Visiting the Great Barrier Reef

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Beautiful also from the surface, the Great Barrier Reef can be seen all the way from space

Diving is like dreaming. Everything is a little blurry, movements slow and sounds muffled. The corals glide past me when I float forwards observing the life around me. I’m not really part of this strange world. I’m just visiting. When I break the surface, it is like waking up.

It has been six years since my previous time scuba diving. Way too long. It is high time to go visit the ocean again. And it would be a shame to leave Australia without saying hi to the Great Barrier Reef. Who knows how long it is going to last. Last year some reporters already announced the Reef to be dead, but that was a false announcement. The warm water temperatures have been enforcing the bleaching and large parts of the reef have lost its colour, but it is not yet dead. (Here is an interesting article about the current state of the GBR)

The 2 300 kilometres long Great Barrier Reef lies off the coast of Queensland in the northeast Australia. We head to Cairns, a popular destination for those who wish to visit the GBR. Summertime is not the best time to visit tropical north as the temperatures reach nearly 40C and the beaches are closed because of the stingers. Air condition and public outdoor pool are truly appreciated. Locals say that the winter is nicest time in Cairns as it is usually +25C then. However, late summer is fine as well: the shops are open, restaurants full and people out at the pool.

To get to the Reef one has to go with a diving company. We didn’t book in advance but manage to get places aboard Down Under for the day after tomorrow. Full day on board of a large modern vessel, two dives, gear & stinger suit, lunch& snack (although we were always the last ones to finish the dives so there was barely any food left) = 209AUD. 150 people packed into a luxury yacht does not sound ideal to me but there are no smaller, less flamboyant options available. Luckily not all the passengers go diving. Half of the people snorkel, some just chill, some do intro dives and only 10-20 people dive knowing what they are doing.

After a bumpy ride out to the reef half of the tourists are seasick. I feel sorry for them, but I’m getting excited to go diving. Snorkellers rush into the water and create a happy colourful mess that the crew is trying to look after. Divers take turns. The crew fixes the gear and I just need to put the vest on and jump in. Because we have only one dive master diving on board those who want can go wander around the reef in pairs. Those who want can go with the dive master as a group. I follow the pink mask and yellow fins of the dive master and check out the things he points out. Colourful fish, beautiful coral, sea sausage, jellyfish… there is a lot to see, but frankly, I expected the reef to be livelier. After two dives and some snorkelling its time to call it a day and head back.

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Down Under is a fine dive tour/cruise company, but it has its downsides. My brother spent another day with Quicksilver and said that they were more diver-focused. Less hassle and more interesting diving locations. And the food was better. But then again, it is a bit more expensive.