I’m back from my week in Cairns! What an amazing adventure I had. I definitely had a great time and managed to check off one of my Travel Bucket List goals of scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef! It was an incredible, beautiful experience I will never forget.
Cairns most popular attraction by far is the Great Barrier Reef, and most people come to Cairns to see it, explore it, and dive it. Because of this, Cairns has many different types of dive and snorkel tours with many different companies. It can be overwhelming at first to try to navigate through them all and sort out the good ones from the bad.
I ultimately choose to do a day tour on a ship called Ocean Freedom, which is run by Cairns Premier Reef & Island Tours. The reason I choose to do a day tour instead of an overnight tour was simply because of the cost. Day tours can run anywhere from $130-$300+ depending on what you want to do (scuba diving is much more expensive than snorkelling) and who you want to go with. While quality overnight tours are almost guaranteed to run you $400+, and usually with an added cost for scuba diving.
Ocean Freedom was recommended to me by the woman who ran the tour desk at the hostel I was staying in (Dreamtime Travellers Rest – which I would also recommend). She had been on the tour before and had a wonderful experience with them. As well, the ship had great reviews from other guests who’d stayed at the hostel before and also good reviews on Trip Advisor.
One of the other things I liked about Ocean Freedom was that it had two dive sites with three hours at each one, leaving a total of six hours of time in the water. This was more than most of the other tours I looked at, and since I wanted a maximum amount of time in the water for a one-day tour, this seemed like a great option.
The morning of the tour we were greeted on the 20 metre cruiser with pastries, fresh fruit, tea and coffee. During our one hour sail to the reef we were briefed on safety measures on the ship, and then split into our dive groups (for those who chose to scuba dive). We were told about the safety measures for diving and some general information, and then had some free time to relax on the boat before we arrived at Upolu Cay, our first dive site. Once we arrived at the reef, I took a short glass bottom boat tour before being called for my turn to dive.
It was my first time scuba diving and I was a bit nervous. After some initial anxiety when I first jumped into the water (and the concept of allowing yourself to breathe underwater is always a bit strange and nerve-wracking at first), I was soon loving the experience. My boyfriend and I were paired with a certified diver, and he gave us a great 25 minute tour of the surrounding reef. We saw a small reef shark, got to hold and touch a sea cucumber, and saw all different kinds of fish, clams, and coral. After our dive, we got an additional two hours to swim and snorkel the reef on our own.
Then it was lunch, and we were treated to a buffet of prawns, pasta salad, coleslaw, bread, garden salad, as well as chicken wings and a cold-cut meat platter. After lunch we sailed to our second dive site “Wonder Wall” on the outer edge of Upolu Reef. Since we enjoyed our first dive so much, we decided to do a second one. This time though, since we had already dived before and it was a much smaller group of people, we were free to swim wherever we wanted as long as we stayed with the group (the first time we dived we had to be holding our guides hand). I saw a sting-ray and a sea turtle on our dive, as well as a giant clam and many more species of fish. Our second dive lasted 35 minutes, and once we returned from the dive we had another two hours to snorkel the reef on our own again.
Luckily the second site had a resident sea turtle, Leroy, who lived in the surrounding area and was incredibly friendly. He would come up to us while we were snorkelling and swim right into us! Leroy loved the attention, and since my biggest hope was to see a sea turtle on the reef, it definitely made my whole day.
All in all, it was an extremely rewarding and life-changing experience I will never forget.
The day trip ended up costing me a total of $305. The tour itself cost $190, plus $100 for my two dives (and I saved $55 by booking the first dive through the discount of my hostel). Then my boyfriend and I spent an additional $30 on a good quality underwater digital camera we rented from our hostel (it was $50 to rent the camera through the tour). Without the discounts, it would’ve cost us $370/each, so we certainly saved a bit of money by going through our hostel. Even though the day was a bit pricey, it was definitely worth it.
I don’t regret a thing.