Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef with Divers Den

This month I checked off one massive item on the bucket list and FINALLY went diving in the Great Barrier Reef!

In my defense, I’ve had plenty of adventures on the reef that haven’t involved diving (scenic flight, sailing, snorkelling, camping) – so it’s not like I’ve been completely ignoring this epic corner of the world. Still, I can’t believe it took me nearly 4 years to finally dive the Great Barrier Reef.

cairns great barrier reef

I set out on a 3 day, 2 night liveaboard on the Great Barrier Reef out of Cairns with Divers Den. Here’s how my diving adventure went down!

Great Barrier Reef Diving

Divers Den Liveaboard

Divers Den offers both day trips and liveaboard trips on the reef. If you opt for a liveaboard, you’ll get to experience both boats. The SeaQuest day trip boat takes you out on the first morning for two dives and drops you off at the OceanQuest liveaboard boat which is stationed out on the reef; here, you’ll complete the rest of your dives and stay overnight. Then on your last day, the SeaQuest boat will pick you up mid-afternoon and transfer you back to Cairns.

My experiences on both boats were vastly different, so I feel like it’s crucial to make this distinction between them. More on this later!

For the 3-day liveaboard trip you can complete up to 12 dives (4 on Day 1, 5 on Day 2, 3 on Day 3), but you’re free to skip any or can opt to snorkel instead.

scuba diving cairns

With Divers Den, you don’t have to worry about anything – their boats are equipped with everything you need to have a kick-ass diving experience. I basically showed up in my bathing suit with a very rusty recollection of how to operate the equipment (hey, it had been nearly a year since my last diving trip) and they completely sorted me out, no stress. They even provide dive computers as well as lights for night dives, which in my experience are not always given to you.

Another perk? They take care of solo travelers like me so that you never dive alone. The staff will either match you up with a dive buddy, or arrange for you to dive with a guide who will take care of all the navigating, point out cool stuff underwater, and be mindful of the air and depth for everyone in the group. As a self-proclaimed baby diver, I typically don’t pay much attention to any of this because I’m too focused on my breathing and buoyancy (basically, just tryna survive down there!). So for me it was a no-brainer to opt for the guided dives.

Divers Den charges $15 per guided dive, which I felt was VERY worth it for peace of mind, particularly if you’re not a very experienced diver. I found that the quality of the guides varied greatly across my trip: some were super safety conscious and very good about helping everyone get set up properly with their gear while others kinda trusted you to do it on your own; some were eager to point out lots of fish and critters underwater, while others maybe pointed out one or two things but more or less took on the role of chaperone rather than guide.

cairns great barrier reef

Is The Great Barrier Reef Dead?

As I was floating my way around the dive sites, I kept thinking to myself: how could anyone insist that the Great Barrier Reef is dead? I can confirm that it’s very much alive and well worth seeing in person, so if you’re worried about coral bleaching potentially ruining your Great Barrier Reef dive trip, don’t be. The photos speak for themselves, really:

great barrier reef diving

great barrier reef diving

I’m not saying that there aren’t parts of the reef that are dead or bleached – but the reef that Divers Den takes its divers to is definitely not.

Think about it: why would a dive company take customers to see the dead and less impressive parts of the Great Barrier Reef? It behooves them to seek out the good reef so that customers enjoy their experience and hopefully rave about it afterwards.

All that to say, YES it is still worth seeing the Great Barrier Reef despite what you’ve heard about it dying and being plagued by coral bleaching. I saw plenty of gorgeous reef on my Divers Den diving trip. I was especially enamored with the blue-colored reef – there was way more of it than I’d expected.

On one of the dives, we spotted like 5 or 6 lionfish! And on another dive, we were greeted by Wally the resident Maori wrasse as we began our descent. He definitely doesn’t hesitate to get up close to divers.

great barrier reef diving

Guys, in case you weren’t aware: the GoPro is pretty terrible for dive photography. It performs ok when you’re not very deep, but once you go deep and lose a lot of light, it is struggle city trying to produce a semi-decent photo with it.

Photography is one of my biggest strengths in this whole travel blogging thing, and it feels pretty crappy and hypocritical to be sharing these lackluster underwater shots amidst my more pro-level dSLR shots. Here’s the thing, though: I am not a strong diver yet and I still struggle with things like buoyancy and equalization, and until those things become automatic for me, I don’t want to focus my attention on photography. It’s mainly a distraction for me at this point. So the GoPro works for me right now as a baby diver because I know its limitations and I don’t worry too much about getting THE SHOT while I’m diving.

scuba diving great barrier reef

BUT, mercifully I’m a pro-level snorkeler, so I made a point to do one snorkelling session just to snap some better photos in the shallows (where there’s more light and therefore the GoPro doesn’t struggle so much). SO SO glad I did this – not just for the photos, but also because I ended up spotting so many critters I didn’t see on my dives (or didn’t get as close to)… like a turtle! And giant clams! And rainbow fish!

great barrier reef diving

Highly recommend taking some time to snorkel while you’re on this Great Barrier Reef liveaboard – if not to take a break from diving, then to get a well-rounded experience of the reef.

Seasick On A Liveaboard

Though I’d really wanted to max out my dives on this trip just for practice’s sake, I only managed to do 5 dives (out of the 12) because I spent most of the time seasick.

I’ve battled motion sickness my entire life and, while it’s been much less frequent in my adult life, it does still seem to randomly strike even when I take precautions (i.e. pop some Dramamine and wear my Sea Bands). I was TOTALLY fine last year on my Komodo liveaboard, so I figured I’d also be fine on this Great Barrier Reef liveaboard.

