How many of you guys and gals reading this blog have got ‘scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef’ written on your bucket list? It was right at the top of mine, a piece of forlorn paper pinned to my bedroom mirror, getting older, sadder, and more neglected as the days ticked by.
Fortunately, I had the perfect opportunity to slyly get myself up there, under the rouse of a birthday present for my boyfriend – probably the most self-indulgent present I will ever buy in my ENTIRE life.
We’re based in Sydney, and we are both already divers, although that is definitely not a prerequisite of experiencing the underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef through the lenses of a scuba diving mask. As he was actually doing his training to get up to Dive Master (ooOOOOoooooh), we were frequent customers of Abyss Scuba Diving down here (side note: a great dive shop if you’re down this way – try their seal dive!). Abyss have a few connections with dive shops and companies up in Cairns, and after a few conversations, I decided that the best option was to dive the Great Barrier Reef with Deep Sea Divers Den.
Deep Sea Divers Den offer a variety of Great Barrier Reef scuba diving and snorkeling tours, and they all depart from the seafront in Cairns. If you’re short of time, the day trip is all well and good, but if you’re making the effort to go all the way out there, then you should really book a bed on OceanQuest, their liveaboard ship.
Types of Trip
We opted for the longest possible trip, three nights and four days, however Deep Sea Divers Den offer shorter trips, and you can pretty much opt for as many nights as you want.
I will say that it’s definitely worth doing at least one night, as it gives you a chance to visit multiple dive sites on the reefs that they moor at. It will also give you a chance to experience a night dive. If you haven’t ever done a night dive before, then try to get on for two nights, as then you can experience the once-in-a-lifetime fluro night dive (you’ve got to have night dive experience in order to do this one).
The day trips are probably perfect for those who are a little nervous of staying on a boat, or who are pushed for time. But quite honestly, I reckon that that’s a bit of a cop-out. If you really care that much about experiencing the reef, then do it properly. Don’t you want to be able to say that you slept bobbing on the ocean about one of the best natural wonders of the world?
Deep Sea Divers Den have mooring blocks at three of four reefs on the Southern Reefs of the GBR. Arguably, this is the best area of the Great Barrier Reef to dive on, as the coral bleaching is less severe than the North.
On our trip we visited the Norman Reef and the Saxon Reef across four days of diving, with five to six sites at each reef. Each site was a different experience in terms of depth and what we saw, and in my dive log I’ve recorded sea critters such as Moorish Idol, Clown Triggerfish (James hilariously got bitten by one of these highly territorial little dudes), Reef Sharks, Sea Turtles, Unicornfish, Moray Eels and Barracuda. I maxed out my depth towards the end of the trip, descending to 30 meters that was awesome.
The water was incredibly warm compared to the chills of Sydney: it was 26 degrees in October, compared to around 17. It blew my boyfriends mind as he had only ever dove in Sydney, so much so that he did the entire trip weight-free.
The laws on the Great Barrier Reef dictate how much each boat can feed the marine life. Deep Sea Divers Den have a routine of fish feeding every evening. When they turn on the back flood lights, the fish congregate, closely followed by the sharks. You can stand on the deck and watch them below, or if you are night diving, you will descend through them. IT WAS SO COOL.
Before this trip, I had never done a night dive before. In all honesty, before this trip I was a pretty nervous diver. My experiences in the past have sometimes been less than ideal, and before I moved to the UAE I was pretty skeptical of the ocean.
After a day of diving, I felt pretty comfortable with my boyfriend by my side, and I wanted to max out my experiences whilst on the trip. If you have never done a night dive before, Deep Sea Divers Den will happily take you down to see what you can spot, but you have to do it with an instructor (it’s an extra $15 for every dive that you do with an instructor on the trip).
To be honest, I found the night dive pretty underwhelming. There wasn’t a huge amount that we could see, other than the occasional reflective flash of the eyes of a shrimp, or a couple of parrot fish floating in their sleep bubble. Also, there was an extremely nervous girl in our group who panicked every time that her boyfriend and diving buddy left her side, so she would bomb it back to him, pushing everybody else out of her way, when most of us were struggling with out buoyancy in these new dark conditions. I watched in envy as I saw the silhouette of my boyfriend with his new diving buddies inside a cave.
