volume of tourists. How to avoid them? Go on a live-aboard scuba trip. We set out to sea with the ultra-fabulous Spirit of Freedom on their three-day Cod Hole and Ribbon Reefs Dive Adventure. Somewhere between a Naval vessel and a yacht, it had a dive deck, sun deck, dining room, 11 cabins, and a staff of master divers, deep-sea captains, and a gourmet chef. It’s the ultimate way to take in the GBR.

 

Spirit of Freedom DiversEach morning we would wake up for a light breakfast, suit up, and get briefed on the day’s dives (as many as five per day). We focused on the Ribbon Reefs, ten string-shaped coral reefs in the remote northern sector of the protected park–hitting prime spots like Dynamite Pass, Pixie Pinnacle and the legendary Cod Hole. Rene, our spunky savvy dive leader (“Dive Time, guys!!!”), would explain each site’s unique terrain, visibility, maximum depths, bottom time, and most importantly the best sea life to spot.

 

Collage of Great Barrier sealifeWe encountered literally hundreds of types of fish but here are a few of our favorites : White tip reef sharks, spotted sting ray, hawksbill turtles, sea snakes, giant clams, diagonal banded sweet lips, puffer fish, giant travally, Maori Wrasse, barracuda, and the always adorable Nemo the Clown Fish.

 

Photos can’t capture the way soft corals move with the tide, how quickly a shark can change direction, the grace of a sting ray, or the electric flashes of the disco clam (yes, the disco clam). You’ll just have to watch the video.

 

Scuba diving Cod HoleThe liveaboard gave us access to so many incredible lesser-known dive sites…but when in the GBR, you have to see the world-famous Cod Hole. A family of Potato Cod like to hang out in Ribbon Reef #10 and swim up to scuba divers, especially when park-sanctioned fish food is on hand. This area is highly regulated but a small amount of divers are allowed to feed the cod each day. At the bottom of the sea floor, we sat in a circle while 200-pound fish (that can reach 8.5 feet in length) swam inches from our face, pursing their voluptuous lips. An wild encounter, for sure.

 

Learning underwater navigationWhile on board with so many instructors and three days to dive, we decided it was time to up our game and get our Advanced Open Water Diver certification. To get certified, we had to take a series of written and physical tests, including a “deep dive” to the level where nitrogen narcosis sets in (essentially drunkenness from gases found at depths of 90+ feet), and underwater navigation. While getting loopy under ‘da sea was a hoot, navigation was where it got real. It’s hard to find a reference point in the blue abyss and easy to drift off when you don’t have a guide to follow, unless you have some training. We learned how to watch the wind for current cues, identify fixed objects to return to, and use an underwater compass to stay on track.

 

night diving with sharks in AustraliaImagine diving at night, when all the predators come out, with only a beam of a flashlight to cut through the dark water. A shark darts through your short-range light, then he disappears. You can’t see him, but he can see you….This is a night dive and the last key element of the Advanced Open Water course. A few things to remember: sharks don’t want to eat humans, they want the fish you illuminate. To avoid the open buffet and guilty conscience, keep your light moving and don’t cause more than one fish to become dinner.

 

spirit of freedom boat partyTo celebrate the newly advanced divers and our crew’s awesome trip through the Great Barrier Reef, Spirit of Freedom threw a great party. As a group, we had seen so many amazing sites and had grown to accept each other with unruly hair and goggle-dented faces. A bond had been formed and could only be sealed by dancing until the 2am.

 

flight from lizard islandTwo-hundred and forty kilometers and three-days-at-sea later, we set foot on dry land. Lizard Island is a gorgeous place with just enough land for a few hikes and an airstrip. We flew back to Cairns, passing hundreds of islands, shoals, cays, and reefs we’d explored from below. If we weren’t divers, we would just look down and think, “That’s pretty,” but instead we felt a sense of pride, like we had keys to a whole new world.

