Discover the breathtaking beauty of tropical northeastern Australia by exploring Cairns, the ultimate gateway to two World Heritage locations: The Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest (Daintree and Cape Tribulation). Cairns is also a hub for relaxation, featuring picturesque beaches, delightful cafes and restaurants, bustling markets, and vibrant nightlife.
At Cairns, diving enthusiasts can embark on a journey of a lifetime by exploring the wondrous underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef. With its convenient international airport, Cairns is easily accessible from numerous local airports throughout Australia, as well as from select international airports.
Our guide offers comprehensive information about the top diving centers in Cairns, including day trips and liveaboards departing from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef. We also provide an overview of the best diving sites and our expert recommendations to help you plan your ultimate diving adventure.
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 a reasonable price or a lower price 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.
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. Depending on the weather, Pro Dive Cairns chooses between 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 the Spirit of Freedom. The 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.
A Buoyancy Control Device (''BCD'') is one of the essential items for your diving equipment. A BCD will provide you with buoyancy by releasing or adding air.
When looking for a new BCD, you should definitely consider the following items:
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.
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.
Pro Dive Cairns only offers multiple day trips. Prices for a liveaboard start at AUD $595 for a 2 days/1 night trip.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef are some of the best destinations in the world for scuba diving. With an incredible diversity of marine life, beautiful coral formations, and crystal-clear waters, it's no wonder that thousands of divers from around the globe flock here every year. In this section, we have compiled a list of some of the best dive sites at Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. From famous locations like the Cod Hole to lesser-known gems like Milln Reef, these dive sites offer something for divers of all skill levels. So whether you're an experienced diver or just starting, get ready for an unforgettable underwater adventure at one of these top dive sites.
Osprey Reef is a world-class dive site and one of the most remote diving destinations on the Great Barrier Reef. Located about 220 kilometers northeast of Cairns, Osprey Reef is a submerged atoll with a large lagoon, surrounded by a steep drop-off that plunges to more than 2,000 meters.
Diving at Osprey Reef is an unforgettable experience with an abundance of marine life including sharks, manta rays, schools of pelagic fish, and colorful coral formations. The average diving depth at Osprey Reef ranges from 15 to 40 meters, depending on the specific dive site. The dive site is famous for its North Horn, where large schools of hammerhead sharks can be seen during the winter months. Other highlights of Osprey Reef include Admiralty, which features giant potato cod and the impressive Chain Gardens, with its towering walls covered in soft coral and sea fans.
Osprey Reef is best suited for advanced divers due to its often strong currents and depth, but there are options for less experienced divers as well. Divers can explore the reefs through a combination of drift and wall dives, and liveaboard dive trips are available to provide a complete diving experience.
In summary, if you are looking for a unique diving adventure, Osprey Reef is a must-visit dive site on the Great Barrier Reef. Its remote location, incredible marine life, and stunning coral formations make it an unforgettable experience for any diving enthusiast.
Cod Hole is a famous dive site located in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef, about 120 kilometers north of Cairns. As the name suggests, this dive site is known for its resident population of large potato cod, which can grow up to 2 meters in length and are very friendly to divers.
Diving at Cod Hole is a great experience for both novice and experienced divers, with an average diving depth of 10 to 18 meters. The dive site offers clear visibility and plenty of marine life, including schools of colorful tropical fish, moray eels, and reef sharks. The coral formations are also very impressive, with large boulder coral and table coral creating a unique underwater landscape.
In addition to the potato cod, other highlights of Cod Hole include the presence of other large fish species such as Maori wrasse, as well as smaller reef inhabitants like nudibranchs and shrimp. The dive site is suitable for snorkeling as well, with shallow waters and plenty of marine life visible from the surface.
Overall, Cod Hole is a must-visit dive site on the Great Barrier Reef, with its unique population of friendly potato cod and diverse marine life. Whether you are a seasoned diver or a novice, this dive site offers a unique and unforgettable underwater experience.
The Ribbon Reefs are a chain of ten coral reefs located about 50 to 80 kilometers offshore from Port Douglas in Far North Queensland, Australia. The dive sites in the Ribbon Reefs offer a diverse range of underwater landscapes, including walls, canyons, swim-throughs, and caverns. The reef is home to an abundance of marine life, including vibrant soft and hard coral formations, schools of colorful tropical fish, sea turtles, reef sharks, and much more.
