Scuba diving guide Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef | Best diving centers, liveaboards, dive sites and recommendations

The Great Barrier Reef in Australia

Cairns is the main destination for those who would like to explore the tropical northeastern part of Australia. Cairns is located close to two World Heritage locations: The Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest (Daintree and Cape Tribulation). Cairns also offers relaxing beaches, great cafés and restaurants, markets and enjoyable nightlife. With its international airport, Cairns is easy to reach by plane from many local airports around Australia and a few international aiports.

On this page, we have summarized the best diving centers in Cairns, day trips and liveaboards (leaving from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef), an overview of the diving spots and our recommendations.

Recommendations for diving and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef

Day trip - Diving and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef

If you are in for a relaxing day trip to the Great Barrier Reef and just want to explore the reefs with only 1 dive, we recommend to book with Cairns Dive Centre. They offer a full day trip for only AUD $190 (including 1 dive) or $ 140 if you would like to explore the great barrier reef by snorkeling. Note that they cannot provide tanks with Nitrox. The maximum number of guests on board is 30, which is perfect if you are looking for a trip which is not too crowded.

Pro Dive Cairns, Divers Den and Tusa Dive Cairns also offer nice day trips to the Great Barrier Reef. Divers Den offers a day trip for AUD $270, including 3 dives which is a good deal.

Multiple day trip - Liveaboard on the Great Barrier Reef

We highly recommend to book a multiple day trip to the Great Barrier Reef. A liveaboard trip takes you to dives sites which are out of reach for the day trip boats. Most trips go to the outer Great Barrier Reef, known for its beautiful and colorful reefs.

For a short liveaboard (e.g. 2 days/1 night or 3 days/2 nights), we recommend to book with Pro Dive Cairns or Divers Den. The boat of Pro Dive Cairns is especially built for diving and has cozy double rooms with air conditioning. There is also free WiFi onboard. Pro Dive Cairns will visit the Flynn reef, Thetford reef, Milln reef and Pellowe Reef which are located on the outer Great Barrier Reef. Divers Den offers quite large rooms on the OceanQuest boat. 22 twin - and double cabins are available with a TV, en-suite bathroom and air conditioning. The OceanQuest will be located on the Norman Reef, Saxon Reef or Hastings Reef.

For a liveaboard with a longer duration, we recommend to book with Tusa Dive Cairns. Their boat, the Spirit of Freedom, is equipped with great diving facilities such as a separate rinse area for the underwater cameras, charging stations, showers and a nice diving platform. In addition, the Spirit of Freedom also offers free internet/WiFi, free soft drinks and alcoholic drinks during dinner. With regard to the accommodation, various rooms can be booked such as a quad room (4 persons) and standard twin - or double rooms. For a more luxurious stay, the ocean view deluxe cabin can be booked.

Courses

Beginners course

Based on reviews and our experiences, we recommend to book your beginners scuba diving course in Cairns with Pro Dive Cairns or Divers Den. Divers Den has one heated pool and Pro Dive Cairns has two heated pools. Furthermore, they have classrooms available in their training center - perfect to learn scuba diving in a quiet area.

The cheapest price for the beginners course is with Divers Den - AUD $615 for the full course. Pro Dive Cairns offers this beginners course for AUD $710

Go Pro

If you are looking for the instructors course, Cairns Dive Centre, Divers Den and Pro Dive Cairns offer the Instructor Development Course (IDC). The price for the IDC with Cairns Dive Centre starts from AUD $1595, with Divers Den from AUD $3160 and with Pro Dive Cairns from AUD $1895. We recommend to check the latest reviews regarding the IDC and make your selection based on your preferences such as price and the number of days on the Great Barrier Reef.

Compare the
operators

Price for a dive
Price for a day trip
Price for a multiple day trip
Maximum number of guests
Scuba diving gear included
Nitrox available
Diving organization
Scuba diving beginners course
Price for the scuba diving beginners course
Advanced scuba diving courses available
Professional scuba diving courses available
Catering
Wifi available
Other facilities
Availability and prices
The latest reviews

Pro Dive Cairns

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AUD $329 (2 dives), $349 (3 dives) - $234 (snorkeling)
From AUD $266 / day
32
PADI
AUD $710
On day trips and liveaboards, unlimited tea, coffee, Milo and water is available. Food is included.
Training center with 2 heated swimming pools and air conditioned classrooms, a dive store in Cairns CBD.

