Reviews and information for snorkeling and scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, Australia. It was definitely one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had!
Almost everyone who visits Cairns, Australia has plans to go to the Great Barrier Reef. There are many ways to experience the Reef, from glass bottomed boats to snorkeling to Scuba diving. I did my PADI certification dives in Thailand, but that was six years ago! I still knew I wanted to dive on the Great Barrier Reef so I booked two day trips out on the reef with two companies based in Cairns.
Because I did two separate days of diving, I had the chance to try two different tour companies, Silver Swift Dive & Snorkel and Down Under Cruise and Dive. Both were absolutely excellent and had the same basic day trip structure. They had the same boat amenities, same buffet-style lunches, both went to multiple dive sites and both had extremely helpful staff. The instructor-to-diver ratios were also similar. Both also had staff on board taking high quality above water and underwater photos that were available for purchase.
I went out with Silver Swift Dive & Snorkel first, so I’ll talk about them first. As I mentioned, it had been over five years since my last dive. I was nervous about being able to dive safely after such a long break. The dive masters at Silver Swift were absolutely fantastic. During the ~90 minute boat ride to the reef, we went through all the basics of setting up our gear, getting around under water, and safety issues.
I had initially only signed up for two dives, but an additional dive was only $10. The staff encouraged me to do another one and I’m so glad I did! Silver Swift went to three separate reef sites, in contrast to only two with Down Under. It was nice to have the extra bit of variety.
Even though the sea was very smooth our first day I got extremely sea sick on the way to the reef. I mistakenly thought I would be fine and didn’t take any anti-nausea medication. This was a huge mistake. There were many other people on the boat looking just as green as me. Luckily once we dropped anchor I felt much better. I took anti-motion sickness medicine once we arrived and the boat ride home I felt great.
My favorite dive site this day was the second one as it had a crevice in the reef that we got to swim through, as well as a tunnel. It was a little nerve wracking to navigate the small spaces, not because I was concerned for my safety, but because I was worried about damaging the coral. It was good practice for working on buoyancy and in the end I got through without hitting the reef.
The variety of wildlife was larger at the Silver Swift reef sites, but we had much better weather and the visibility was much better my first day of diving, so I’m not sure if that was always true. We saw sea turtles, eels, giant clams, and too many types of fish to count. Other groups saw some small sharks, but our group didn’t.
The second day I went out with Down Under Dives. Unfortunately it was very grey and a bit rainy this day. Instead of the nice glassy sea that I had enjoyed the day prior we had lots of waves. I was very grateful for my anti-nausea medication.
One thing about Down Under Dives is they offer a few extra services that you won’t find on other boats. They have a marine biologist on board who leads talks, and also helicopter and semi-sub tours. All of these things are an additional fee on top of the regular fee. They also charge snorkelers an additional fee for wet suits.
The fish on this trip were also stunning. The most impressive thing we saw was this huge moray eel. No turtles or giant clams, but I did hear that they saw some at the second dive site. Unfortunately because I was flying out the next day it wasn’t safe for me to do a third dive. If you’re planning a dive trip, it’s important to note that you should not fly for at least 12 hours after one dive and at least 24 hours after multiple dives.
When comparing the cost of diving with each company, it worked out to be about the same. Despite the extra fees, Down Under was $249 AUS for two guided certified dives, snorkeling, equipment, meals and transport. Silver Swift was $285 AUS for the same.
I really don’t think you can go wrong with either company. They were both super professional and had great dive sites. I’m really glad that I had the chance to go out twice. It also made me realize how much the weather plays into your diving experience and how quickly it can change from day to day.
Silver Swift Dive & Snorkel
1 Spence Street
Cairns City QLD 4870, Australia
Down Under Cruise & Dive
287 Draper Street
Parramatta Park QLD 4870, Australia
Photos taken with Nikon Coolpix Underwater Camera. I also want to say a special thanks to InDepth Video for the first photo in the post! Seeing the photos both on the boat and in the water that the captured was so awesome.
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P.S. – Interested in more Cairns activities? Check out this post on my experience doing a Cairns Rainforest Trek.