The Ribbon Reefs offer an incredible range of dive sites with a variety of depths and marine life. The average diving depth at the Ribbon Reefs ranges from 10 to 30 meters, with some dive sites reaching up to 40 meters. The water temperature is warm and ranges from 22 to 30 degrees Celsius throughout the year, making it comfortable for diving.
Besides the dive site ''Cod Hole'', other popular dive sites in the Ribbon Reefs include:
Overall, the Ribbon Reefs are a must-visit destination for any diving enthusiast looking for a diverse range of underwater landscapes and marine life. Whether you are an experienced diver or a beginner, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
The Coral Gardens is one of the most popular dive sites on the Ribbon Reefs, located off the coast of Cairns. This site is known for its breathtaking coral formations, which include vibrant gardens of staghorn, plate, and boulder corals, as well as a range of sea fans and sponges. The average diving depth at The Coral Gardens ranges from 5 to 25 meters, making it suitable for divers of all skill levels.
Divers can expect to encounter a diverse range of marine life at The Coral Gardens, including large schools of colorful reef fish, sea turtles, and occasional sightings of reef sharks and manta rays. Night diving at The Coral Gardens is also a popular option, providing the opportunity to see the reef come alive with nocturnal creatures such as lobsters, crabs, and octopuses.
The Coral Gardens is easily accessible from Cairns, with dive operators offering both day trips and liveaboard options to explore the Ribbon Reefs. With its stunning coral formations and abundant marine life, The Coral Gardens is a must-visit dive site for any diving enthusiast.
The Abyss is a world-renowned dive site located on the edge of the continental shelf, approximately 100 kilometers northeast of Cairns. This site is known for its crystal-clear water, impressive wall dives, and unique marine life. The average diving depth at The Abyss is around 30 meters, but it can reach up to 45 meters in some places.
Divers at The Abyss can expect to encounter a variety of marine life, including large schools of pelagic fish, sharks, and colorful coral formations. The site is named after the deep blue abyss that descends into the darkness, which adds to the thrill of the dive. One of the main highlights of this dive site is the chance to see the giant potato cod, a rare and protected species that can weigh up to 100 kg.
The Abyss is best suited for advanced divers due to its depth and strong currents, but there are options for less experienced divers as well. Liveaboard dive trips are available to provide a complete diving experience. The water temperature at The Abyss is generally warm, ranging from 22 to 30 degrees Celsius throughout the year, providing comfortable conditions for diving.
In summary, The Abyss is an incredible dive site that offers a unique diving experience for advanced divers. Its crystal-clear water, impressive wall dives, and diverse marine life make it an unforgettable dive site for any diving enthusiast.
Agincourt Reef is a world-renowned dive site located on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef, approximately 70 kilometers northeast of Port Douglas. The reef consists of several smaller reefs and offers a wide variety of dive sites suitable for divers of all levels. The average diving depth at Agincourt Reef ranges from 5 to 25 meters, with clear, warm waters providing excellent visibility throughout the year.
Agincourt Reef is home to an array of vibrant coral formations and a diverse range of marine life, including turtles, reef sharks, and schools of colorful fish. Divers can explore an abundance of swim-throughs, walls, and canyons while encountering an array of marine species. Some of the highlights of the dive sites at Agincourt Reef include the Nursery Bommie, where divers can spot reef sharks, and the coral gardens, which are home to a variety of colorful soft and hard corals.
Agincourt Reef offers a unique experience for both experienced and novice divers. The numerous dive sites offer a range of diving experiences, from shallow coral gardens to deeper walls and swim-throughs. Liveaboard trips are available, allowing for a more comprehensive dive experience. With excellent visibility, stunning coral formations, and abundant marine life, Agincourt Reef is a must-visit dive site for anyone exploring the Great Barrier Reef.
In summary, if you are looking for a world-class dive experience on the Great Barrier Reef, Agincourt Reef should be at the top of your list. With its beautiful coral formations, diverse marine life, and excellent diving conditions, Agincourt Reef is a diver's paradise.
Flynn Reef is a popular dive site located near Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef, offering a diverse range of diving experiences for all levels of divers. With its clear waters, colorful coral formations, and abundant marine life, Flynn Reef is a must-visit destination for any diving enthusiast.
The average diving depth at Flynn Reef ranges from 5 to 20 meters, with a water temperature of around 22 to 30 degrees Celsius year-round, providing comfortable conditions for diving. Divers can explore an array of dive sites, including coral gardens, walls, and swim-throughs, teeming with vibrant tropical fish, sea turtles, and reef sharks.
