The entire reason I decided to visit Australia was to dive the Great Barrier Reef.
I researched tons of day trip and multi-day trip options for experiencing the GBR. I finally decided on a 3-day liveaboard trip with ProDiveCairns leaving from Cairns in Queensland. The price tag, number of dives, and opportunity to go to the less-damaged outer reef convinced me it was the best choice.
Did it turn out to be the best? I cannot compare it to any other trips as it’s the only one I did, but I can say the trip receives my highest recommendation. In this post, I describe my experience and include all of the details you may want to know if you were ever interested in booking a similar trip!
If you don’t want to read the whole review, feel free to skip to “My Recommendations” below.
Preparations and pick-up
The evening before departing, I got fitted into all of my dive gear at the ProDiveCairns shop and filled out some paperwork.
Before you can dive in Australia, you need to get a Dive Medical certificate (about AUD$77 at the Cairns Medical Center) if you think you’ll need it. Luckily, I didn’t need one. If I had any recent injuries or illnesses, they would have required a medical exam before departure.
In the morning, they picked me up from my hostel and drove me and a few other passengers over to the dive shop. Everyone booked to be on the boat was at the dive shop before 7am. We completed remaining paperwork and piled back into the vans to go down to the dock.
The van drove right out onto the pier and pulled up alongside the ScubaPro III.
The boat: Rooms and Amenities
The Scuba Pro III is a 78ft (24m) catamaran able to take up to 32 passengers and 6 crew members.
I could always find a free shower or toilet despite the number of people on board, as the vessel has 8 shower-toilet combo rooms on board.
There are 16 rooms for passengers which hold 2 people per room, usually on bunk beds but there are a few double bed options. I was in a bunk room. It was small and cozy, so it’s best to leave any big luggage secured back at the shop. I was glad to have only my small one bag with me.
There are outlets in the rooms to charge your devices. They provide everyone with a souvenir/complimentary water bottle to keep yourself hydrated during the trip. Tea, coffee, water, biscuits, and fruit are also available all day if you need it between meals.
If you don’t have your own camera, as I did, dive cameras are available for hire on board for $35 per dive. But if you plan ahead a bit, you can rent one from a shop or hostel in Cairns for a much better per day rate .
The trip between Cairns and the outer reef
If you get sea sick, it’s a very good idea to take motion sickness pills prior to departure. The ocean is unforgiving on the 3-hour ride out to the reef.
We had A Perfect Storm-type waves on the way out. Even I found myself having to look at the horizon and take deep breaths—a first for me!
Thankfully, the reef offers some protection, breaking the waves enough to keep the boat steady as it’s moored to the sandy bottom.
Briefings and unguided dives
We always received a briefing before departure so we would know the general layout of the area (e.g., where all the “bommies” or reef clusters were). They also gave us the heading we would need on our compass to find certain areas and make it back to the boat.
The dive supervisor often suggested a path for us to follow—but we were completely free to do whatever we wanted because guides were not required. I took a guide for my first dive as a refresher and for my first night dive but other than that it was me, my buddy, and two others.
Sometimes the dive briefings were very funny. For example, by the last dive the supervisor drew a path on the whiteboard telling us to do all sorts of loops and figure 8’s around the bommies.
“For your last dive, you’ll go around this bommie here, then this one here, then loop back around with a heading of 278.2-degrees here.“ Everyone laughed hysterically. By now we all knew we had complete control over how we would explore the reef.
Getting to set our own path and pace was one of the best parts of the whole experience!
The gear and the crew
The crew worked their asses off to ensure we were always prepared for a safe dive.
Gear was good as new. It was clean and easy to put on independently using the benches on the back deck.
Between dives, we left the cap off our tank so the crew would know to fill it through the on-board dispenser. They always checked with us to see if we had 200 bar and, if not, they were happy to top us up.
The crew was amazingly on top of things. Since there are up to 4 dives a day (3 day, 1 night), the crew are constantly preparing for the next dive, the next briefing, or the next meal. Not once did they falter. Everything was always ready for our next meal or next dive.
If their efficiency and professionalism weren’t enough, the crew are also all extremely good humored and friendly. In particular, our dive supervisor on board was extremely sarcastic and would go in for the long setup with his jokes.
For example, he once described in great detail what we would all need to do during our night dive if a shark was nearby. He said to form a “ring of steel,” meaning everyone links arms into a circle with tanks facing out to reduce risk of injury.
For practice, he had everyone around the table link arms.