Divers Den

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AUD $270 (including 3 dives) - $200 (snorkeling)
From AUD $218 / day
44
PADI
AUD $615
Lunch, tea and coffee and chilled drinking water
Free Nitrox, hot showers with fresh water on the boat, heated pool in the training center

Cairns Dive Centre

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AUD $190 (including 1 dive), $230 (2 dives) - $140 (snorkeling)
-
30
PADI
AUD $545
Lunch (cold meats, salad and rolls) and afternoon tea is included.
5 star training facility in Cairns CBD

Tusa Dive Cairns

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AUD $290 (1 dive), $320 (2 dives) or $340 (3 dives) - $240 (Snorkeling)
From AUD $449 / day
60
Other
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Lunch in buffet style, tea, coffee, and milo are included
Free guided snorkeling trips, hot fresh showers on board

Best diving centers in Cairns

There are many tour operators which offer day trips to the Great Barrier Reef. Not all tour operators offer scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, and even if they do, they don't have the right facilities in place or do not provide you with the best experience. So we have summarized the best diving tour operators/diving centers for you below.

Diving center 1: Pro Dive Cairns

Pro dive Cairns is a 5 star PADI diving center with a Training and Instructor Development Center and is located in Cairns CBD. Furthermore, they have 3 boats which they use for day trips to the Great Barrier Reef. If you are located in Port Douglas, you can also book a return trip from Port Douglas to dive on the Agincourt Reefs. Their boats can carry a maximum of 32 guests, which is a good ratio for a short liveaboard.

Following reviews, the scuba diving equipment is well maintained. In addition, they use one of the best brands for their rental scuba gear: Aqualung. The crew on the boat is very helpful and professional and the food on the boat is excellent.

The liveaboard trips include at least 7 dives (11 dives on the 3 days/2 nights liveaboard), including a night dive and a guided orientation. All meals, bed linen, dive insurance and scuba diving equipment is included. If required, a transfer from Cairns CBD and the northern beaches is also included.

Tip: They highly recommend to visit the Pro Dive Cairns Store the night before the trip in order to check and arrange the scuba diving equipment, your diving certificate and to prepare the paperwork.

Prices

Pro Dive Cairns only offers multiple day trips. Prices for a liveaboard start at AUD $595 for a 2 days/1 night trip.

Courses

Pro Dive Cairns is a great option if you would like to learn scuba diving or would like to do an follow-up course. They have two heated swimming pools at their training center, which is great if you would like to learn scuba diving or would like to do an extra course. For the professionals: they also offer the instructor development course (IDC). The swimming pool sessions will be performed in their swimming pools, and the open water training sessions will be performed on a 2 days/1night liveaboard trip.

The price of the beginners course (Padi Open Water) is AUD $710. There are less expensive options available if you just would like to get your open water certificate (e.g. Thailand). But remember: This course also includes diving on the Great Barrier Reef and a 2 days/1 night liveaboard trip, including coffee/tea/water and food. In addition, the duration of this course is only 3 days.

The price for the Padi advanced course is AUD $1,070.00

Diving center 2: Cairns Dive Centre

Cairns Dive Centre operates day scuba diving and snorkeling trips to the Outer Great Barrier Reef. On each trip, they will visit two different dive sites which are chosen by Cairns Dive Centre on the day of the diving. They often go to the dive sites Briggs, Channel reef, Elford, Milln, Moore, Sudbury and Thetford Reefs.

They have two boats: MV Sun-Kist and the MV Reefkist. The MV Sun-kist can take up to 48 guests, but Cairns Dive Centre limits the maximum passengers to 30 on this boat. A maximum of 50 guests can join the MV Reefkist.

Prices

Prices for a day snorkeling trip with the MV Sun-Kist starts at AUD $140. If you would like to make a (introduction) dive on this tour, a dive can be arranged for AUD $50 extra. An additional dive costs AUD $40.

The Island Diver day trip starts at AUD $245, including one dive. This tour will bring you to the Sudbury cay, which is an deserted sand island and is surrounded by a reef and is nice for a swim or to snorkel. If you would like to make another dive, you can pay AUD $60 on the boat. Following Cairns Dive Centre, the MV Sun-Kist is the only boat which is permitted to visit the Sudbury cay.

Courses

Cairns Dive Centre offer a Padi open water course for AUD $545, including diving on Fitzroy Island and the Great Barrier Reef. The duration of the course takes 4 days and does not include a overnight on a boat. Each day, you will return to Cairns. Perfect if you don't want to sleep on the boat. On the other hand, you have more travel time at sea.

Other course options are the advance course, including 2 days/1 night on Fritzroy Island, for AUD $680 and the rescue course for AUD $750.

Diving center 3: Divers Den (Cairns)

Divers Den is a 5-star Padi diving center, is located in Cairns CBD and provides scuba diving trips since 1974. For the day trips, they use the AquaQuest, ReefQuest and SeaQuest boats and the OceanQuest for the multiple day trips.

