My breath slows as I position the frame and set my buoyancy trying to be as still as possible. The Cuttlefish is acutely aware of my close proximity and skilfully watches my every move. I am floating precariously above the sand inches from the coral cluster concealing the perfectly disguised subject. Slowly lifting the camera I set the focus and take the shot. Got it, and still the Cuttlefish doesn’t move. I am happy with its apparent acceptance of my presence, yet know it is only as long as I continue not to pose a threat. It is a wonderful moment, being within such distance to such a foreign creature in its own natural environment. The Cuttlefish is extremely well adapted to its environment and is a marvel of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). We were lucky to happen upon a few during the four day diving expedition and that one afternoon especially was something truly incredible, it was almost like for just a split second time stood still and we were simply floating in silence under the blanket of crimson blue.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the natural treasures of the world and one of the most recognisable destinations for international travellers. It is a must see while visiting Australia, and for divers a huge bucket list experience to check off. There are many different ways to visit the reef with a ton of options as to from where and for how long. Some of the best locations to access the GBR are Airlie Beach, Townsville, Cairns, Port Douglas, and Cape Tribulation. Most of the diving happens out of Cairns and Port Douglas with daily trips catering to all levels of ocean enthusiast. These are mostly day trip boats, with lots of people, and lots of noise (even under water). They are a good option for people with not a lot of time to visit the World Heritage listed National Marine Park. For those with a bit more time, and especially those certified divers, a live aboard is by far the best option to really explore the reef. And if you’ve never been on a live aboard dive expedition before, this is a very good place to start.
I recently had the opportunity to go on a four day three night dive trip with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions to the Outer GBR. It was an absolute blast of a trip and such an awesome way to explore lesser reached parts of the giant Barrier Reef system. We left from Cairns and flew in a small plane (basically a scenic flight) one hour to Lizard Island where we met the SpoilSport Boat and all got onboard. This would be home for the next four days. Once each allocated a private or shared cabin we hit the Coral Sea and headed East towards Cod Hole and the first of 12 dives I was to complete over the four days. There are few other words to describe this experience other than maybe… It. Was. Awesome!!
From that first afternoon onward we cruised down the outer Ribbon Reefs stopping often each day to explore new dive sights and find new animals and formations. It was an incredibly well organized and well run tour. The boat itself is completely set up for divers with the dive deck being the centre point for all operations, this is where we met for briefings, got in for our dives, came back up, got tank refills, put gear storage, rinsed and dried gear, etc. etc. The deck was totally decked out (Haha!). The boat not only has top notch scuba amenities, but it also plays host to many of the creature comforts of a life on land. SpoilSport had ample space for 28 guests plus crew and not once did you feel like a number on one of the day boats (as mentioned above). There is a beautiful sun deck, a common area, 24 hour coffee machine (awesome), hot water showers in each cabin, air conditioning in each cabin, set tours to the engine room and captains office, three cooked meals a day plus snacks and drinks, plus a fully stocked bar for those relaxing wine fuelled evenings out of the water.
The experience was very personalized with friendly people and staff working to bring everyone together quickly and in a friendly and social manner. By the end of the first day everyone was exchanging travel stories and legend dives, wildlife spotting and where there favourite spots are, etc. It was an amazing eclectic mix of people from all over the world, and with no internet connection everybody was incredibly interactive, which for me, was very nice to see. The boat’s common area and indoor dining room are giant open concept and naturally force people to come together, which is great. It is very well designed and comfortable with lots of chill space. There is also the token sun deck and outdoor dining area above the dive deck. All around it is a really nice place to spend a few days out at sea. It’s kinda like your sharing a really nice floating hotel with a whole bunch of awesome people from all over the world in a truly beautiful and stunning natural environment. Sound like your cuppa’ tea?
Now to the diving… if you have never scuba dove before, I hope the following convinces you to give it a try. If you have, you must try the Outer Reef at some stage, the diving is incredible. With crystal clear 26 degree water you are dropping into a world of which I often find difficult to describe. It’s like floating through a giant swimming pool teeming with life. You can see for impossible distances and get an amazing grasp of the ecosystem below. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park covers some 2,000km from the northern to southern tip. It is made up of individual and grouped islands, small cayes, passage ways, and endless underwater mountains of rock and coral which at some point almost broke the surface, thus creating a haven for shallow water marine life and divers alike. It is a phenomenon of nature and a privilege to be able to explore in such a pristine and relatively undisturbed environment.
The 12 dives were a mix of amazing experiences, including two night dives which I do not get to do often. I saw some big animals and a lot of tiny macro life. I saw some really cool coral structures and got the chance to explore some great new dive sights. All of the dives were really well briefed, and as long as the crew felt we were competent divers, we had a lot of freedom to discover the ecosystems ourselves, as long as we were accompanied by one or more dive buddies. It is a very efficient system that runs smoothly and is well monitored by the crew. Every dive was crucially scrutinized for maximum safety yet also allowing us freedom and the feeling of fun, which is absolutely necessary. Overall they were incredible dives with good people in awesome locations.
The Mike Ball Dive Expedition off the outer Great Barrier Reef will go down as one of my most memorable trips in Australia and has definitely ticked off another life goal of this adventurous spirit. I feel privileged to have experienced the Great Barrier Reef in a way few have the opportunity to do and think the Mike Ball live aboard expeditions are offering an unparalleled service of international standard. The trip is one that many people work years for, and one I will champion for years to come.
Cheers from sunny Cairns in Tropical North Queensland, Australia!!