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Eat, sleep, dive: A first timer's guide to liveaboard diving

by Ben Southall

For the avid scuba diver, a day trip out to the Great Barrier Reef just about whets the appetite. By the time you’re getting into the swing of things, its time to get out, get dry and ready for the return trip home. It’s hugely frustrating.

To say you’ve really dived the Great Barrier Reef and understood how it changes by day and night, in differing tides and weather conditions, requires a commitment of both time and money. A live-aboard dive experience rewards the dedicated diver with total immersion in their hobby.

It also gives you bragging rights for exploring some of the most remote reefs in the world – far beyond the reach of the day tour boats – and the reward of clearer water, bigger fish and less crowded dive sites.

What to expect

There are three types of reef experience to be had here in Queensland:

  • Fringing Reefs – found around the inner islands, perfect for snorkelling and an ideal place for those who wouldn’t consider themselves natural water babies to get exposure to the natural wonders of the reef.
  • Coral Cays – formed over thousands of years and scattered throughout the middle reef. This type of reef typically offers sheltered diving with little to no current and calm waters offering the perfect opportunity for less experienced divers to hone their skills and become more confident in the water.
  • The Outer Reef and beyond– the dive mecca for enthusiasts on the very edge of the continental shelf. This is where day boats stop and liveaboard expeditions start. Cruising along the steep drop-offs of the continental shelf, you will quickly realise that deeper water means bigger fish, adrenaline-packed drift diving and an opportunity to get close to some of the reef’s more elusive species.

Eat, sleep, dive: A first timers guide to liveaboard diving

Seven days bobbing up and down in the open sea may sound like hell to some, but for others it’s the chance to reaffirm their love of the ocean, see every angle of the Great Barrier Reef and spend time with people from all around the world who want to do exactly the same: dive, photograph and learn.

Where to go

Cairns is the home of liveaboard diving in Queensland. A number of operators offer trips between three and 14 days long, heading to some of the most diverse and beautiful parts of the northern Great Barrier Reef. Joining other underwater explorers, you will eat, sleep and breathe diving for as long or as short as you like. Brilliant.

Perhaps one of the most famous operators in the region, Mike Ball Dive Expeditions have been operating for over 40 years and offer the ultimate in marine adventures. Jumping on-board Spoilsport – a floating hotel complete with a classroom and a dive platform equipped for 28 people – you will have the opportunity to experience a live shark feed, dive untouched reefs, and if the season’s right, even snorkel with minke whales.

Eat, sleep, dive: A first timers guide to liveaboard diving

Offering crystal clear waters, the outer reefs are home to the greatest diversity of coral, fish and marine life anywhere in the world. Vertigo-inducing sheer walls see the ocean floor dropping away to over 1000 metres deep.

Get educated

Dive liveaboards are home to the geekiest of all divers. Most have their own kit, some bring cameras as technical as the Mars Lander, and all seem to talk incessantly about critters and close calls with sharks – but their passion for the underwater world is unrivalled. In fact, it makes every day you spend on-board feel like a school day.

Eat, sleep, dive: A first timers guide to liveaboard diving

Settling into your double bunkroom is easy. Even if you end up rooming with a professional cameraman and feel your lack of expertise stands out like a sore thumb, it’s actually the perfect place to hone and further your skills. Advice comes readily when you have them backed into a corner for a week!

A few pointers

    • Life on-board revolves around the hours of daylight. Up at dawn and to bed a couple of hours after dark.
    • As with sailing, skiing and any other serious sport, diving has its own vocabulary. Think Nitrox, purging, dive brief, reverse block and buddy check. You’ll pick them all up!
    • The motion of the ocean rocks you to sleep sometimes as softly as a baby’s carrycot, sometimes as harshly as a theme-park ride.
    • The exertion of diving several times a day is hungry work. The chef will ensure you’re filled with breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner. This is not a place to come to lose weight.
    • Whichever way you look at it, getting into ‘wet’ wetsuit is NOT a fun thing to do. Bring on the invention of the eternally ‘dry’ wetsuit.

Touring around some of the most famous dive sites in the world with a friendly captain and knowledgeable crew makes liveaboards a safe and educational endeavour. You will hop between islands and reefs, cherry-picking the best sites according to tide and weather.

Eat, sleep, dive: A first timers guide to liveaboard diving

The result is seven days of exquisite aqua-adventures, eye-to-eye encounters with a huge medley of marine life and a refreshed love and appreciation for the oceans and fragile coral-reef systems on the planet.

Diving is fun whichever way you look at it, but being on-board a vessel that’s custom-built makes the experience even better. Wake-up dives, ecology lectures, endless tank fills, buffet meals and even warm towels after every dive. Sheer bliss.

As you pull into the marina back in Cairns and say your farewells, you will be left with new friends, an expanded dive log and the ability to brag to your friends about close encounters with big pelagics.

I’ve just become one of those diving geeks…