 

Great Barrier Reef-photo gallery
SEE MORE PHOTOS IN OUR
GREAT BARRIER REEF SLIDESHOW

 

18 thoughts on “Scuba Diving The Great Barrier Reef

  • March 27, 2015 at 9:44 am
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    Hi Mike & Anne, cool post.
    It’s been a while since I’ve been diving and I’ve never dived at the reef. I love the idea of sitting on an ocean floor (that transparent) near whopping fish. Your photos are great too. And Lizard Island! Ah, another place I must get to…

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    • March 27, 2015 at 10:42 am
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      Andy, let’s get you diving again! The Great Barrier Reef is as epic as it sounds and hanging out with the giant Cod was unlike any other experience. Thanks so much for kind words on the blog– we are happy to have you along for the ride! More scuba trips to come in our upcoming Philippines and Indonesia blogs, stay tuned!

      Reply
  • March 27, 2015 at 7:55 pm
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    Awesome way to do the reef. I

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    • March 27, 2015 at 11:10 pm
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      We done tons of two-tank day trips but a liveaboard puts you in a whole new scuba state of mind. We became so much more relaxed and appreciative of our surroundings, plus the getting far away from the tourist zone offered the best coral and fish viewing!

      Reply
  • March 27, 2015 at 7:57 pm
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    Awesome way to dive the reef! I went out there a number of years ago on a one day trip, which was cool, but the hour and half journey through the ocean chop made everyone seasick. Great idea to get out there and stay out there, enjoying it.

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    • March 27, 2015 at 11:13 pm
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      That’s great you got to check out the GBR! Spirit of Freedom was super smooth and live-aboards in general changed our whole view of scuba diving. We liked it so much we did it in Indonesia as well.

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  • March 28, 2015 at 5:49 am
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    I’m not a diver, but I’ve snorkeled the GBR and loved every minute of it! Love your photos!

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    • March 29, 2015 at 10:59 pm
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      So cool you got to go to the GBR, Corinne! And good to hear the underwater experience is good for snorkelers too. Thanks for the photo love!

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  • March 28, 2015 at 7:48 pm
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    Hi Mike and Anne,

    Wow!

    That West Coast stat is stunning!

    I had no idea the GBF was that huge.

    Inspired pictures and wonderful facts.

    Thanks Guys 🙂

    Tweeting from Bali.

    Ryan

    Reply
    • March 29, 2015 at 10:57 pm
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      The GBR is crazy big! I’ve lived on the west coast the majority of my life and still haven’t seen it all by car…much less by fin! We’ll have to go back. How’s the sccba in Bali? The scuba in Flores was unreal! Thanks for your nice comment!

      Reply
  • April 1, 2015 at 10:58 am
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    I’m so jealous you saw Lion Fish- I’ve wanted to find one for ever!

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    • April 1, 2015 at 12:48 pm
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      They are stunning! The first time I saw a lionfish, I didn’t know what it was and swam right up to a family of them..lucky they didn’t get feisty with me, they’re beautiful but dangerous!

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      • April 12, 2015 at 5:56 am
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        Oh wow, that was lucky. A whole family?! Must have been incredible!

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  • April 1, 2015 at 12:31 pm
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    It looks like you had a great dive trip! Amazing photos… A live-aboard is THE way to get a lot of diving in and explore places that would otherwise take hours to get to. Years ago, we spent a few days on a basic live-aboard in the Similan Islands off Thailand. Then last year, we upped our game and spent a week on a luxurious “phinisi” live-aboard in Komodo, Indonesia. Can’t wait for our next scuba adventure :-). Maybe the Great Barrier Reef?

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    • April 1, 2015 at 12:51 pm
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      Ooo the Similans, how was the diving there? We did our next liveaboard in Kimodo and it was absolutely incredible. Talk about a drift dive! Scuba in the GBR is definitely more expensive but a liveaboard there is worth the extra dough!

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  • April 16, 2015 at 3:19 am
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    Scuba diving is really hard and risky but very fun and addictive. I started loving this underwater sport when I first tried scuba diving in Cebu, Philippines. Aside from the many things you need to bring, remember and do like watching current cues, spotting objects/points to help us know the way in going back and most importantly, compass (which should always be at hand), it is very important to be emotionally and physically stable. By the way, nice pictures. 🙂

    Reply

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