Diving in the Great Barrier Reef of Cairns in Australia
Our trip to Australia was a real adventure. We were clear that we wanted to travel the east coast from Cairns to Melbourne. A friend told me recently, that the best thing about traveling in Australia is not what you see, but the trip itself. What to say about the Great Barrier Reef that has not been said before.
Almost 2,600 km of coral form the largest reef system in the world bordering the entire coast of Queensland to the south of Papua New Guinea. Unfortunately the cyclones of recent years and global warming are wreaking havoc in this great ecosystem.
It shelters innumerable species of tropical fish, sharks, mollusks, turtles, dolphins and even the dugong or manatee. Also during the months of June to August, it is a passageway for Minke whales and humpback whales. It is a destination for diving throughout the year but the best time is undoubtedly during summer.
The possibilities for diving in the Great Barrier Reef are endless and there are many different ways and places. The search for time and the way we would dive here, was one of the things that we tried with more effort for months before embarking on the trip.
In any case there are other points that are also worthwhile such as Whitsunday Islands or one of the most famous dives in the world and we are left with a lot of desire to do it, the SS Yongala wreck. This wreck lies between Ayr and Townsville and has created an ecosystem in itself where you can find anything.
The problem is that there are very few diving centers that go and there is no way of passing unless a route is made throughout Queensland along its entire coastline. After searching a lot and reading even more, we came to the conclusion that unfortunately the reefs closest to Cairns are very damaged and overexploited with the typical day tours.
We had a lot of luck with the weather in Sydney. The day was dawning cloudy and a fine rain accompany us on our taxi ride to the airport. Our flight left early and there was no public transport at those times like the one we took on our arrival in the city.
The flight took us without problems in just over two hours to Cairns, in the north of the state of Queensland. Just before landing, from the window we could enjoy a green and leafy landscape. In any case, the black clouds that we saw made our indignation shine out.
We had risked a tad in taking the plane to Cairns on the same day that the dive boat we had booked departed in the afternoon. In any case everything went smoothly and well into the morning. A taxi took us to the dive center located on Draper St a few streets behind the Cairns Esplanade. As soon as we arrived, we left the backpacks there. We could take advantage of the morning because the ship did not leave until 3 in the afternoon. Perfect! It was just what we expected, having arrived in time to walk around the city for a while and enjoy a little.
Cairns is a coastal city with a tropical climate located in the far north of the state of Queensland. In itself there is nothing special, but it is the main starting point to enjoy diving, snorkeling or whatever it is worth in the Great Barrier Reef. It is also the gateway to the Daintree rainforest and the Cape York Peninsula.
We go to the so-called Esplanade, or what would be the promenade of this city which has no beach. The whole coast is a mangrove area and again the bath is prohibited. That is why the town hall built a park with a large pool as an artificial beach that includes sand and everything, right next to the sea. It is easily recognizable for some very large fish sculptures in the middle of the place.
Around there we entertained ourselves with a group of immense pelicans that half dozed in the sand near the pier. These animals that we saw also in Africa, above all, are curious and the flexibility of their beaks and jowls is incredible. Other than that the Flying fox are in many trees of this city. These huge bats despite their appearance only eat fruits. We had seen them come out in disarray earlier in the Komodo National Park, Indonesia.
We continue to wander through the streets adjacent to the Esplanade, full of souvenir shops of the coral reef and run by a Chinese majority! Cairns was the only city where souvenirs have more affordable prices on shirts, postcards and more.
One of the souvenirs that we saw all over the country were all kinds of kangaroo derivatives, the icon par excellence of Australia. They say that there are more kangaroos than Australians but we must not forget that it is the only place in the world where they exist.
A store we found interesting in Cairns was specializing in didgeridoo and located in Shields St. If we had not already bought ours in Sydney it might have been here, where we least expected to find it after having searched so much, the perfect store.
We went to see and we were left with mouths open after seeing the variety and beauty of all the didgeridoo they had, some huge and also very expensive. The boy who guided us was very polite and told us a little about the history of his aboriginal family.
It was lunchtime and we decided on a hamburger joint on the Esplanade. We stopped touring to return to the dive point at the indicated time. Slowly those who would have been our companions for the next few days had arrived.
They moved us to the port of Cairns quickly in two vans. In a jiffy we start unloading the backpacks. There a smaller boat would sail for two hours to take us to the big one, from where we would do the dives. It is an ancient and simple fishing boat that was recast for diving and is one of the three that travel the northernmost part of the coral reef, the Ribbon Reef. Soon we were inside the big catamaran drinking a cup of coffee with delicious muffins.
In our cabin after having done so much camping we saw the best room in the world at that time. It consisted of a small room with a double and a single bed in bunk and a small sink and shower. An intense blue both in the sky and in the sea was approaching us and in the distance we left Cairns sooner rather than later. We would not see land again until several days later nor would we step on stable ground.
Above the ship there were hammocks and sunbeds and a large space reserved as a solarium, which we would use on more than two occasions.
At dinner the food was self service. In addition the cook made some very good desserts and snacks. We only had to sleep with the swing of the boat and the gentle breeze. Everything around us was total darkness. The immensity of the sea was catching us slowly.
As soon as we got up the first day we had a magnificent view of the barrier with a splendid Sun and a clear water with different shades of blue. After having been sailing all night, we were informed at breakfast that we were in the second Ribbon Reef of the ten that are there. Here we would make the first dive to see the level and with a great visibility.
