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Cairns

Introduction

Perhaps the most famous destination for divers, Cairns is a small city of inhabitants located in the Queenstown province, on the north-east shore of Australia, 2500 km north of Sydney. The Great Coral Reef - la longest coral reef in the world - is reached in one hour and a half by boat from Cairns, which is also located close to the rain forest. With temperatures that are usually above 17 degrees Celsius year-round, Cairns has a tropical climate that visitors enjoy a lot; between November and March, the water temperature is higher, but this is also the time of monsoons and hurricanes, while during the austral winter (May to September), there is fewer rain but also a cooler water temperature down to 24-25 degrees Celsius.

The city of Cairns is really dedicated to scuba diving, with numerous diving center along the sea shore. There are obviously lots of hotels and B&Bs, as well as restaurants, but not that much attractions for tourists who are probably better off driving a car in the natural areas around Cairns if they do not dive. For the divers, the best option is clearly to join a diving cruise, as daily journeys to the reef can be really tiring, and a cruise allows to visit sites with much less divers underwater...





Travel facts

Calendar

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best period
acceptable period
not recommend
water temperature

Diving type

Destination
easily accessible
easily accessible
bargain destination
bargain destination
Diving level & type
for beginners
for beginners
for advanced divers
for advanced divers
shore diving
shore diving
liveaboard
liveaboard
Diving Characteristics
pelagics
pelagics
lots of fish
lots of fish
lots of corals
lots of corals
interesting underwater scenery
interesting underwater scenery
Other activities
attractive natural spots
attractive natural spots
gastronomy
gastronomy
night life
night life
beach
beach
snorkeling
snorkeling

Map

map

Infrastructures

  • liveaboard
    Spirit of Freedom
    Spirit of Freedom (liveaboard)
    telephone : 61 (7) 4047 9150
    fax : 61 (7) 4047 9110
    address : PO Box 1276, Cairns QLD, Australia 4870
    rating : 4 / 4 starsrating : 4 / 4 stars
    comments :
    With so many cruise boats available around Cairns, selecting one is not that easy. Many of the boats diving on the Great Barrier Reef are really huge, with sometimes more than 50 divers on board - the kind of cruise we were absolutely not interested on. We also wanted to visit remote locations to ensure that we would not be surrounded by a horde of divers. For those reasons, we decided to go with Spirit of Freedom. This 37 meter-long boat was built in 1992, and can carry up to 26 passengers together with 10 crew members. There is a large variety of cabins to choose from, from quad share to double ones. Only the most expensive Ocean View cabins have windows, but all cabins have a private bathroom with toilets with unlimited hot water. This is one of the most comfortable boats we have seen so far.

    Life on board is comfortable, too! Food is excellent: a dedicated cook serves breakfast and lunch buffet in a large dining room with 4 big tables; dinner is a course menu, even if sometimes a barbecue is organized on the upper bridge. There is a large lounge with a TV, video and a bar (drinks are not included in the price, but guests get a complimentary glass of wine with the dinner). Divers keep all their material outside on the back of the boat, from where a couple of stairs go down to the water - that material area is a little too small to have 26 divers getting ready at the same time, and for this reason, usually two groups are formed. Finally, there is a huge upper deck for resting after the dives.

    Divers can dive either with a buddy, or following a divemaster; there are little limitations to the dive profile, although a maximum of 40 meters and 1 hour is officially asked (divemasters will write down your maximum depth and diving time after exiting the water, and ask you to sign to confirm you safely came on board). All equipment is available on board, and rental fee is very reasonable.

    Finally, because the best diving sites are pretty far from Cairns, in the north (typically Cod Hole and Osprey Reef), an original option consists to take a small flight to Lizard Island (about 1 hour) and board the boat from there. Spirit of Freedom has three different itineraries: 3 day Cod Hole, 4 day Coral Sea (Osprey Reef) or a 7 day combination, the 2 first including one flight segment; the flight itself is a real adventure and well worth it, as you will be flying all overt the Great Barrier Reef.
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Diving Sites

  • One of the best diving sites in the world - click here for a list of those sites.
    rating : 5.0
    Minke Whale

       [between Ribbon Reef 5 and 3, June-July
    rating : 5.0
    type of diving : special encounter
    depth : 10 m
    description :
    This is not a dive site, but rather an unique encounter: the Great Barrier Reef is one of the best area in the world to dive with whales. That season is rather short, lasting only about two months between June and July, and such encounter is usually only happening in a very specific area between Ribbon Reef 5 and Ribbon Reef 3. Australian rules to approach those mammals are very strict, and it is not allow to go in the water if a whale has been spotted; you then have to hope that whales will come while you are already underwater, or that the captain will be looking somewhere else while you jump in the water.

