Learning to dive has been number one on my must-do list for a very very long time, for years actually. I had THE BEST time and super happy I waited to do it on the Great Barrier Reef. It was much more enjoyable diving in the warm tropical waters as I get cold easily so the thought of getting into cold water and getting out into a cold climate just wasn’t for me. I had previously done an introductory dive in the UK and I would recommend to do one before diving in and paying for the whole course – diving is not for everyone. This is my experience of the PADI Open Water Course with Pro Dive Cairns and I loved every second of it.
The day was finally here! I had been waiting for y e a r s to get under the ocean and see what I have been missing out on so I practically jumped out of bed that morning. After an intro talk we did some classroom work, watched some videos, went over the theory of diving, safety bits and pieces which was all very interesting and a vital part of diving but I was eager to jump into the water.
The first of two pool training sessions begun after lunch where we all picked up a wetsuit, a BDC (buoyancy control device), a mask, a snorkel and fins. After doing the mandatory swim and float tests, I wriggled into the wetsuit and set up my gear.. and took it apart and set it up and took it apart and set it up.. you get the point. Understanding how to work the gear is the most important part of diving (after breathing of course) so we ran through all the little bits and what goes where and so on until we were each comfortable with our gear. This set up remained with us for the whole trip as it is important to be familiar with how your personal set up works.
It was a long stride into the pool and then we were all breathing and floating and learning that if you laugh water comes into your mask and blinds you and that this is a no laughing sport (joking – its so hard not to laugh and smile!). So we were taught how to clear our mask of water, breathe correctly, control our position in the water, equalise the pressure in our ears etc. The first day was a lot of fun and doing it with friends made it even better.
The second pool training session started off day two and we went through the skills from the previous day, focusing on our buoyancy control. We practised an out of air situation, emergency ascent methods and breathing with a broken regulator (mouthpiece) which I hope I never have do again – it is quite scary to think about that happening while I’m diving.
We also got to try on lots of different brands and models of fins/masks/snorkels – there are a lot of options out there! Having a mask that fits you correctly is so so important, we were shown how to fit a mask properly and which mask we should get for our face shape. Post-lunch there was time to look around the store and purchase anything we would need for the boat – I ended up buying a mask/snorkel set, fins and boots and I l o v e them. They do take up room in my suitcase but I plan on doing a lot more diving so having my own gear makes me a happy diver.
Then came the final classroom session and the final exam. The multiple choice questions were fairly easy and with all the course material you can’t fail. With theory training complete it was time to take to the ocean for our first reef dive!
I was up super early and ready to get diving, the boat left at 7am and we headed out to our first dive site on the outer reef. The purpose built dive boat had about 20 students and 5 instructors on board and there was still lots of room – everyone is really friendly and making friends is so easy. Three hours, one breakfast and one safety briefing later we were gearing up for the very first dive and let me tell you jumping into that water was incredibly exciting. This dive was fairly short as expected and we stayed knelt down on the sand but as we were all equalising, practising our buoyancy and doing a few skills a small spotted ray swam past – our instructor pointed and we all just stopped to watch it float on by. The second dive was similar to the first but we did get to do some swimming around the reef, adjusting our gear and getting used to moving in this completely new way – zero gravity is fun!
We ended the day with a snorkel around the shallow side of the reef as the sun was setting. There is so much so see from the surface so even if you aren’t a diver then still grab your fins and head out into the ocean – you will be amazed at the creatures you spot. We saw a white tipped reef shark resting on the bottom about 8m below us and we carefully followed a turtle as it gracefully went on its way.
Moving to a different location each time allowed us to see so many different types of dive sites from bommies and swim throughs to huge coral walls. Dives three and four allowed us to explore the dive sites more fully and gave us time to look around as they were slightly longer and not as much training was done. By the end of the fourth dive I was feeling so much more confident in the gear, my buoyancy and the way I was moving that I could almost not think about it – almost. We surfaced as certified open water divers and celebrated by filling out our log books, eating lunch and having a quick nap before the next dive. It’s true when they say all you will be doing is eating, sleeping and diving on a liveaboard.
The first dive without the instructors went well and we didn’t get lost or run out of air so I call that a success. We even went through a little swim through which up until that point I did not want to do any cave diving – but I loved it so I will probably do that at some point. I also learnt that navigation underwater is slightly more difficult than on land but we found our way back to the anchor rope without having to surface.
At this point in the trip we were offered to become further certified to Adventure Diver, so of course I said yes, and so our remaining four dives were also training dives. This involves doing a night dive, a deep dive and two elective dives which were photography and naturalist.
The night dive was a highlight as I was pretty nervous about jumping in after dark and the dive brief did not help with talk about getting eaten by sharks and disappearing forever. With a torch and a glow stick attached to our tank so we could see each other, I hesitantly jumped in and we descended down the rope together. We stuck with the same site from the previous dive so I had a slight understanding of where we were going but it was still quite difficult to navigate – I would have definitely be lost and still out there if the directions were left to me. Surprisingly it was not as scary as it was made out to be and we could see quite a lot with all our torches. There was a significant lack of fish around with only the larger fish in the open water and close to the boat lights on the surface but we did get to see a nudibranch and a huuuge hermit crab. There were no shark sightings unfortunately as it would have been awesome to see one patrolling the reef but it sure was an awesome dive anyway.
The earliest dive so far started at 6.30am which was also our deepest dive. After learning about the added risks of deeper diving (narcosis, decompression sickness, oxygen toxicity – sounds scary right?) we descended down a huge sand slope. I got to 27 meters all too soon and I just wanted to keep on going, there was so much more to see. The colours you are able to see also change with depth so my red fins were now a weird brown colour as the red light is filtered out through the water.
Our final two dives were the photography and naturalist training dives and for these we moved a lot slower, looking more closely at the animals and trying to get some photos – it is a lot more difficult than you think trying to get still images when there is nothing holding you in one spot. These last dives were my favourite dives, I felt sure of how I was moving and breathing and felt confident in both my own and my dive buddys abilities. There is for sure a whole lot more to learn and a bunch more courses yet to be taken but I cannot recommend diving highly enough to anyone. It has been the best course I have done in anything, having studied the marine world for a few years it was amazing to be able to see it for myself. And what better place than the reef of all reefs.
A huge thankyou to the team at ProDive Cairns and to my instructor Rafi, they were all amazing.
If anyone is a little bit more interested in the specific locations or other info I’ve included a few extra information bits below.
Reef Location 1 – Milin Reef – Pools, Petaj + The Whale
Reef Location 2 – Flynn Reef – Tennis Court, Gordons, Little Tracey, Coral Gardens + Ski Slopes
Depths reached – 6.5-27.6 meters
Dive length – 22-44 minutes
Water temp – 26°C
Wetsuit – 3mm