On the day trip, you can do up to three dives on two dive sites at the Great Barrier Reef. Divers Den usually goes to the Norman, Saxon and Hastings reefs. The duration of the trip from the marina to these reefs is about 90 minutes. The boat will stay for about 5 hours at the dive sites.

The AquaQuest is equipped with large sun decks, indoor rooms and a diving platform which is great if you are going to dive. The OceanQuest, a catamaran, has 18 twin cabins and 4 double cabins, a nice dive deck and sundecks. You will be transferred to the OceanQuest by the AquaQuest during the day.

Prices

The price for a daytrip with the AquaQuest is AUD $270, including 2 dives and equipment (AUD $240 if you bring you own gear). The snorkeling trip with the AquaQuest is slightly less expensive than the diving day trip (AUD $200).

The price for a 2 day/1 night trip starts at AUD $610, AUD $815 for the 3 days/2 nights trip, AUD $1,020 for the 4 days/3 nights trip, AUD $ 1,225 for the 5 days/4 nights trip and AUD $1,430 for the 6 days/5 nights trip.

Courses

Divers Den has a 5 Star Instructor Development and a 5 Star Career Development status. They offer various courses, from the Padi Open Water course up to and including the Instructor Development Course (IDC). In addition, they have a heated swimming pool, with a depth of 3 metres and 2 shallow areas for practicing. The training center also has 4 classrooms.

The Padi Open Water course takes up to 4 days and includes 2 days at the training center and 2 days at the Great Barrier Reef with the AquaQuest boat. The price of the Open Water Course is AUD $615. The Advanced course costs AUD $770.

Diving center 4: Tusa Dive Cairns

Since 1986, Tusa Dive Cairns operates day trips and liveaboards (multiple day trips) to the Great Barrier Reef. They have two boats: The ''Tusa Dive T6'', a catamaran, which is used for the day trips and the ''Spirit of Freedom'', which is used for the (multiple day) liveaboards.

On the day of diving, they choose the 2 best dives sites where you can dive. In contrast to other tour operators, Tusa Dive Cairns offer free guided tours by their Divemasters.

Tusa Dive Cairns offers introductory diving, which is a perfect option if you have never experienced diving and would like to explore the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately, no courses are available on day trips to get your scuba diving licence.

Prices

A snorkeling day trip with Tusa Dive Cairns will cost you AUD $240 and a scuba diving day trips starts at AUD $290 (1 dive), AUD $320 for 2 dives and AUD $340 for three dives. This also includes the scuba gear and guided dives.

How to get to Cairns

The most convenient way to reach Cairns is by plane. There are several direct flights available from both international and domestic airports. Other options are:

  • By car: Take the Bruce Hwy/A1 from Brisbane to Cairns. Its a 19 - 20 hour drive from Brisbane.
  • By train: The Spirit of Queensland rides between Cairns and Brisbane and takes about 24 hours.
  • By bus: There are various bus companies available. The Greyhound company provides daily bus services from Brisbane to Cairns. The bus trip takes approximately 29 hours.

Accommodation in Cairns

Looking for a nice camping spot, luxurious ocean view hotel room or an apartment? Below, we provided an overview of great places to stay in Cairns during your legendary scuba diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef.

Campings/Campervan

NRMA Cairns Holiday Park ($/$$): This holiday park is located at the outskirts of the city, but is a perfect location if you are looking for a quiet and relaxing camping spot. This holiday park has all necessary facilities, there is even a swimming pool. The camper spots are flat and are big enough to also house the larger campervans. The port of Cairns is a 10 minutes drive from the NRMA Cairns Holiday Park. The price for a powered site is approximately AUD $40 per night.

This holiday park also offers lodges. This is a great option if you are on the way with a car. The price for a 2 persons lodge is AUD $86 per night.

Tip: There is a big shopping centre (Smithfield shopping centre) with Coles, Woolworths and other shops closely located to the NRMA Cairns Holiday Park. Its approximately a 20 minutes drive. Furthermore, this holiday park is also closely located to Cairns International airport (a 5 minutes drive). Perfect if you just picked up your rental campervan and do not want to drive far away on the first day.

Apartments

Cairns Private Apartments ($$$): These apartments are located in the marina of Cairns. After you returned from the diving trip on the Great Barrier Reef, you can just walk to your apartment. The apartments are fully self-contained, have access to a swimming pool and spa pool, fitness centre and a sauna. In addition, these apartments have a beautiful sea view.

Hostels

Global Backpackers Cairns ($): This hostel is located at the beach and if a great option if you are looking for a central and cheap location. The marina is just a few minutes walk and is also closely located to the nightlife of Cairns and various restaurants. Global Backpackers Cairns queen rooms (some with sea view) with a balcony and bathroom, mixed dormitory rooms (4 beds and 8 beds) and a female only dormitory room.

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