“Now, sharks smell fear. So if one of you, like you for instance,” he nods at the young Swedish girl in the group sitting next to him, “If you start to get really frightened, the shark will know and you’ll be putting us all in danger. So what we do in that situation,” he unlinks arms with her, “Is just kick you out of the ring.”
Everyone erupted with laughter! Too good. He was hilarious.
Of course, he followed up with reassurance about shark behavior. We did not need to worry one bit about shark attacks.
The food and the passengers
Our chef once baked a cake for the Queen. I repeat—he baked a cake for the QUEEN.
In other words, the food was excellent. There was always plenty of it—sometimes there was enough for seconds or even thirds!
There were vegan options at every meal, which I was thankful for when one night dinner included a beef-based meat sauce. The vegan options were excellent, too.
A huge lounge area with big tables allowed for easy conversation with the other passengers.
Most people on the boat already had their dive certifications like me, while some were finishing up their courses on board. Still, others were not there to dive at all—they were only there to snorkel! Being in such tight quarters, we all got to know each other very well, very quickly.
On the second night, the crew and some passengers had started a drinking and card game (you can bring your own alcohol). I taught everyone how to play Monkey—a hit yet again! And then the crew instigated a few more fun games all meant to be extremely ridiculous and suggestive.
For example, one game was “try to stick the snorkel through the toilet paper roll—blindfolded.” Of course, you had to hold the snorkel in between your legs while your teammate held the toilet paper roll in between theirs.
Everyone was laughing and the games produced some excellent blackmail photos.
The dive sites
The parts of the reef we went to had their own individual names. We went to Milln Reef and stopped at Petaj and The Whale (two separate sections). We also went to Flynn Reef and stopped at Gordon’s, the Tennis Courts, and the Tracy’s.
My guess is these sites were picked strategically based on the bad weather we were having, tides, currents, and all sorts of other details. As the passengers, we didn’t have to worry about any of this. The crew laid out the plan for us and all went smoothly.
The dives were never meant to go below a depth of 18m. Since the coral needs sunlight, the most colorful, most active parts of the reef were always in the shallower parts anyway.
The dive sites were absolutely teeming with life. I saw tons of coral types: brain, plate, staghorn, fan, soft corals and more. I saw tons of different fish, both small and large, from colorful little Butterfly fish and Angelfish to impressively big Maori Wrasses and reef sharks.
It’s a coral and underwater wonderland out there!
1. Do a liveaboard that will take you to the outer reef.
Day trips from the mainland to the reef are less than desirable. For one, the parts of the reef accessible from the mainland tend to be over-trafficked by tourists. The reef is more damaged and not as teeming with life as a result.
The liveaboard trip is a no-brainer in terms of getting the best deal considering what gets included. In the case of ProDiveCairns, I dove 11 times and had food, accommodation, shuttle service, and all gear covered for 3 days. Most other liveaboard trips—even the 5-day or longer ones—didn’t offer as many dives (11) or as much included in the final price.
2. Book through liveaboard.com.
I booked with ProDiveCairns through liveaboard.com. Liveaboard provides a lowest price guarantee which they honored when I found a discount through a Cairns hostel who provide 10% off on dive bookings.
In the end, I paid $489 (AUD$639) plus $45 (AUD$65) for Australia’s Government Environmental Management Charge on arrival back at the shop after the trip.
3. Bring two towels
I made the mistake of only taking my single microfiber towel with me. You’ll need one to dry off the salt water and keep warm after each dive. Then you’ll need another to use after your fresh water shower.
4. Hire a dive camera before your trip
If you don’t already have an underwater camera for your personal use, plan ahead and hire one. Hostels often offer per day rates for camera hire that are less expensive than ProDiveCairns’ on-board per-dive camera hire rate. The lowest price I saw was $30 per day.
5. Book your flight home for at least 24 hours later
The last dive will be around Noon on the 3rd day. That’s right, you’ll do 3 dives all crammed into the last morning (it’s intense!). This means you’ll need to plan accordingly if you want to leave on a plane after you get back. PADI recommends 24 hours before flying after a dive to prevent decompression illness. Book your flight for after 12pm the day after your boat is due to be back in Cairns.
Overall, I had a top-notch experience diving with ProDiveCairns. I recommend the 3-day liveaboard trip with them to anyone who wants the greatest bang for their buck. (I'm not paid to say any of this, by the way!)
Stay tuned for underwater photos and video of the GBR in my next few posts! :)