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Learning To Dive On The Great Barrier Reef

I’m addicted.

I was warned I would be.

That every holiday from here on out would involve looking at options to feed my addiction, that I’d even plan holidays purely because of my addiction.

My instructor was right. My name is Sonja, and I’m addicted to diving.

You wouldn’t think so if you saw me 5 minutes before my first proper ocean dive. I was supposed to be on the bottom deck completing a final check with my buddy ensuring we had all our gear ready to survive below the surface, but instead I was on the top deck losing my breakfast in a paper bag.

Luckily my instructor, the same one who predicted my addiction, got me into my gear and all but pushed me over the side of the boat, with the promise I’d feel much better under the surface than on it!

Diving Great Barrier Reef Australia

Learning To Dive on the Great Barrier Reef

I’ve wanted to try my hand at diving since backpacking in Thailand a few years ago but I never managed it. As I travelled further through South East Asia and listened to other backpackers raving over and over again about how amazing diving is I just knew I had to build it into my travel plans at some point.

With my visa in the UK ending and a somewhat enforced return to Australia for 2015, I was determined to finally do it, and it became one of my goals of the year. I also decided if I was going diving, I was going full out to be a certified Open Water Diver.

After much deliberation about going to Thailand or the Philippines to learn to dive, deciding the cost would be too much and the time off work too long, I booked a flight to the Far North. Queensland that is. There’s plenty of adventurous things to do in Cairns. What better place to learn to dive than on the world’s largest living thing on earth, that’s even visible from out of space, the Great Barrier Reef? It’s something that should feature highly on any Australian Bucket List!

And that’s how I found myself bobbing next to a boat over the Great Barrier Reef, feeling terribly ill and wondering why the hell I thought this was a good idea. Doesn’t sound much like something I’d become addicted to does it?

Diving Great Barrier Reef Australia

The Open Water Dive Course on the Great Barrier Reef

Two days earlier the Down Under Dive van pulled up outside my hostel and I jumped in to join seven others on the Open Water Diving Course. We were from all over the globe; China, Germany, Italy, England, and South Korea.

The first drive to the Down Under Dive Centre in Cairns was super quiet. I think we were all nervous about how everything was going to go. I know I was! What if I tried to go underwater and somehow couldn’t breathe, or what if I hated it?

By day two we were bouncing towards the van with huge smiles on our faces. All of us had passed the first day and the scariest part so far was done.

By day three we were “flying” underwater on the Great Barrier Reef.

So how does an Open Water Diving course work? This is how mine went with Down Under Dive in Cairns and on the Great Barrier Reef.

Diving Great Barrier Reef Australia

Day One & Two

Paperwork. Lots of it. The boring but necessary stuff.

Before diving, you need to declare any medical conditions. I’d actually recommend if you think you have anything to see a dive doctor before starting the course, because if you have an issue contradictory to diving you’ll need to be taken for a medical there and then, and if you don’t pass then you can’t continue in the course. Way to ruin the fun!

The other fairly boring but necessary part of the dive course is the theory. I chose to take a PADI course, so this meant watching a bunch of PADI made videos where they speak super slow and show all these random people looking like they’re having the time of their lives in a super cheesy way.

Our instructor was really great at explaining in brief what it was about so that we wouldn’t fall asleep when the video was on!  It was like being at school again, sitting at little desks with a whiteboard and TV.

The real fun started in the afternoon. After we all passed the swimming and floating test (not as hard as it sounds) we got into our diving gear for the first time. Fun but scary stuff.


The first time going underwater was super controlled. Thankfully! We went from standing in chest-deep water to kneeling on the bottom of the pool.

It was the weirdest feeling trying to keep breathing normally as I put my head under. After a small splutter and popping back up because my mind wondered what I was doing trying to breathe normally underwater, I was under, and I was breathing!

It’s so exhilarating, doing something that all your life you’ve been told is not possible. Humans do not breathe underwater. Except, we get to cheat the system, and make it work. It sounds crazy but it’s so amazing!

Day two of the Open Water Diving Course at Down Under Dive was about the same as the first with theory in the morning and being in the pool in the afternoon.

We had to prepare our own gear this time since we had passed the theory and we had to learn to be real divers!

At halfway through the course we were diving in circles around the pool, spinning ourselves upside down in the water, taking our regulators out and masks off at 5 metres deep and putting them back on again.

If you had told me at the beginning of the course I had to do these things I’m not sure I would have started. Be 5 metres underwater and take out the thing keeping me alive? Are you nuts?

Diving Great Barrier Reef Australia

Day Three & Four

The excitement in the van on day three was so thick you could feel it. We were off to dive on the Great Barrier Reef!

Other than being seasick right before my first dive, it was AMAZING. My instructor was right, as soon as I was under the water I felt so much better. In a way because I was so all over the place it had taken my mind off the fact I was about to descend 12 metres beneath the surface of the ocean.

I used a bit more air than I should have to descend as I was breathing heavily but I was able to kneel on the floor of the ocean getting used to the difference from the pool and watching everyone come down one at a time to join me.

There is nothing like flying underwater. It’s an entirely different world down there. Time feels faster somehow.

Sometimes when I snorkel or swim I don’t like being surrounded by fish, but when I was diving I felt invincible, like part of the underwater world around me.

Our first dive on the Great Barrier Reef was to 12 metres and afterwards I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

Diving Great Barrier Reef Australia

Down Under Dive served us an amazing lunch on board. As Open Water Divers in training, we had our own room on the top deck of the boat, and we were first to jump in every time we got to the Great Barrier Reef.

After 4 dives across two days, including practising skills like taking our regulator out at around 15 metres under the surface of the ocean, which sounds terrifying but wasn’t with the assured manner of our instructor and the pool practice, we were signed off as certified Open Water Divers.

I can now dive to 18 metres deep with a buddy. The only problem is I want to do it all the time!

I’ve become one of those girls that scuba. Where to next?!

Have you ever been diving? Or been to the Great Barrier Reef?

Sonja x

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Learning to Dive on the Great Barrier Reef

6 thoughts on “Learning To Dive On The Great Barrier Reef

  1. Luke says:

    Wow, what a place to learn to dive! Always wanted to get my PADI. Whats the cost difference between learning to dive in Australia to say learning to dive in Thailand?

    • Migrating Miss says:

      I looked at both Thailand and Cairns and Cairns was the better option for me for a few reasons. I was already in Australia so it was cheaper to do it there than make a special trip to Thailand (as much as I love it!). I found a really well priced course, although it did;t include overnight on the reef like some do I was happy with my choice, and I stayed in a cheap hostel. In Thailand your accommodation is often included and the price can vary widely depending on the company and whether it’s PADI or not. My course cost me around $500AU, which I thought wasn’t bad!

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