Fortunately for me, my first ever dive was in The Great Barrier Reef , Australia. This is a life experience that is on almost everyone’s bucket list. This dramatic and vast oceanic reef is amongst the best in the world and the only living organism visible from space.
So while I was in Cairns in Northern Queensland for Christmas in 2011, it was a sure thing that I was going for an intro dive!
Some facts about the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is a protected World Heritage Area composed of over 2900 reefs catering to many dive adventures.
• There are more than 600 islands and 300o coral reefs
• Over 1500 fish, shark and ray species to be found
• About 400 coral species to see
• Approximately 30 whale and dolphin species (which I didn’t get a chance to see)
• Six sea turtle species – found one 🙂
Whether you want to go for your first introductory scuba dive in Australia, or you’re a PADI diver ready for full scuba adventures, you’ll find tour operators to suit every need. There are half day trips, 3 day trips and week-long live aboard excursions. Unfortunately, the majority of tour operators go to the same area, as reckless diving has destroyed some of the once pristine coral in the reef.
Marine coral is a living breathing organism, and once a clumsy first time diver hits his or her big flipper against it, it dies. Due to strict regulations in the Great Barrier Reef, this is why a lot of the boats have to go to the same dive sites, as it preserves the rest of the coral reef.
Introductory Scuba Dive
As I had never been diving before I opted to do an introduction to scuba diving with Tusa Dive. It cost $260 for a 6 hour trip, light snacks, two dives and about an hour of snorkelling. We were lucky to have a very enthusiastic Fijian instructor who made us feel safe and informed before we got in the water. The Introductory Scuba Dive was a highly supervised, guided scuba dive, limited to a group of four and the depth of the dive was limited to 12 metres.
I will admit that I found it quite a surreal and strange sensation at first, but I loved it. The only problem I had was equalising, which I will put down to a lifetime of ear problems as a child. Since most reef life is found in the shallower waters, this depth limit still allowed us to see a great deal of the fish and some of the most colourful parts of the reef. If anything, there were to many boats in one area. While I was out, there were 3 dive boats which brought around 50-70 divers all together, to the same area at the same time. This is mass tourism I guess, but I take nothing away it is still an amazing thing to do and see.
PADI Certification – Open Water Diver
This is a 3 day course which qualifies you to go diving up to 30 metres in groups without an instructor. Australia is definitely not the cheapest place to do your PADI. Actually, it can cost as much as twice the price of Asia, hence I didn’t do it while I was there. Pro Dive Cairns charge $880 AUS for there 5 day certificate course. This does include 9 dives though!
All levels of competency are available to be obtained, right through to Instructor and Master Diver. These courses are much cheaper to obtain in places like Thailand and Indonesia. At the time of writing, Bans Diving in Koh Tao offer Advanced Open Water certificate for less than $350 and accommodation is usually included for around $100. The complete course from open water through to master scuba diver will cost around $1300 – $2000.
When I put my head under the water whilst holding on to the bar on the side if the boat, we were slowly submerged to practice the basics of scuba diving. This included clearing my mask and discarding the mouthpiece, then finding it to put it back in. Once we were confident the instructor slowly led us deeper. The giant flippers were quite awkward at first. As we descended deeper, my head felt like it was going to explode. Literally. Even though I did my best to equalise, the pain in my ears was excruciating.
I pushed on and just kept looking around in awe as the sun shined through the water, illuminating the schools of fish swimming around us. It may be a strange comparison, but the only thing I can compare it to was an album cover I had seen before by a band called Pendulum (image below).
We were wearing a full stinger suit even though the water was really warm, due to the fact that there were lots of jellyfish. I mean, hundreds of jellyfish! You would be swimming along and then you would be surrounded by a small army of little stingers. Although I could not feel the stings through the suit, the only visible part of my anatomy was my cheeks and mouth, and these got stung plenty. I felt like I had a fat lip for a while after the dive.
It was a great day and although I was walking around as if I was drunk for a few days after, due to water in my ears affecting my balance, it was totally worth it. If you ever get the chance to dive or snorkel here, do not miss the opportunity.