Cairns is the perfect place to dock off from the port on the Esplanade to get out to the Great Barrier Reef. As you may already know, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system, with about 3,000 individual reefs and nearly 1000 islands stretching from just south of Papua New Guinea down to Fraser Island, which is near the bottom of its state of Queensland in Australia. The most popular reefs to dive and snorkel dock off from Cairns and Port Douglas, but Port Douglas is known as the resort city, which makes it more difficult if you’re looking for budget accommodation and budget snorkeling/diving trips.
The most popular reefs are Green Island, Norman, Saxon, and Hastings, which are all easily reached from Cairns (within an hour and a half boat ride). These reefs are near the largest reef called Arlington. I have been led to believe, however, that some of the most beautiful reefs that are reachable by boat are the Agincourt Reefs. However, you must dock off from Port Douglas and it’s pretty far out, which is why a very select few amount of boats go out there and they are expensive trips. That explains why it’s so beautiful still, huh? Oh, tourism. Green Island is not a very good reef because it’s the closest to the shore so it’s already pretty dang damaged. The further out you go, the more untouched, therefore beautiful, reefs you’ll get to. Hastings reef is further out, then out even more is Saxon, then the furthest out of the most popular ones is Norman. I was fortunate enough to find a decent deal with the travel agency from Global Backpackers to get my Advanced Scuba Diving Certification out in Norman Reef. I never intended to purchase my trip from a travel agency, but since I worked for accommodation at my hostel, they knew me very well and offered me a highly discounted price for my certification.
Since I can speak for Norman Reef only and I haven’t scuba dived anywhere besides the cloudy dull waters of California in the U.S., Norman Reef looked amazing to me. It wasn’t as colorful as I imagined- the colors weren’t as vivid as I thought they would be. But the amount of liveliness in the reefs was incredible, and I must say, the animals looked more colorful than the reefs. There were so many interesting fish, including polka dotted ones and very oddly shaped creatures as well. When I first descended in my scuba gear, I looked at the sand floor and saw a sting ray, then my dive partner nudged me to look up and I saw a reef shark maybe only 30 feet ahead of me. I knew right away that there was going to be a lot I would miss just because there was too much to see in this underwater world. Watch for the Christmas Tree Worms, which were my favorite creature. They are the same colorful tree-like creatures that you saw in the movie Avatar, yet much smaller and lodged onto boulder coral. Just try not to harass the same one over and over again, because then you’re just being a bully. Remember, when you’re at the reef, the slower you move the more you see!