But NOPE. I was very much not fine for most of the trip. The nausea hit early on, shortly after we left Cairns on the SeaQuest boat. Embarassingly, I’d already used my barf bag before we’d even done our first dive.

scuba diving great barrier reef

If you’ve never experienced seasickness, 1). I am eternally jealous, and 2). You’ll never quite understand what it feels like to be in this extremely unpleasant and vulnerable state. Without exaggeration: I am at my absolute weakest when I’m seasick. The only way I know to manage it is to stay horizontal and/or sleep it off. Let me tell you, it REALLY sucks being sick like this when I don’t have a friend or family member there to help me out. But y’know… I manage. I do what I have to do and eventually the seasickness passes.

On SeaQuest, the crew was very on top of supplying me with new barf bags and disposing of my used ones, which I appreciated. What I DIDN’T appreciate, however, was how different crew members would keep telling me to move from wherever I’d taken up the fetal position (which, oddly, was always a spot that some other crew member told me to sit). The absolute LAST thing a seasick person needs is to be moving around. Why didn’t they just tell me to move to one spot and stay there?

The worst was when I was sitting on the dive stairs, all the way to the side (more or less with my head anchored on the handrail) – with PLENTY of room for divers to make their way in and out of the water. I’d literally just vomited 30 seconds earlier when the dive boat supervisor ordered me to go upstairs. I looked down at the soiled barf bag I was clutching, looked up in disbelief that he had the gall to say that, and croaked something like “Um… I JUST threw up. Can it wait a minute?”.

No, apparently it couldn’t. So I crawled upstairs to the upper deck and curled up in the corner with a sarong draped over my head. Can a girl just be left to lounge and vom in peace?

cairns great barrier reef

I didn’t want to miss out on diving though, so I forced myself to do the 2 dives offered on SeaQuest once I was reasonably sure I wasn’t about to vomit again. Once we transferred over to the OceanQuest boat, I started to feel even better because the boat was anchored at the reef and therefore not moving much – THANK GAWD!

I woke up on Day 2 feeling pretty good. I’m not sure what happened, but while on my second dive of the morning I started feeling a bit queasy – which is weird because typically you feel less nauseous underwater, not moreso. I immediately began to dry heave upon ascending and thought, uh oh. The only thing on my mind at that point was stripping out of all my dive gear and finding the nearest lounge chair to lay down on, as soon as humanly possible – preferably without getting sick first.

Let’s just say, mission oh-so-narrowly accomplished.

scuba diving cairns

So, OceanQuest has this rule where you must close out your tab every single day before lunch time, even if you’re not leaving the boat that day. Ok, a little odd, but fair enough.

Unfortunately for me, tab-closing time was happening around the same time as vomiting time, and I had various crew members shouting down at me from the upper deck telling me to come upstairs to pay for the guided dives I did. “Uh, I’m not feeling well – can I possibly grab my credit card later and pay?” I feebly asked from my horizontal position. “Sorry, we need you to pay right now,” they insisted.

Now, this would have been a non-issue had I been traveling with someone who could have gone inside the cabin to fetch my wallet for me. But as it were, I was traveling solo and had no one to take care of me. I really wish the Divers Den crew could have made an exception and been more flexible in this instance – like really, I’m not going anywhere for the next 24+ hours and I’m in no state to skip off without paying the $45 I owe.

great barrier reef diving

While the Divers Den crew seemed to be inflexible when it came to payment policies and sitting in certain areas of the boat and I REALLY wish they would have been more empathetic to my sickly state instead of having me move around and feel even worse, I do have to credit them with being extremely caring and helpful when I kept missing meals. They helped me leave the dining room and walk upstairs to my cabin when I didn’t feel well, and brought me bread rolls and fruit to nibble on when I couldn’t stomach any other food that was served.

Unfortunately I couldn’t manage to get out of bed on Day 3, hence the lack of photos of the boat itself. I’m just glad I was able to make the most of the first 2 days on the liveaboard despite feeling less-than-awesome.

great barrier reef diving

Was It Worth It?

Is it worth scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef? YES! The reef is not dead, and there is plenty of it that isn’t bleached. I saw so much colorful coral on my Great Barrier Reef diving trip and thousands upon thousands of beautiful fish.

Would I recommend a reef trip from Cairns with Divers Den? Yes I would. Seasickness aside, I have no other complaints about my experience on the boats with them and can recommend their liveaboard on the Great Barrier Reef as a great value experience. They often offer monthly specials on their trips as well, which’ll help you some more money on your Australia trip.

However, be sure to set realistic expectations before your trip. It’s not a luxury trip (despite their website mentioning “luxury overnight reef accommodation”) – I wouldn’t classify the cabins or the boat as luxurious by any means, but it’s certainly nice enough. And if you’re prone to seasickness, don’t expect to be coddled by the crew. The dive boats can get super hectic with different dive courses going on, plus guided dives and independent dives, and the crew has certain protocol to follow that may not allow for any special treatment if you’re sick.

Additionally, I’d recommend staying overnight on the reef if you can, rather than just doing a day trip. Staying on the OceanQuest liveaboard boat is overall a much more chilled out experience than the hectic SeaQuest day trip boat – and isn’t that what you want while on a holiday?

Thank you to Divers Den for hosting me on a 3 day, 2 night liveaboard on the Great Barrier Reef. Note that all opinions expressed here and elsewhere on this blog are my unbiased own, and are uninfluenced by any gifts or incentives I may receive.

Pin it!
Great Barrier Reef Diving on a Liveaboard

Lindsay Buckley is the photographer and travel blogger behind Frugal Frolicker. She's a New Yorker currently based in Sydney, Australia, documenting outdoor travel experiences Down Under and beyond. Follow along with Lindsay's travel photography on Facebook and Instagram, and be sure to sign up for the monthly Frugal Frolicker newsletter!

Where in the World is This?