Divers have a big choice: dive boats that make 1-day runs to the Outer Reef, overnight stays on some boats, live-aboard dive boats making excursions that last up to a week, or staying on an island. As a general rule, on a typical 5-hour day trip to the Reef, you will fit in about two dives. The companies listed below give you an idea of the kinds of trips available and how much they cost. Prices quoted include full gear rental; knock off about A$20 if you have your own gear. It is recommended that you only dive with members of Dive Queensland. Their website, www.dive-queensland.com.au, has a full list of member companies.
Diving Reminders -- Don't forget your "C" certification card. Bringing along your dive log is also a good idea. Remember not to fly for 24 hours after diving.
Dive Courses -- Many dive companies in Queensland offer instruction, from initial open-water certification all the way to dive-master, rescue-diver, and instructor level. To take a course, you will need to have a medical exam done by a Queensland doctor. (Your dive school will arrange it; it usually costs between A$45 and A$70). You can find out more about dive medicals on www.divemedicals.com.au. You will also need two passport photos for your certificate, and you must be able to swim! Courses usually begin every day or every week. Some courses take as little as 3 days, but 5 days is regarded as the best. Open-water certification usually requires 2 days of theory in a pool, followed by 2 or 3 days on the Reef, where you make four to nine dives. Prices vary, but are generally around A$600 for a 5-day open-water certification course, or A$500 for the same course over 4 nights.
Deep Sea Divers Den (tel. 07/4046 7333; www.diversden.com.au) has been in operation since 1974 and claims to have certified about 55,000 divers. Courses range from a 4-day open-water course with 2 days of theory in the pool in Cairns, and 2-day trips to the Reef for A$570 per person, to 6-day advanced courses with 3 nights on a live-aboard boat, which costs A$1,150 per person, including all meals on the boat, 13 dives (two are guided night dives), all your gear, a wet suit, and transfers from your city hotel. All prices include Reef tax, port and administration charges, and fuel levy. New courses begin every day of the week.
Virtually every Great Barrier Reef dive operator offers dive courses. Most island resorts offer them, too. You will find dive schools in Cairns, Port Douglas, Mission Beach, Townsville, and the Whitsunday Islands.
Tusa Dive Charters (tel. 07/4047 9100; www.tusadive.com) runs a custom-built 24m (72-ft.) dive boat daily to two dive sites from a choice of 15 locations on the Outer Reef. The day costs A$220 for divers and A$165 adult or A$95 child ages 4 to 14 for snorkelers, with wet suits, guided snorkel tours, lunch, and transfers from your Cairns or northern beaches hotel. If you want to be shown the best spots, you can take a guided dive for an extra A$10. Day trips for introductory divers cost A$230 for one dive or A$265 for two. The boat takes a maximum of 60 people, with a staff-to-passenger ratio of one to six, so you get a good level of personal attention.
From Port Douglas
The waters off Port Douglas are home to dramatic coral spires and swim-throughs at the Cathedrals; giant clams at Barracuda Pass; a village of parrot fish, anemone fish, unicorn fish, and two moray eels at the pinnacle of Nursery Bommie; fan corals at Split-Bommie; and many other wonderful sites.
The Poseidon (tel. 1800/085 674 in Australia, or 07/4099 4772; www.poseidon-cruises.com.au) is a fast 24m (79-ft.) vessel that visits three Outer Reef sites. The day-trip price of A$195 for adults, A$135 for kids 4 to 14, or A$582 for families of four includes snorkel gear, a marine-biology talk, snorkel safaris, lunch, and pickups from Port Douglas hotels. Certified divers pay A$235 for two dives or A$250 for three, plus A$20 gear rental. Guides will accompany you, free of charge, to show you great locations. Introductory divers pay A$60 extra for one dive, and A$40 each for the second and third. The vessel gets you to the Reef in just over an hour, giving you 5 hours on the coral. The boat departs Marina Mirage daily at 8:30am. Transfers from Cairns and the Northern Beaches cost an extra A$20 per adult and A$15 per child.
Off Townsville, you can dive not only the Reef but also a wreck, the Yongala, which is off the coast in 30m (98 ft.) of water with good visibility. Adrenalin Dive (tel. 1300/664 600 in Australia or 07/4724 0600; www.adrenalindive.com.au) runs day trips in which you will do two dives on the Yongala. The cost is A$220, plus A$40 for gear hire and A$30 per dive for a guide, if you have logged fewer than 15 dives.
From the Whitsundays
In and around the Whitsunday Islands, you can visit the Outer Reef and explore the many excellent dive sites close to shore. H20 Sportz (tel. 07/4946 9888; www.h2osportz.com.au), based at Hamilton Island marina, runs day tours to Bait Reef, one of the best known locations on the Great Barrier Reef. Tours are limited to 30 passengers and leave at 9:30am, returning at 5pm. That gives you 3 1/2 hours at the Reef, allowing plenty of time in the water. The cost is A$195 adults, A$95 kids ages 2 to 14 or A$510 for a family of 4. The cost includes lunch, snacks and all equipment, whether you are diving or snorkeling. You'll pay A$150 for two introductory dives; certified divers pay A$120 for two dives.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.