For diving lovers like us, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef had always been at the top of our bucket list. We are usually economic travelers, staying in backpacker hostels, taking public buses, and eating street food as much as possible. But when it came to the GBR, we knew it was time to splurge. We booked ourselves on a 4 nights / 14 dives liveaboard with Mike Ball Expeditions, one of the most prominent scuba operators in the world. And the trip was nothing short of perfect.
Our itinerary included the outer Coral Sea reefs of Holmes, Bougainville and Osprey. It took us far from the coast, into the virgin coral, away from the parts of the GBR that are being damaged by hordes of tourists and bleaching from climate change. The sites we dove were untouched and bursting with life. With dive sites named things like Dungeons & Dragons, we knew we were in for a treat.
So what did we see? The easier question might be what didn’t we see? Giant potato cods, tons of sharks, colorful hard and soft coral gardens, big turtles, lion fish, eels, clownfish in anemone, lobsters at night, barracuda, large schools of jackfish, napoleons, batfish, nudibranchs, big puffers, unicorn fish raining, christmas tree worms, giant clams, triggerfish, tiny shrimp, caves, coral spawning at night…
The most memorable moment was probably the shark feeding at North Horn on Osprey Reef. All of us divers descended to a sort of natural amphitheater and settled down. Then one of the divemasters came down with a metal box containing tuna heads, and attached it with chains in the middle of the amphitheater. Soon, tens of sharks appeared from all sides, and started circling the tuna box. Eventually one of the sharks decided to go for it and bit the box furiously… unfortunately, he didn’t manage to break it and instead his fangs got stuck.
For a minute or so, the shark jerked violently trying to break the box, while a few others tried to attack the box themselves. Eventually it broke, and pieces of tuna spread out. Then everything appeared to go on fast-forward, with tens of sharks flying around trying to get their part, and some giant potato cods joining in too. We couldn’t believe all of this was happening a few meters in front of us!
Over 3 days full of diving, we completed our Advanced PADI certification, went on our first non-guided dives, and achieved a level of confidence and enjoyment underwater that can only come from continuous practice (vs. our usual 2 dives twice per year). Ricky, one of the divemasters on board was instrumental, teaching us a lot about breathing and buoyancy, and about simply appreciating the lively surroundings rather than chasing big sightings.
The experience was made even better by the comfort of Mike Ball’s vessel, a large double hull perfectly equipped called Spoilsport, the fantastic service provided by the expedition leader Ollie and the rest of the crew, and the cool group we shared the trip with. The conversations around the dinner table were always interesting, and on the last day it really felt like we were saying goodbye to old friends.
As if all of the above wasn’t enough, we still had one final surprise: a low-level flight from Lizard Island over reef formations, paradise islands and azure ocean, back to Cairns.