Our Great Barrier Reef Adventure with Coral Sea Dreaming!
The Great Barrier Reef has always been, in my mind, a magical place that I would never be able to visit. As someone living in the United States the Great Barrier Reef, so majestic and mystical, was out of reach for me to even go to, that it was too far, or too expensive to fly to! It is considered one of the major natural wonders of the world, so how could little ole me, have the opportunity to go there??
Zach and I are budget travelers, and for a long time, we considered Australia to be out of our budget. Long story short, we found ourselves in the southern hemisphere, thanks to our summer employment in Antarctica (more on that later), flying to Australia – a country that seemed so impossible for me to reach. We were both so excited. We made so many plans to maximize our time spent in this wonderful country to include a trip to the GREAT BARRIER REEF! (I will refer to it as the GBR from now on.)
So how does one even experience the GBR? Where do you have to go? What do you have to get yourself into? I can, now, answer these questions! So for those of you who are geographically challenged, like me, the GBR is located on the northeast side of Australia. It is very big and can be experienced from different cities along the coast: Port Douglas (the fancy sea-side town), Townsville (we actually have no idea what is here), and Cairns (the most popular choice.) Yes, Cairns is best situated for exploring the reef, and has the most boats leaving for the GBR every day! From a budget standpoint, Cairns is where you need to go!
Fun Fact – to pronounce “Cairns” correctly, drop the “i” and the “r”. Think of your pantry, what do you have a lot of? Cans. What is your local food bank always asking for? Cans. Which town is best for exploring the GBR (on a budget)? Cans…. spelled: Cairns!
So now we were in Cairns, a delightful town that is devoted to GBR tourism. Before choosing which tour company to reserve a trip with, we had to ask ourselves a few questions like, “what are we trying to experience?” This is what we knew: we wanted a trip to the GBR on a boat that would let us SCUBA dive, a boat that wasn’t too big with too many people, we wanted an experience that felt like an actual adventure, and we wanted it to be an over-night trip. Yes! Some tour companies do over-night trips so you can experience multiple days on the water.
The company we chose was Coral Sea Dreaming, a smaller company that uses an actual sailboat and has a maximum of 12 guests on board, and does 2-day/1-night trips to the GBR! This was a perfect choice!
We boarded the boat at 7:45 AM. We were greeted with smiling faces and a health and safety waiver. Pretty standard stuff. There were 9 guests signed up for our trip, and 4 crew members to include the skipper. Skipper Phil gave us the rundown on how our adventure would begin, what was ahead of us, and the fun we would surely experience. We were so excited! We left the Cairns harbor and headed towards our destination. At the time, a cyclone had just passed through the area a few days prior, so weather conditions were not 100% ideal. That is, it would be a bit of a bumpy ride out to the reef. This, was no problem, however, because thankfully the crew had some sea-sickness preventative medicine which they handed out to us. It was $2 AUD per packet, a reasonable price to pay so as to not wretch from the large waves and 1-hour passage to the reef itself. By the time we arrived, it was about 10:30 AM.
Our schedule for the next 24 hours went something like this:
11:00 AM – Dive #1
12:30 PM – Lunch & relaxation time
2:00 PM – Dive #2
Boat relaxation time/snorkeling
5:30 PM – Dinner
7:15 PM Dive #3 – NIGHT DIVE
7:00 AM – Breakfast
7:45 AM – Dive #4
10:00 AM – Dive #5
11:00 AM – Brunch
12:00 PM – Leave for Cairns Harbour
Due to some strong winds, our skipper settled our boat at a more protected spot, Michaelmas Cay. We were eager to get into the water, so after being shown to our adorable little marine cabin, we were fitted for our scuba gear, and jumped into the water for our first dive! The coral was beautiful, even without 100% visibility, there was so much sea life to witness. Thanks to Coral Sea Dreaming’s expert crew, within the first two dives we witnessed a clownfish, multiple types of other cute little fish, and the largest stingray a 17-year-GBR-crew-member had ever seen! It was MASSIVE. And although we did not see him up close, we did see the backs of multiple sea turtles from the boat!
Time out of the water was spent re-hydrating, applying complementary sunscreen, taking photos, and relaxing on top of the boat chatting with Skipper Phil. I would honestly say, the relaxation periods of our adventure were just as wonderful as the periods spent underneath the waves. Our views were gorgeous, the water is a miraculous shade of turquoise, and the huge fish circling the boat looking for little bits of food were extremely entertaining to watch.
Meals were delightful as well. Lunches were picnic style with sandwich fixings and cold marinated veggie salads. Perfect food for spending the day out in the hot sun. After a dinner of chicken stir-fry, the guests who wanted to experience a night-dive started to get ready. Zach had always wanted to go on a night-dive, I, however, was more reluctant. The idea of diving in complete darkness was terrifying to me, but after some reassurance from our excellent crew that it would be safe, I agreed to it. The night sea-life was completely different from the day. The only way I can describe diving in complete darkness is what you’d think floating in space would be like, but with fish. Thin, brightly colored worms were all around us suspended in our underwater galaxy, pin-sized glowing fish spun around our flashlights, and in complete darkness, we witnessed bioluminescence as we turned off our lights and sat upon the seafloor. It was terrifying, but also one of the coolest things we’ve ever done.
We cleaned up for the night down below and cozy marine shower and called it a night. If I could do it again, I would bring bio-degradable soaps, but just rinsing off was enough to clean away the saltwater. The waves gently rocked us to sleep in our comfy little room after a pretty exhausting day in the sun. I was really surprised how comfortable the double bed was, considering the size and how big we are, we both slept very soundly.
The next morning we woke up to an adorable little breakfast spread of bread, yogurt, peaches, granola, and lots of tea and coffee. I drank way too much coffee and then it was back in the water for our fourth dive of the trip by 7:45 AM! Our next two dives were equally as wonderful as the first couple, but I thought the fish were much more active in the early morning than we had seen the previous day. Some guests went on a guided snorkeling trip by a very experienced crew member towards the patch of land nearby while we stayed onboard filming and taking pictures. Lucky them, they saw a large sea turtle that had propped itself onshore! SO COOL!
As the morning went on our adventure was coming closer to an end. We enjoyed some more breakfast, and around 11 AM Skipper Phil turned the boat back towards Cairns. It was an exciting trip that took almost 3 hours as we went directly into the wind. It was sad to say goodbye to our lovely hosts, and the people we’d gotten to know. Everyone was so nice, we’d do it all again in a heartbeat!
Thanks for reading!!
-Leah (& Zach)
You can find more information about the tour company we chose on their website below. We sincerely enjoyed our trip with them, and would recommend them to anyone interested in seeing the Great Barrier Reef in true adventure style!