Earlier this year, I checked a major item off my bucket list—diving in the Great Barrier Reef! You guys. It was incredible. Y’all know I love the ocean and do a lot of snorkeling and free diving in Hawaii, but to dive in such a different place of the world was so freakin’ exciting. Seeing ocean creatures that I’d just never seen before was such a thrill. I was especially obsessed with the giant clams (Seriously scroll down and look at how colorful they are! Like how does this even exist in nature??) and a huge humphead wrasse named Frank who hangs out in a certain part of the reef. He’s the one with the big lips and the gorgeous “face tattoo” design on his face. Again, nature, how??
We decided to stay the night on a boat so we’d have two full days of diving out on the reef (all the deets on the liveaboard boat below), and it was awesome to be able to get so many dives in. I honestly can’t wait to come back again some day and do more diving here—it’s such a special experience. One thing that we didn’t have time to do while in Cairns that I regret a bit is visit the Daintree Rainforest. If we had an extra day we definitely would have gone, and I’ve heard it’s absolutely amazing, so try to give yourself enough time to go if you’re making the trip!
Great Barrier Reef Travel Guide, here’s all the deets from our trip
Great Barrier Reef Travel – Where to stay in Cairns: Here’s the honest to God truth—Cairns is kitschy and tacky AF. You’re not going to Cairns for charm or serenity, you’re going because it’s a great, easy entry point to the Great Barrier Reef. We stayed at the Hilton, which was moderately priced compared to the other hotels and very, very mediocre at best once we got there. But it was fine because we were literally there just to sleep the first night before getting on the liveaboard boat early the next morning.
Great Barrier Reef Travel – Where to eat in Cairns: It’s slim pickings for great food in Cairns, but we did manage to find a couple really good spots. The first was Ganbaranba, which has great ramen and usually a wait. Our other favorite spot that we ended up going to twice because it was so good was Prawnstar. It’s a restaurant on a fishing boat docked at the pier, and they serve the most amazing prawn and seafood platters! There might be a bit of a line, but it’s absolutely worth it.
Liveaboard boat: It’s totally possible to do day trips from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef to go diving, but we decided to do a liveaboard boat trip where you can spend as many nights as you want on the boat out on the reef. We spent one night on the boat, so that we’d be able to really maximize the two days we had and hit up different spots on the reef that are a bit further out (and would have been harder to visit in a day trip). We booked Reef Encounter and had a really good experience with them. The crew and staff are super friendly, the chef served amazing seafood for dinner, and of course, we got some awesome dives in. I think we dove in 3 – 4 different spots each day. Omied and I snorkeled, but I think next time I’d want to try scuba diving there and that would be my rec for anyone who is comfortable with scuba. There’s just so much to see! I believe you don’t even have to be scuba certified for this trip because the staff can do a training with you and go out with you so you always have a scuba expert in your group.
We only booked one night/two days on the boat because we had limited time and also because I tend to get a little seasick so I wasn’t sure how I was going to fare. I ended up feeling fine *most* of the time, although there was one morning where we did the early 6am dive and the water was so murky, you could barely see your hand in front of your face. Bobbing up and down in the water without being able to see around me and have a point of reference made me super nauseous, and then when I happened to see a reef tip shark ~15 feet away I was just like ok, I’m out! I don’t mind seeing reef tips normally, but I do mind seeing their shadow in murky water. After getting a bit sea sick in the water it took me a while (and a lot of fresh air, water, light breakfast, and a nap) to recover once back on the boat. Additionally I’ll warn people with motion sickness that getting off the boat after being out at sea for two days was also hard for me. For a good day or two once we were back on land, I would occasionally get dizzy and feel like I was back out on the water. But I’ll also say it was all absolutely worth it to be able to see this world wonder in person!
Ok, that’s all the info on our Great Barrier Reef trip! One family from Australia that we meant was telling us that while yes the reef is beautiful, there’s a lot of damage and dead reef that wasn’t there when they visited ten years ago. That made me so sad to hear, and it’s all the more reason that if you’re thinking of planning a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, you should absolutely go and see it before more of the reef dies. ? Don’t forget to wear reef-safe sunscreen and seriously, don’t touch anything (for your own safety and the reef’s). Please, don’t be this guy. ?
Loving this Great Barrier Reef travel feature? Take a look here for more of my travel favorites!
Elise Armitage is an entrepreneur and founder of What The Fab, a travel + lifestyle blog based in California. At the beginning of 2019, Elise left her corporate job at Google to chase her dreams: being an entrepreneur and helping women find fabulous in the everyday. Since then, she’s launched her SEO course Six-Figure SEO, where she teaches bloggers how to create a passive revenue stream from their website using SEO. Featured in publications like Forbes, Elle, HerMoney, and Real Simple, Elise is a firm believer that you can be of both substance and style.