    Being able to approach whales underwater is always an incredibly moving experience. This happened to us twice on the Wonderland diving spot (Ribbon Reef 5). The first dive, after about 55 minutes of an at best average dive, and while already back under the boat, we saw two long shadows approaching toward us. It is not obvious to immediately recognize the animal, which might be mistaken from far for a whale-shark (which is a fish, not a mammal). Those two whales were between 4.5 and 6 meters, and came three times at less than 10 meters from us. During our second dive, three whales were already under the boat when we jumped in the sea, but left after a couple of minutes. Whales do not approach to close to the reef, so chances to see them close to the boat are bigger.

    Those whales are Dwarf Minke whales, Balaenoptera acutorostata), a species that is not endangered anymore and count more than one million individuals.
            
  • rating : 4.0
    Steve's Bommie

       [Ribbon Reef 5
    rating : 4.0
    depth : 25 m
    visibility : 12 m
    description :
    A fantastic dive, probably one of the best on the Great Barrier Reef. On this site, a large pinnacle climbs from the sea bed at 30 meters to just under the surface at a depth of 4 meters. Because of the strong current at this spot, one side of the pinnacle is mostly covered with dead corals, while the opposite side has an incredible life on it. It is also a heaven for macro photographers. At its bottom, it takes about 10 minutes to swim around the pinnacle, but around the summit, divers can swim around in less than 1minute; divers usually start the dive at 30 meters, going all around the pinnacle, and then slightly ascending while continuing to swim around. Schools of blue-striped snapper (lutjanus kasmira), bigeye trevally (caranx sexfasciatus), bluefin trevally (caranx melampygus), a grey reef shark, 2 nudibranchs, a small octopus in a cavity, a scorpion-fish, a white-margin unicornfish (naso annulatus), a coral cod (cephalopholis miniata), a leaf scorpionfish found by a divemaster (taenianotus triacanthus); there are also lots of anemones and clown-fish on this site. Don't forget to look from time to time in the blue, there are often big animals seen there.
    At 24 meters, there is a small side-pinnacle with a plaque in memory of 'Steve', who was - although some other versions are available - an engineer on a dive boat who was particularly fond of this site and met his end in a tragic motorbike accident.
            
  • rating : 3.5
    North Horn

       [Osprey Reef
    rating : 3.5
    type of diving : feeding
    depth : 15 m
    visibility : 15 m
    description :
    Diving site used for shark feeding, a controversial activity which consists on feeding sharks in their natural surroundings. Their are many discussions whether this kind of activity should be allowed; one thing is sure, for divers watching, this is really an impressive moment.
    The Spirit of Freedom has chosen the North Horn site, on the north tip of Osprey Reef, for this activity; at a depth of 15 meters, a natural theatre with a half-circle shape surrounds a pinnacle rising from the sea floor. While divers are standing or sitting with their back against the wall, a team attaches a container filled with tuna heads to a rope at the surface. This container is taken down by two divemasters. Immediately, about thirty sharks reach to the box, open it and free the food. For about 10 minutes, sharks are feasting, and the spectacle is really impressive, especially since sharks can come pretty close to divers.
    The rest of the dive is less impressive. Two huge groupers are enjoying the remains, and there are several anemones close to the surface. More interestingly, under the cruise boat, several pilot fish - probably lost by some sharks - are swimming in the open water.
              
  • rating : 3.0
    Flare Point

       [Ribbon Reef 3
    rating : 3.0
    depth : 10 m
    visibility : 3-12 m
    description :
    This was the last dive of our cruise. Visibility was very reduced, with a maximum of 12 meters dropping from time to time to only 3 meters, when a lot of sand is suspended in the water. The cruise boat moored on a sandy bottom, in a relatively shallow area (about 10 meters). Divers swim between several coral pinnacles along the coral reef. Some schools of snappers, a bunch of nice corals. Lots of current, especially when close to the reef. This could have been a much more interesting reef if only the visibility had been better.
        