Fluro Night Dive
The fluro night dive is a fluorescent night dive. For an extra $50, you strap UV filters to your mask (and GoPro if you have one) and descend with a UV torch. With this new sight, the reef becomes a 90s rave; all of the coral looks as though it has been coloured with a pack of highlighters.
This is a unique experience with Deep Sea Divers Den, and was well worth suffering through the first night dive for. A shout out of apologies for those that did this dive with me: my buoyancy was terrible and I had to spend the last 10 minutes hovering away from the coral as I was ruining it for everyone.
I completed 16 dives over four days, and James did 17. It’s an intense regime, but it guarantees that you get what you pay for. Five dives a day were offered: the first at 6am, and the last at night. There is no pressure for you to do every one, but why else are you there?
At first, I thought I would hate getting in and out of a cold and wet wetsuit that often, but it was so warm that it didn’t bother me at all. If anything, I looked forward to getting back into the water, as it was basically like getting into a bath.
The boat itself seemed a little dated, but you’re not there for the aesthetic, and it was actually quite charming in its own way.
We booked a double room, and had a little en-suite shower and toilet. It was big enough for us to have our suitcases on the floor, however, if you stick to the dive timetable you will be spending minimal time in your bedroom. I was only in there to collapse on the bed and pass out every night.
Deep Sea Divers Den employs a chef to work onboard for the duration of your stay. My expectations were not high for the food quality, but I was pleasantly surprised. There is a buffet breakfast every morning, and lunch and dinner were always fulfilling.
They do request that you let them know of any dietary requirements beforehand. I’m a fussy eater, and as I am not allergic to anything, I hate that term ‘dietary requirements’. How do you tell people that you don’t like red meat or fish? In the past, it hasn’t been a problem because I will just have more vegetables and not the meat. However, I did encounter a slight issue with the hostess on my second day when we were given some kind of fish with vegetables. I told her that I did not like fish (never have done, never will) and asked her if I could just have the vegetables so she could give the fish to somebody else. Unfortunately for her, and me she interrupted me by shaking her head and grabbing the plate from me, before stating that I should have told them previously, insinuating that there was nothing that they could do. I get that I should have told them, but had she let me finish my sentence she would have heard that I had a solution already. I was fairly annoyed that I was spoken to like that, having spent a small fortune to be there.
To be frank I was pretty surprised that a Great Barrier Reef scuba diving trip were serving fish, what with the issues of overfishing and environmental deterioration. But hey ho.
Other than the ‘blip’ that I have already mentioned, the staff were amazing. We spent most of our trip with the instructor-in-training, Adam. He took us on our night dives, he was fun, and he often ate with us too. Having funny, kind, and good-natured employees is so important on an expensive and immersive experience like that, and on the most-part Deep Sea Divers Den were perfect.
The only time that my fear of the ocean and my nerves of diving reared their ugly head, was when I surfaced after the fluro night dive, alone, and took off my mask. it was incredibly choppy and I got a good face-full of seawater. I exclaimed some fairly specific language to myself, and just like that, as smooth as anything, the instructor-in-training, Patrick appeared from nowhere to reassure me and help me back to the boat.
We had most of our own equipment which made our experience slightly different to most, however I used company wetsuits, BCDs, tanks, and regulators. I had no issues with my equipment and all seemed in pretty good nick. They have hundreds of wetsuits in different sizes hanging on the deck, and before each dive you grab one and suit up.
The biggest downside for me was that they used weight belts, and I have got used to the luxury of weight-integrated BCDs, which are so much more comfortable.
I spent a lot of time researching how to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef, and I feel like I had a once in a lifetime experience doing it with Deep Sea Divers Den. I could not recommend them enough, and I hope that this break down of our trip helps point you in the right direction for your bucket list trip.
Have you already been on a trip toe the Great Barrier Reef? Did you dive with Deep Sea Divers Den? How was your experience? I would love to hear about it in the comments.