Sunday, 27 October 2019

Great Barrier Reef scuba dive with Passions of Paradise


There’s a reason why Cairns is called ‘the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef’. Here, you can find dozens of opportunities to tour the reef, go snorkelling and try out scuba diving.

Booking your Great Barrier Reef scuba dive


I booked my snorkelling and scuba diving with Passions of Paradise because they had a deal on for an introductory dive for $45 (between £25-£30 at the time (spring 2019)). However, this is on top of the overall tour fee, which was $150. The tour included the mandatory reef levy of $20, a sail to two reefs, tea and coffee, lunch and snorkelling equipment hire. If you’re paying $150 for that already, I would just go ahead and fork out the extra money for the dive because it’s such a unique experience.

I booked through the Cairns Tourist Information Centre, which has several outlets located in town and along the Esplanade in central Cairns. The lady who served me at the Information Centre was friendly and helpful; she booked everything in front of me and gave me leaflets, directions, a receipt and printed booking confirmation (it’s a good idea to hold onto this last one as some tour operators ask for it when you arrive).

I advise booking a few days in advance, even in off-peak season, as tours can get booked pretty quickly. I booked mine five days in advance, which was plenty of time.

Should you shop around for your scuba dive?

I was told to shop around before booking but, to be honest, all the scuba diving experiences I looked at were a similar price. I had browsed online, looked at pamphlets and talked to the tourist information centre, and it was clear that all tours were between $195-$210, unless you wanted something more private/luxury, in which case you would pay far more.

Perhaps it's different in summer; however, I did get the vibe that there was little room for bartering, as the tour operators probably don't struggle to fill spaces.




The Passions of Paradise Great Barrier Reef scuba diving day tour


On the day, I checked in at the Passions of Paradise desk at the Reef Terminal in Cairns, which you can easily reach via the Esplanade. It’s located next to a whole load of swanky (read: expensive) restaurants and hotels. Check in was really easy; they take your name and assign you a passenger number, then give you your boarding pass and directions to your boat.

You also get given a questionnaire to fill in, and this is where you have to declare any health conditions like respiratory or heart problems. If you have any of these, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to scuba dive, as it puts a lot of pressure and stress on these areas of your body. You also can’t scuba dive if you have a flight within 12 hours after your dive.

The boat I sailed on with Passions of Paradise is huge. The tour was full – and I went at the beginning of May, which is the start of the off peak season, so don’t expect a quiet tour with a small group of people.

When you get on the boat, you are met by the lovely Passions of Paradise crew: a group of about half a dozen experienced divers who are so friendly and welcoming. I particularly got on with Jess, who was also from the UK. I was a little seasick and spent most of the sailing time alone on deck, and she came and talked to me and made sure I was okay.

Once you’re on board, you’ll be given a snorkel, mask and flippers. You’ll then have time to fill out your questionnaire and chat to other people who are snorkelling or diving. I met a girl from Spain who was also doing an introductory dive, and was travelling by herself; there’s lots of time to do nothing on the way back to Cairns, so we chatted while sunbathing on deck.

On the two hour sail to your first reef, you can sit down with a tea or coffee and scuba divers will receive an introduction to diving. If you are diving, make sure you listen closely to safety instructions, and get a good look at how the equipment operates. You’ll be given a wet suit, which you can change into on board. They’re pretty difficult to get into and you feel a bit silly when you’ve got your scuba suit and equipment on, but everyone looks the same, so don’t worry too much about it.



The instructors will help you into your equipment. Be careful when you stand up, as the tank is really heavy and you’ll need good legs. I got up and fell right back down again as I didn’t realise how heavy it was. You’ll then waddle with your flippers to the diving deck, where you’ll hop into the water and grab onto a line where your instructor will be waiting to go through the safety exercises with you.

After you’ve got the hang of those exercises, you’ll bop down a metre to the second line, where you can instantly feel the pressure of the water. You’ll need to pop your ears here and every metre or so to clear the pressure and make sure your eardrums don’t burst (yes, that can happen). If you can't make your ears pop at this point, you won’t be able to do the dive. However, if everything is okay and your ears are successfully cleared, you can continue on with your instructor down into the depths of the reef. You’ll get about 45 minutes of oxygen, which is enough time to get you down, swim around a bit, then come back up.

What is scuba diving like?


I had never been diving before, so this was a completely new experience for me. I don’t really like water or swimming, but I knew that I had to dive in the reef just to experience it. After all, doing it might have changed my mind!

I found scuba diving to be such a crazy, weird, unnatural activity – I can only imagine the closest thing to it is floating in space. You're obviously completely weightless (a strange feeling with all that heavy equipment on your back), you can't hear anything, the water seems absolutely endless and you have to breath slowly and consistently through a regulator. However, it’s something I’ll never forget, and I’m so glad that I was able to do it in one of the most mind-blowing locations on Earth.



When I was underwater in the reef, visibility was little more than five metres. There weren’t many fish around as most of them were mooching about the more shallow areas of the reef; however, I did get to see some other unusual marine life, like giant clams nestled within the coral.

As is apparently usual for a first time dive, I spent most of my time concentrating on my instructor and focussing on my breathing and movements within the water. There are so many things you have to keep a check on, like keeping horizontal so that you don’t sink or rise too much, clearing the pressure in your ears and making sure your mask doesn’t fill up with water.

After I had finished my dive, I felt pretty competent with these things. At this point, I could have done a second dive for an extra $45 (I think), but I was feeling a little nauseous so I spent the rest of the time sunbathing instead.

What is the Great Barrier Reef like?


I only went to a teeny tiny part of the reef, so I can’t comment on the whole thing, but what I did see took my breath away. The water is that sparkling aquamarine colour, and the fish are even more pretty; some are rainbow coloured, some appear to be glowing neon.

Before my trip, I was told by many people that the coral isn’t as colourful as it is in photos, and unfortunately they were right. Due to pollution, climate change and a whole load of people in the 20th century touching the coral and even breaking bits off to take home, the coral is dying and is now a beige/grey colour. It’s honestly heartbreaking, and seeing this makes me even more frustrated with humanity’s impact on our natural world.



So should you go on tours in the Great Barrier Reef if you’re worried about impacting the environment? This is a difficult question, as there are pros and cons to reef tours. One pro is that every tour charges a reef levy as mentioned earlier, which goes towards the conservation of the reef. So everyone who pays for a tour is helping to maintain the reef. However, there is obviously an environmental footprint that comes with each visit to the reef – from your transport to Cairns, to the fuel used by the boat, to the harmful chemicals in your sunscreen which transfer from your skin to the water.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether you should go on a reef tour or not. But if you do, and you choose to go scuba diving, I highly recommend Passions of Paradise for their friendliness, knowledge and experience of diving, and value for money.

Browse Passions of Paradise's diving and snorkelling experiences here.
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