The Great Barrier Reef is clearly visible from space at over 2,300 kilometres long, is made up from over 2,900 individual reefs, 600 islands and 300 coral cays. Home to over 1,500 types of fish, six of the world’s seven sea turtles and internationally recognized as one of the greatest natural wonders in the world, this is a definite ‘must-do’ in anyone’s lifetime. After spending the last four years exploring the entire length of this incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ben Southall shares his top five tips to making the most of your SCUBA diving adventure. Whether you’re new to the game or a seasoned bubble-blower, you’ll definitely want to head down under after reading this:
First Timer? Head out to a Pontoon
If you want to dive with Nemo and his friends but haven’t tried it before (or are still a beginner), then the best way is to get on-board one of many operators who head out to a pontoon on the reef every day via the gateways of Cairns, Port Douglas or the Whitsundays. It’s an easy, user-friendly way to dive the Great Barrier Reef and everything is supplied for you. The pontoons are located at some of the safest and most interesting locations on the reef with vast coral gardens and abundant marine life. It’s guaranteed to make you smile for the camera!
Experienced Diver? Submerge Yourself in an Island Paradise
If you take diving a bit more seriously and it’s the focus of your trip to Queensland, then you need to get away from the tourist areas and adopt a Robinson Crusoe-style of life on a tropical island. Lady Elliot (my favourite island on the entire reef) and Heron Island at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef are coral cays (islands formed by sand building up on a coral reef) that offer some superb diving conditions right on the edge of the continental shelf.
Expect to see bigger marine life here from Sea Turtles and Reef Sharks, to graceful Manta Rays and even migrating Humpback Whales between July and November. One for the adventurous diver for sure!
Head to North Queensland for a Truly Tropical Experience
The Ribbon Reefs are a chain of ten individual coral reefs that run for 120 kilometres to the north of Cairns and simply have to be visited. Dive sites such as Steve’s Bommie, The Pinnacle and The Cod Hole all have international recognition and any time spent underwater here, will have you wide-eyed in amazement. The warm waters are home to a myriad of tropical fish and marine life, the corals are bigger and more colourful plus the visibility is simply incredible. You’ll need more than just a day trip to appreciate it though, a number of liveaboard dive operators run two to five day trips out of Cairns and Port Douglas. Make sure you pack an underwater camera and a charger.
Get Wrecked at the SS Yongala – Home to the Big Stuff
The Great Barrier Reef has been a navigational nightmare for sailors since Captain Cook hit a shallow reef back in 1770. But the most famous shipwreck (and now the most famous wreck dive) is that of the S.S. Yongala, a passenger ship that sank in 1911 during a cyclone and now lays 25 metres below the surface. It’s a marine-life oasis in the middle of an underwater desert and everything seems to flock here; big bull rays, big bull sharks, big loggerhead turtles and huge schools of fish hugging the hull of the ship. It’s definitely an adventurous, challenging dive, but boy is it worth it!
Unadulterated Diving Heaven – Take a Liveaboard Trip
If you’re a die-hard diver then a couple of days at sea are never enough. Embarking on a liveaboard expedition gives you the chance to explore the Great Barrier Reef to a much greater depth – excuse the pun. Heading north from Cairns with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions take you through the Ribbon Reefs, past Acropolis Reef (the most abundant coral reef I’ve ever dived on) and 140 kilometres out into the Coral Sea to Osprey Reef to witness a shark feed; it’s sure to get the adrenalin pumping and the heart racing as the big guys come in for the feast.
If you visit during the winter months of June and July, there’s the added bonus of snorkelling with Dwarf Minke Whales, eight-metre long gentle giants, who’s cruise so close, you can literally look them in the eye. One of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had.
You’ll never tire of exploring the Great Barrier Reef; leave your troubles behind, focus on the underwater world and enjoy some of the most unforgettable experiences you’ll ever have. I came for six months and am still here four years later – that says it all!
Looking to plan your trip to the Great Barrier Reef? For the month of February, we’ve got Queensland on Sale! Contact one of our Travel Consultants at 1-877-967-5302 or find your closest store to get started!