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Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef

by Gillian Scholes

If you’re going to do one thing in Cairns it has to be Scuba Diving…home to the Great Barrier Reef, with over 1500 different species of different fish just to get you started, you are not going to be disappointed. If like me you are a newbie to the underwater world and hesitant about the thought of breathing underwater, don’t be because it truly is an amazing experience and quite surprising what you find down there and with the right Scuba company you will have no problems overcoming those fears!!

I was luckily enough to be given the opportunity to learn to dive in Australia and complete the Padi Open-Water dive course, meaning that I am now officially qualified to dive without an instructor…Woohoo :-). If you’d of said that I would be venturing in to the big blue sea alone a couple of months ago I would not have been so confident but with the patients and teaching from the professional instructors I now feel right at home 30 metres down.

Rated the number 1 diving company in Cairns Gap 360 had me settled into the scuba world in no time. The course is a 5 day training scheme consisting of the first two in the classroom and pool and then 3 days aboard their diving yachts. The training centre was equipped with all the modern diving gear which they talked through with us so the overwhelming amount of buttons, handles and tubes became clear to use.

So it all began with Dangerous Dave…not the most reassuring dive instructor name you want to hear when you arrive but after learning that the team is the most qualified crew in cairns I felt in safe hands. Upon arrival at the centre, it was not long before the doctor was checking us out; ear prodding, arm squeezing, balancing and breathing then the relief of a signature as I checked out ok to dive, then it was up to the classroom for lesson time. After a couple of videos, demonstrations and safety briefings I was in the pool before I knew it – with a giant tank on my back and a huge dummy in my mouth, trying hard not to fall backwards we took our first breaths under water. Soon followed by a mixture of hand signals from Danger Dave and somehow that communicated I had to tell him how much air I had – Least I hope that’s what I was telling him!!

On our second day we got to play around with fancy dive equipment and then came the final exam, luckily we all passed with flying colours and felt slightly more reassured that tomorrow’s real dive would go smoothly. That evening we went to a ‘Reef Teach’ show where we learnt about the coral and  sea life; apart from now knowing that I was going to be diving with sharks the show brought to life the many weird and wonderful things I would be seeing down under and also what not to touch!!! With my knew found knowledge, preparation and teaching I could not wait to get on board the dive boat and into the ocean for a real scuba dive…that and the fact that I was boarding a multimillion dollar yacht with its own wifi, cabins and showers.

It was an early start but nothing wakes you up better than jumping into the ocean…slowly descending down I was surprised how far I could see and already we had at least 30 fish circling us near the boat. I was quick to find my ‘buddy’ (my diving partner) to give him the OK sign – luckily he returned the signal so panic one over! Swimming around we saw so much, from the luminous coral to Nemo and his dad! It was not long before 30 minutes had passed and we had the signal to head up to 5meters for our rest stop. Popping up out of the water was a relief, satisfied that I had a hang of diving and that my first dive couldn’t have gone smoother. Back on board everyone was buzzing, comparing sightings of different fish and mistaken hand signals, with big grins on their faces. Even more so when one of the boys came up and removed his mask to show a huge red mark when his mask had been too tight, leaving a nice blue stain around his eyes for the next 3 days…obviously all thought of fish had left him forgetting to de-pressurize his mask!!

Over the 3 days on board we completed 10 dives, including an unforgettable night dive using torches and UV glow sticks.  Our brief before was all planned to scare us totally, with talks of tiger sharks and separation and as I jumped in I prepared for total black out but was surprised by the amount of light and the distance I could see. I did catch a glimpse of a reef shark and grabbed onto my buddy but it casually swam on past; otherwise it was apparently unusually quiet down there…maybe I’ll just stick to the day dives from now on!!

Overall, I loved my scuba diving experience, from start to finish the team took care of everything, from pick-up to drop-off shuttles, I didn’t have to worry about a thing. As a package Gap 360 had me staying at a hostel called Caravela’s 149, which was right on the Broadwalk and 10 minutes from town.

The staff where really helpful and knew more about my diving than I did, there was also a swimming pool and free storage so I didn’t have to lug my 9 pairs of shoes onto the boat!!!As for the team, the whole crew communicated well, organising all the different divers to getting us briefed and fed on time it all seemed to run smoothly. The instructors were very patient and eased all our worries as well the as having a good sense of humour including sending me down into the water to collect a camera they dropped only to find out that the cameras actually float!!

I loved scuba diving and now that I have the qualification I can venture all over, diving in new places. A whole new underwater world has been opened for me to explore – if only I had the Great Barrier Reef on my door step everyday!


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