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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

Like most people, the driving force behind my visit to Cairns was the Great Barrier Reef. The week before I left home, it dawned on me that I wasn’t PEDI certified. Fortunately, I was able to get my Open Water certification the weekend before I left. Unfortunately, I perforated my eardrum and got a nasty infection in the process. The injury prevented me from diving at the Great Barrier Reef and limited me to snorkeling.

Port Douglas, which is about an hour north of Cairns, is the preferred point of departure for visiting the outer reef, which is where you can find much better aquatic life. There are a few companies operating out of Cairns that offer day trips to the outer reef. For SCUBA, Tusa is the way to go. They are more geared towards divers, so I elected to go with Passions, which is better for snorkelers.

I booked through Mad Travel on the Esplanade and paid $130, plus a standard $10 surcharge on the boat. I also went with Mad for my Daintree Rainforest trip the next day. Guy, the owner, was great and they had the lowest prices in town for the two trips.

Since it was winter, I paid $7 for a wetsuit rental. I’m not sure if it was necessary, but I wasn’t cold at all during 4 hours in the water. I failed to purchase an underwater camera prior to my trip and refused to pay $50 to rent one on the boat, so there are no underwater pics. Diving was an additional $70 for the first dive and $45 for the second. The time underwater was also very short as they had multiple groups for each location. If you plan on doing any diving at all, I strongly recommend going with Tusa over Passions.

It was about a 2.5 hour cruise to our first location, Michaelmas Kay. The Kay is a small, sandy island that is also a nesting area for some cool looking birds. In the reef that surrounds the island, I saw a sea turtle, sting ray, all kinds of colorful fish, and a variety of coral. Our second site, Paradise Reef was about 10 minutes away from the Kay in the middle of the ocean. There was a cliff on the edge of the reef, with what appeared to be a very steep drop. The area on the border of the cliff had quite a few fish and it was really enjoyable to swing amongst them. One of the amazing crew members, who happened to be an Australian aboriginal, showed me some anemone and clown fish.

Lunch was a buffet that included prawns, chili, noodles, pasta salad, potato salad, green salad, and fruit for dessert. It was decent considering the circumstances, but nothing to write (or blog) home about. After lunch the crew fed some leftover prawns to fish off the side of the boat. They raised the sails and turned the engine off for the last 30 minutes or so and let the wind power us back in the harbor.

I was very satisfied with the overall experience. The crew was phenomenal, the snorkeling locations were great, and I think it was a very good value for Great Barrier Reef.

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