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Scuba Diving On Australia's Great Barrier Reef

By Douglas Bernon
Published: December 2012

They followed up their one-week Sunsail boat charter in the Whitsunday Islands with four days on an excursion dive boat on the Great Barrier Reef. What a way to see Australia!.

Realizing a dream is risky. First, it may not live up to the exquisite intensity of wanting it badly for a long time; and perhaps worse, you've then lost it as a prize to long for. That's how I'd always felt about diving on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. How could it possibility equal the many dives I'd taken there in my head? How could the water be that clear, the fish that plentiful and colorful? How could the feather coral undulate as seductively as it did in my mind's eye?

In the pictures we paint in our imaginations, sometimes we see the world we want to see, we see the fish we hope to discover, the coral and currents and sudden heart-grabbing moments when something new and large and otherworldly — something prehistoric and strange — struts across our stage, and we wonder if anything in reality can match that kind of dive. For years I'd imagined a trip to Australia and the Great Barrier Reef, but feared that disappointment with a second-rate reality might crush my first-rate fantasies. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Welcome To The World Down Under

As a tourist, it's in the category of SERIOUSLY BIG that Australia finds its reason for being. In water and on land, culturally and artistically, this is a country that celebrates the large and rejoices in the pleasures of the remote, natural world, which makes it the right place for the Great Barrier Reef, the largest reef there is. Actually, the GBR is a community of reef systems – almost 3,000 individual reefs stretching among hundreds of islands. If one end of the reef started in New York City, you'd reach the other end somewhere in the panhandle of Oklahoma! Located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland in northeast Australia, satellite photos show the GBR to be the largest living organism that can be seen from outer space.

Until this trip to Australia, though I've been diving for about 50 years, I'd never set foot on a live-aboard, purpose-built, multi-day dive boat. I've lugged gear into ice-cold, visionless quarries in Ohio and Pennsylvania, signed up for a day's dive or two on vacations in the Caribbean, Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. But never did I dive more than once or twice in a day, and in the fullness of that time, sometimes the dives were spaced by weeks or even years. I'd never known the greater luxury of leisurely scuba diving, of suiting up and hopping in three or four times in one day, knowing the same treat would be available again tomorrow. And I surely didn't know about night dives.

In terms of scuba diving, I hadn't the slightest idea what it was like to be taken so well taken care of. I hadn't learned about the headache-less pleasures of Nitrox, and never expected the level of good — no, make that great — food prepared and served on dishes that then somebody swept away, washed, and dried! One night, on our four-day dive excursion, we were forced to choose between chicken breast stuffed with Camembert, and fresh red-spotted emperor fish encrusted in macadamia and dill drizzled with roasted shellfish sauce. The food on our boat was preposterously good, but better still was not having to even think about it. Total focus could be on the experience of the wet world and, after each and every dive, the novel and welcome comforts of hot showers and a swaddle of warm towels.

I hadn't known how much better a dive can be when it's preceded by a serious briefing from people who love the ocean, who know the currents, the fish, the coral, good routes to follow, and what to avoid. In short, I'd never dived with real pros.

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