I knew as soon as I got to Cairns that going to the Reef was an absolute must for me. I also knew that I wanted to try scuba diving, it has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember and what better place to scuba dive for the first time other than the Great Barrier Reef!
The hostel that I was staying at (Njoy Travellers) has a travel desk. The managers are all really helpful and actually have the time to talk to you and find out what you want to do instead of hard selling products. I ended up having a long conversation with one of the managers and once we established that my priorities were to 1) do an introductory dive 2) snorkel and 3) not brake the bank I was recommended Reef Experience which for $195 ticked my 3 boxes.
One of the perks of Njoy is that they provide a free shuttle bus to the Reef Terminal every morning. On the day of the trip I arrived at the Marina just after 7am. I found my boat and was able to check in straight away.
Once on board we were given breakfast (tea, coffee, and an egg and bacon sandwich) I am a die hard foodie so this was a welcomed treat! During the journey out to the Reef (which took about an hour and a half) we were given various safety briefings and a summary of what the introductory dive would involve.
On arrival at the first Reef we were provided with snorkelling and diving gear. Those who were going to be diving were divided into groups of 4 and given a group number. Each instructor was responsible for 3-4 introductory divers therefore I had to wait my group’s turn to do my intro dive. In the meantime I was allowed to go snorkelling or sunbathe on the boat.
Once my group number was called, myself and the other 3 people were helped into the diving equipment. I am not going to lie, I found the equipment a tad intimidating. There is a big tank and various tubes, gages and other technical looking gadgets. It is scary to not know what the various contraptions do and to completely trust someone to ensure that a) the equipment works b) it has been put together correctly and c) they know what they are doing. After taking a few deep breaths I was on a mission not to freak out so I followed the instructor’s directions and hoped for the best.
There are 4 skills which we had to complete before being allowed to do the dive. These skills were performed whilst holding on to a bar slightly under the water's surface, under the constant supervision of the instructor. The 4 skills were:
regulator clearing (type 1)
regulator clearing (type 2)
You must be able to complete the above mentioned skills to ensure your safety in case of an emergency (better to be safe than sorry type of scenario). The instructor is always with you and during an introductory dive you will never go deeper than 12m, which is shallow enough so in the unlikely event that something should go wrong, it wouldn’t take long to resurface.
Once each of the members in the group completed the skills, we were ready to dive! During an intro dive, the instructor will take care of adjusting the amount of air in your BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) which is essentially a jacket full of air which determines your ability to float/sink. All you have to ‘worry’ about is to breathe and enjoy the experience.
The dive was short (approximately 15 minutes from start to finish) but it was enough for me to decide that I wanted to do it again (as I write this blog post, 3 months after my first intro dive, I have completed both the PADI Open Water and Advanced Diving courses!).
An underwater photographer and a particularly friendly Maori Wrasse made it possible for me to have some cheesy snaps of my first ever dive :) Bucket list item number 14 - TICK!
Breathing underwater is initially a very counterintuitive experience, however, once you quiet the part of your brain that is trying to panic, diving is an extremely peaceful experience. Everything underwater seems to slow down, noise fades away and all you are left with is the sound of your own breathing and sight of a whole new world.
The colourful fish and corals transport you into the world of Finding Nemo and with a bit of luck....you may even get to see a Nemo in real life!
After the dive it was time for lunch, which was a BBQ cooked on the top deck, following which the boat moved to the second reef of the day. Here we were offered the opportunity to do another dive (at an extra cost of $40). As much as I wanted to do the additional dive, I knew I wanted to invest in the open water course, therefore, I decide to put the money towards paying for the course instead. I spent the afternoon snorkelling, sunbathing and drinking wine on the top deck before the boat started to make its way back to the marina at around 4pm.
Overall I had a great day on the Reef, the boat was not too big which meant it wasn’t too crowded, the crew was friendly, food was good and the introductory dive was fun. In hindsight and having been on other boats since, I know that there are better Reefs to visit than the ones we were taken to, however, overall I would say that considering the very reasonable price tag this tour offers great value for money.
As for diving for the very first time, I can honestly say it was one of the best and most surreal activities I have ever done. Being a little claustrophobic I was concerned that being deep underwater would make me feel really uncomfortable, but I couldn't have been more wrong. I found a real sense of tranquillity and exhilaration and I would recommend to anyone to at least try it once!