One of the highlights of Flynn Reef is the popular dive site called The Three Sisters, featuring three impressive coral pinnacles that rise from the ocean floor. Another top site is the Coral Gardens, a shallow site with an abundance of coral and marine life, making it perfect for snorkelers and beginner divers.
Flynn Reef is easily accessible by boat from Cairns, making it a popular destination for day trips and liveaboard diving adventures. With its stunning underwater scenery and diverse marine life, Flynn Reef is a fantastic destination for anyone looking to experience the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef.
The Three Sisters is a popular dive site located at the Agincourt Reefs, part of the Great Barrier Reef. This unique dive site consists of three coral pinnacles, covered in colorful soft and hard corals, and surrounded by a sandy bottom. The average diving depth at The Three Sisters ranges from 10 to 25 meters, making it suitable for divers of different skill levels.
Diving at The Three Sisters is an unforgettable experience, with an abundance of marine life, including schools of colorful tropical fish, reef sharks, and turtles. This dive site is also known for its resident potato cod, which can often be seen swimming around the pinnacles.
In addition to its impressive marine life, The Three Sisters also offers stunning underwater scenery, with its towering coral formations and crystal-clear waters. Divers can explore the site through a combination of drift and wall dives, with a range of dive sites to choose from.
Overall, The Three Sisters is a must-visit dive site for any diving enthusiast visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Its unique topography, impressive marine life, and stunning underwater scenery make it a truly unforgettable diving experience.
Saxon Reef is one of the beautiful and diverse dive sites located in the Great Barrier Reef, near Cairns. This stunning dive location features a colorful array of marine life, including turtles, reef sharks, and schools of tropical fish. The average diving depth at Saxon Reef ranges from 5 to 25 meters, making it an ideal spot for both beginner and experienced divers.
The waters at Saxon Reef are generally warm throughout the year, with temperatures ranging from 22 to 30 degrees Celsius. Divers can explore the diverse coral formations, including large bommies, swim-throughs, and walls, which are all teeming with life. Saxon Reef is also home to the beautiful coral gardens, which offer an opportunity to see a variety of hard and soft corals.
This dive site is easily accessible by boat from Cairns and Port Douglas, making it a popular destination for day trips or multi-day liveaboard excursions. Experienced guides are available to ensure that divers have a safe and enjoyable experience.
In summary, Saxon Reef is a must-visit dive site for anyone looking to explore the stunning underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef. Its diverse marine life and vibrant coral formations make it a popular destination for divers of all skill levels.
Milln Reef is a popular dive site located off the coast of Cairns, Australia. This stunning reef is home to an incredible variety of marine life, including giant clams, colorful fish, and vibrant coral formations. The average diving depth at Milln Reef ranges from 5 to 30 meters, making it accessible for divers of all skill levels.
Divers can explore the diverse terrain of Milln Reef through a combination of wall, drift, and bommie dives. The site is also known for its excellent night diving opportunities, where divers can spot nocturnal creatures like reef sharks, octopuses, and cuttlefish.
The water temperature at Milln Reef ranges from 22 to 30 degrees Celsius, offering comfortable diving conditions year-round. The reef is easily accessible by boat from Cairns, and a variety of dive tours are available for visitors.
In summary, if you're looking for an accessible and vibrant dive site in Cairns, Milln Reef is an excellent option. With its diverse marine life, stunning coral formations, and year-round diving opportunities, it's a must-visit destination for any diving enthusiast.
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:
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.
NRMA Cairns Holiday Park ($/$$): This holiday park is located at the outskirts of the city, but is a perfect location if you are looking for a quiet and relaxing camping spot. This holiday park has all necessary facilities, there is even a swimming pool. The camper spots are flat and are big enough to also house the larger campervans. The port of Cairns is a 10 minutes drive from the NRMA Cairns Holiday Park. The price for a powered site is approximately AUD $40 per night.
This holiday park also offers lodges. This is a great option if you are on the way with a car. The price for a 2 persons lodge is AUD $86 per night.
Tip: There is a big shopping centre (Smithfield shopping centre) with Coles, Woolworths and other shops closely located to the NRMA Cairns Holiday Park. Its approximately a 20 minutes drive. Furthermore, this holiday park is also closely located to Cairns International airport (a 5 minutes drive). Perfect if you just picked up your rental campervan and do not want to drive far away on the first day.
Cairns Private Apartments ($$$): 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.
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.