  • rating : 3.0
    Half Way Wall

       [Osprey Reef
    rating : 3.0
    depth : 30 m
    visibility : 10 m
    description :
    Half Way Wall and Silver City are two similar diving sites on the north-west of Osprey Reef. While this is the protected side of the reef, the absence of actual land above the surface means only a limited protection. Walls are falling pretty deep with coral pinnacles rising from 25-30 meters to a depth of 15 meters. The reef reaches a depth of 1-3 meters, and there are large and small cracks in the coral linking the sandy lagoon and the deep sea. Half Way Wall : Limited visibility, nice large corals (several yellow ones), many pufferfish and giant clams, butterflyfishs and surgeons. In the lagoon, a big grey shark, so it is worth to enter that shallow area.
        
  • rating : 3.0
    Pixie Wall

       [Ribbon Reef 10
    rating : 3.0
    depth : 20 m
    visibility : 12 m
    description :
    A dive with a good variety of fish, a good number of corals, as well as magnificent nudibranchs and a flat worm.
                
  • rating : 3.0
    Silver City

       [Osprey Reef
    rating : 3.0
    depth : 30 m
    visibility : 12 m
    description :
    Half Way Wall and Silver City are two similar diving sites on the north-west of Osprey Reef. While this is the protected side of the reef, the absence of actual land above the surface means only a limited protection. Walls are falling pretty deep with coral pinnacles raising from 25-30 meters to a depth of 15 meters. The reef reaches a depth of 1-3 meters, and there are large and small cracks in the coral linking the sandy lagoon and the deep sea. Silver City : Silvertip sharks (carcharhinus albimarginatus) used to be seen on this site, but we have not encountered any. Large hard corals, a turtle sleeping.
      
  • rating : 2.5
    Admiralty

       [Osprey Reef
    rating : 2.5
    depth : 15 m
    visibility : 12 m
    description :
    Slightly different from other sites in Osprey, this dive site has a couple of caves and passages running under the corals. Just next to the mooring, a passage is running from -15 to -8 meters. In the middle of it, there is broken fan (thanks to a careless diver) and an anchor (hence the name of the diving site). There are fish close to the surface (up to -8 meters), but nothing really interesting deeper. One white-tip shark close to the surface, one swimming lion-fish, two huge star puffer.
            
  • rating : 2.5
    Kung Bay (Cuttlefish Cove)

       [Harrier Reef
    rating : 2.5
    depth : 10 m
    visibility : 10 m
    description :
    Dive site along a 200-meters long reef, with a sandy bottom at 15 meters and coral reaching up to the surface. While some areas have only limited features, others have really a lot of hard corals. Many giant clams, the largest reaching up to 1 meter. This site is also called "Cuttlefish Cove", but with a water at 24 degrees Celsius, it was a little too cold for cuttlefish - we have not seen any. One white tip shark. The boat is moored on a sandy bottom (using a concrete structure), so it is easy to miss it at the end of the dive (indeed, I missed it). One small pinnacle was especially remarkable, with 6 anemones and 25 clownfish. A large sweetlips and a pufferfish. Overall, a good dive between 0 and 8 meters, even if the scenery is a little boring and the visibility not that great.
        
  • rating : 2.0
    Wonderland

       [Ribbon Reef 5
    rating : 2.0
    depth : 15 m
    visibility : 12 m
    description :
    A 100-meters diameter reef just below the surface, with an almost completely circular shape. Sandy bottom at 30 meters with limited number of pinnacles, next to a wall rising to the surface. A small cave on the right of the mooring, as well as small cavities. On the left side, some large areas of staghorn corals. The most interesting part is probably the pinnacle located just right at the mooring, with large table corals and many small reef fish.
    But their is a catch: in July and August, Minke whales are seen between Ribbon 5 and Ribbon 3, and we had the chance to see twice whales on this site (see the Minke Whale entry).
        
  • rating : 1.5
    Dreamtime

       [Ribbon Reef 3
    rating : 1.5
    depth : 15 m
    visibility : 15 m
    description :
    Diving in a small cove on a sandy bottom. The boat is mooring in a 20-meters depth area, and the dive usually starts on the left side of the cove (when facing it from the boat) as there is a large coral complex there at about 25 meters depth, where we could see a huge potato cod (Epinephelus tukula). Beside this encounter, limited interest for this site where many dead corals are found. The visibility is better just under the surface, and more reef fish are found there, which is an indication that this site could be better for snorkeling.
        
  • rating : 1.5
    T.N.T.

       [Ribbon Reef 5
    rating : 1.5
    depth : 15 m
    visibility : 10 m
    description :
    Going from the mooring to a small pinnacle with the help of a compass. Lots of dead corals, a dive site with only limited interest. Also a location for night dive. 1 white-tip shark, and that's basically it...

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