Coral Gardens, Drift Dives & Pelagic Life in Australia: Diving the Great Barrier Reef by Liveaboard
Spend a week on a liveaboard, diving the best that the Great Barrier Reef has to offer, visiting hot spots like Ribbon Reefs and the Coral Sea. Dive with pelagic life including multiple species of sharks, mantas, trevallies and tunas, along with unusual creature like wobbegongs.
Itinerary at a Glance:
- Dive at the famous Cod Hole with schools of friendly potato groupers
- Explore the Ribbon Reefs during wall dives
- Discover sloping coral gardens, pinnacle dives and macro hotspots in the Ribbon Reefs
- Go on a morning nature walk on Lizard Island, learning about the island's history and spotting the wildlife that call the island home
- Dive with grey reef and silvertip sharks at North Horn, the Coral Sea
- Dive at a manta cleaning station in Osprey Reef
- Discover the underwater world at night, during amazing night dives at the Ribbon Reefs
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Days 1-2: Heading Down Under
Pack your bags because the Great Barrier Reef liveaboard adventure starts this morning as you head to the airport to catch your flight to Australia. Flying via Singapore, the journey takes 21 hours in total, so you'll want to make sure you have a good book to read and that you make time to have a snooze on the plane.
When you've landed in Cairns, Queensland, your driver will meet you for your private transfer to your hotel. Settle into your hotel room and try to shake off the jetlag, before you enjoy a delicious evening meal toasting the first night in Australia.
Day 3: Cast Off for the Great Barrier Reef
This morning it's time to head to the marina at Cairns to embark your liveaboard boat, which will be home for the next week. You'll be greeted by the team who will show you around the boat and help you to get settled in your cabin.
Casting off from the port, you'll enjoy lunch with a view as you head to the outer Great Barrier Reef. This afternoon will be your first dive, a check dive, and this evening you'll hop into the water for a night dive to get you reacquainted with the underwater world, before cruising north to the Ribbon Reefs.
During your Great Barrier Reef liveaboard trip you'll have the chance the go on four to five dives per day!
Days 4-5: Exploring the Ribbon Reefs
You'll spend the next couple of days diving until your heart's content on one of nature's great wonders. The Ribbon Reefs offer a wide range of sites to choose from, depending on the conditions. The most famous site at Ribbon Reefs has to be Cod Hole, during your trip you will be able to do at least one dive at this unmissable site. Cod Hole is named for it's proliferation of potato cod that grow to enormous sizes here and are very fond of divers! You'll have the chance to get up close and personal with these fish, so don't forget your borrowed GoPro to get some amazing selfie action.
Another highlight of this area is The Snake Pit, which lives up to its name - its home to an abundance of sleek, twisting olive sea snakes. It's also a fantastic site for benthic creatures, including vibrant coloured clams, sea stars, nudibranchs and sea cucumbers. For those who love larger marine creatures, gaze out into the blue to catch a glimpse of reef sharks, eagle rays and trevallies flying by.
While you are here, Monolith is a stunning wall dive which cannot be missed. This lesser-known spot is frequented by a lone hammerhead, so keep your eyes peeled as you explore.
Those who are able to visit the Two Towers are in for a treat. This dramatic site consists of two bommies rising up from the seabed, at a depth of around 25 metres up to the shallows, with a deeper ridge acting as a cleaning station. Reef sharks cruise by, inquisitive olive sea snakes writhe along the seabed and anemone fish poke in and out of their swaying homes.
After days jam packed with unforgettable diving, enjoy a sunset barbecue dinner, to finish off an outstanding couple of days in this area before moving on to Lizard Island.
- Night dive
Day 6: Lizard Island
Today you'll be stepping back onto dry land, as you head to Lizard Island. Pull on your hiking boots, ready to head off on the guided walk from Watson's Beach to Mary Watson's cottage. You'll pass through the island's stunning scenery of grasslands, eucalyptus and acacia woodlands, paperbark swamps and mangroves. Keep your eyes peeled for one of the many intriguing creatures who call Lizard Island home, including nesting green sea turtles, swallowtail butterflies, ospreys, black flying foxes and vibrant green tree frogs.
After your morning stroll, it's time to get back in the water for more diving at Ribbon Reefs. This evening, as you sleep, the boat will take the ten hour crossing to Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea, making it in perfect time for your morning dive.
Days 7-8: Diving at Osprey Reef, Coral Sea
The Coral Sea will be your stomping ground for the next couple of days. This area is known for having excellent visibility, with dramatic wall dives and impressive underwater topography.
Jump into the water to explore North Horn, where grey reef and silvertip sharks congregate and occasionally oceanic white tips can be spotted. This epic site is home to schooling bumphead parrotfish, who swirl around in the amphitheatre style reef. The dramatic reef slopes down to over a thousand metres deep and towards the 30-40 metre mark you can see a wealth of stunning soft corals.
At the southern end of Osprey Reef's entrance, Admiralty is another fantastic dive site that is particularly good in the afternoon and evening. There are swim-throughs and caves dotted across the site and there is a large marine anchor resting on the sea floor. This is a good site for potential manta encounters, as well as seeing a host of sharks and pelagic fish species.
Finally, don't miss Around the Bend, which is usually dived as a drift along the 1,000 metre wall. This site includes a manta ray cleaning station which attracts all sorts of big fish life. If you don't get lucky seeing the bigger creatures, this is also a great spot for macro life, with plenty of little critters to be found around in the shallow grotto near the boat.
Enjoy days of diving followed by relaxing evenings on the boat, comparing dive notes and planning the dives to come. During the last night at the Coral Sea, the boat will make the ten-hour journey back to the Ribbon Reefs.
Day 9: Ribbon Reefs No. 3
This morning you'll wake up back at Ribbon Reefs where you can take in some of the sites that you missed on the way out.
For your last dive why not try Steve's Bommie? It never fails to impress, with pristine corals and memorable encounters with the fascinating wobbegong shark as well as unusual macro life including electric file clams and mantis shrimps.
For those who like good old fashioned sloping reefs, Flare Point is the perfect relaxing dive with turtles dipping up and down between the reef and the surface, mesmerizing cuttlefish changing colours in their hypnotic style and the odd spotted eagle ray swooping in. All this is topped off with a dancing, shimmering layer of brightly coloured tropical fish hovering above the reef top.
Today is also a great chance to revisit some of your favourite Ribbon Reefs sites from the previous days.
Enjoy a relaxing evening, toasting the final night of your Great Barrier reef liveaboard adventure. As you sleep, the boat will cruise back to Cairns.
Days 10-11: Home Time
Sadly this morning marks the end of your diving adventure. You'll arrive back into Cairns harbour in the morning where you will disembark after breakfast. Your driver will meet you for the transfer to the airport in perfect time to catch your flight home.
Your flight home will travel through Singapore and the total journey takes around 21 hours.
Emily C, Eleanor and Jacqui are our experts for this itinerary and as seasoned travellers they have the inside track on the most memorable adventures.