That first day the most remarkable were the two dives at Steve's Bommie, one of the best known located on the third Ribbon Reef. Australians call the pinnacle-shaped coral structures that are all over the barrier as bommie. We saw a lot of concentration with big schools of fish and a huge rockfish, the most poisonous fish in the world and that camouflages itself in an excellent way among the coral!
Between dives we dedicated ourselves to enjoy the sun and the magnificent views from the top of the boat where the marine blue of the horizon was combined with the large circles of turquoise coral. From time to time they interrupted us with the cry of lunch time or dive time!
In the afternoon and evening we were at Clam Gardens a beautiful reef where we also saw a little bit of everything and where white tip sharks made an appearance. A huge and very colorful lobster as we had not seen in life greeted us coming out of hiding as well as several large morays that are much more active at night went out to explore for a while.
At night we drank and showed others our photos and videos around the world to envy and delight the rest!
After another night sailing and with the boat that moved more than a spinning top we managed to reach the last Ribbon Reef number 10. This is located near Lizard Island, an island with very expensive resort. We were 250 km from Cairns the farthest point we would reach.
That day we go to Snake Pit a place known for its high concentration of olive sea snakes. This snake has a deadly poison capable of killing 20 people in a single bite, thus being one of the most poisonous on the planet. In any case, its curious character is not aggressive and we could see them in all their splendor.
In this place we saw them everywhere and did not hesitate to approach a few centimeters from the camera. We had the opportunity to see her sailing around the Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica. In this dive we could also see the barramundi, a large polka-dot fish that Australians eat, turtles, barracudas and large formations of soft and hard coral on a sandy bottom.
In the afternoon we made two more dives in Cod Hole. The place is a wonder with incredible visibility and wildlife of all kinds. We could also see some gray sharks. We went for a while with the group of Japanese people who, despite being experts, always went with a guide.
In Cod Hole, we feed some small pieces of fish to the big groupers and the concentration of horse mackerel and triggerfish was at least spectacular. The divers sat on a sandy bottom. That same afternoon we were allowed to access the bow of the ship for the only possible reason to access. There were dolphins!
They had already told us that if the captain saw dolphins we could enjoy watching them up close. Everyone moved to the front to see about ten of these fiddling at full speed on the tip of the ship. We will never get tired of seeing these animals in freedom and not in dolphinariums. They are simply incredible!
The nightlife of that day was without a doubt spectacular in Challenger Bay. We descended a bit with the boat until we were between the ninth and tenth Ribbon Reef. To enjoy more of the tour we decided to form a small group with a guide. It is a pure action dive where all the fauna uses the light of the dive boat to hunt!
Even before entering from the diving platform, the concentration of horse mackerel and sea bass on the surface was spectacular. On many occasions, the guides said, even sharks come up and can be seen with the naked eye. The show is even bigger underwater when gray sharks and white tip are thrown among the corals to find their dinner. The lanterns that we used to illuminate us many times marked the easy prey for the big fish.
Of the thirteen possible dives in the entire cruise this day we skipped one of them, the first in the morning. For us the ideal rhythm is three per day but in the two previous days we had done five and four dives respectively. So after a morning in which we rested something else, we did a nice double dive. It was called Taka Range and the truth was that the reef was full of life and very close to the surface until it dropped deep.
At night we made what would be our last dive of those days at Princess Bommie. We had to become alone in the dark and there was a moment of tension when we did not see the focus of the ship anywhere, although we were finally able to return without problems. We were lucky to see some fish "sleeping" like the parrot fish which is protected with a mucous envelope in the recesses of corals in a state of lethargy.
Coincidentally speaking with the family of Australians during the dinner they showed us videos of the dives that we would do days later with the bull sharks in Beqa Lagoon in Fiji, where they had already been.
After a whole night sailing from the half of the Ribbon Reef we arrived back to Cairns in the morning. We just had to collect everything and say goodbye to all the companions. We left what had been our house for four days and we put on our sneakers again after a lot of barefoot hours!
We arrive mid-morning at Airlie Beach Airfield which is a bit out of the way. After the check of the tickets and the safety instructions, we take place in a small plane of 8 seats (counting the pilot). The pilot will also be our guide throughout the flight with explanations on the different islands and the Great Barrier Reef.
In flight, the feel of a small plane is completely different than an airliner. After takeoff where we enjoy the view of Airlie Beach. We feel a lot more pressure and potential air holes! In a few minutes of flight, we reach the first islands of the Whitsundays.
The view is superb and we begin to understand the particularity of each island. After a quarter of an hour, we arrive at the top of Whitehaven Beach for what will remain one of our most beautiful moments in Australia. Seen from the ground, this place is already perfect but then from the air, the landscape is completely crazy.
Then the plane leaves and sinks off to join the Great Barrier Reef. After a few minutes, we arrive at the top of this totally unreal landscape. There are no words for our greatest happiness. The succession of coral reefs is impressive and the flight over the famous heart-shaped reef captures us with its beauty.
We continue to fly over the Great Barrier Reef before heading back to the Whitsundays to discover new islands. Our pilot inform us several times that whales were present in the ocean but we did not see them well. After a detour and the discovery of new landscapes on the Whitsundays from the heights, we take the direction of the airfield.
We land with the feeling of having experienced one of the most beautiful experiences of our Australian road trip. It did offer us the opportunity to see a lot of variety and enjoy conditions of excellent visibility and temperature. The immensity of the Great Barrier Reef is such that we find it difficult to see much of each species. Yes a lot of variety, but less quantity than we expected.
We only had to buy the t-shirts from the diving center and go pick up the SUV that would take us to Daintree forest. The tropical forest and the campsites were waiting for us again.