Coral Sea Liveaboard trip review

Eat, Sleep, Dive, Repeat!
Trip review by Ben Reddy, Dive Centre Manager,Scuba Culture.

Every good dive trip should start with a beer.

We assembled in Hemingway’s Brewery, Cairns Wharf, on a beautiful winters day in FNQ.  This time of year, brings gloriously warm, dry days that are begging to be enjoyed with a ginger beer and a view of the ocean.  We collected ourselves, trading stories of our journey up from the depths of Melbourne winter.  For some, this was their very first dive trip!  Others are already seasoned SCUBA travellers, on their second or third trip this winter.  After introductions were made, catch ups finished, beer drank, we were collected by out hosts to board our home for the next five nights.

We were greeted upon boarding our new home (Mike Ball’s Spoil Sport) with champagne, various cheeses and cold cut meat.  After a quick check to make sure everyone had everything they needed for the trip, the boat was untied, and we were away!  It was important to leave ASAP as we had a long trip ahead of us, to some of the most remote dive sites on the entire east coast.

People often talk about the Great Barrier Reef as if it is a single location.  You will always hear things like “when I dived the GBR” or “I’ve done the GBR before” as if one person could actually have seen the whole thing!  In reality, the GBR is larger than most countries measuring 348,700 km² this colossal reef system is roughly the size of Germany!  Most day trips from Cairns will travel around 1.5 hours to sites in line with Port Douglas. Liveaboards will get to the lower Ribbon Reefs (In line with Cooktown). 

We were headed far past these more commonly visited sites, all the way to Ribbon Reef 10 and then, Osprey Reef. I always say, as a general rule “the more remote a dive site is, the better”.

Day 1

Before we could begin exploring, we were given a detailed briefing on all diving procedures and safety equipment. You could choose to dive as independent buddy teams, or follow the Mike Ball staff.  The newer divers in the group loved the opportunity to get some real experience conducting their own self-guided dives.  It’s great to see divers putting the skills they learn in our courses to the test on a real expedition.  

Other more experienced members of the group embrace the opportunity to curtail their depths and times to their specific requirements.

Our first three dives gave everyone the opportunity to dial in their gear, perfect their weight and enjoy the calm, warm easy diving on the GBR.  Straight away we were greeted by vibrant coral, Cuttle Fish, White Tip Reef sharks and Snapper.

The absolute standout event of the first day (and one of the best dives of the trip) was our first night dive.  We were told this would be one of the most action-packed night dives in Australia!  

We had already dived the site (Gotham City) during the day, so it was very interesting to watch how it changed at night.  From start to finish this dive was full of predators!  Many predatory species have learnt to use the diver’s lights to locate prey. This kind of behaviour can be seen in many areas of the world, however, I had never seen it on this scale before!  Large Giant Trevally, White Tip sharks, Barracuda and Gray Reef sharks all swarmed our lights.  

You could literally feel them as they punched through the water past you and onto whatever prey item you had illuminated.  But this was still just a little tiny taste of the shark action we had coming the next day.

Day 2

Overnight we travelled a further 12 hours from Ribbon Reef 10 and out to the extremely remote Osprey Reef.  Basically, half way to PNG, Osprey reef isn’t even part of the GBR.  It rises 2000 metres from the sea bed, off the continental shelf, to create some of Australia’s most famous diving.  David Attenborough said this was his favourite reef in the world! 

The coral at Osprey Reef is pristine!  It has the highest coral coverage of anywhere that I have personally dived within Australia.  Here we also saw a much greater diversity of hard and soft corals compared with other areas of the reef.

Our second dive was the famous shark feed, at North Horn reef. 

Kristy, Trip Director & Scuba Instructor on Mike Ball Liveaboards,  informed us that shark feeding in many areas of the world can be incredibly harmful to the environment.  This is because if we feed sharks on a daily basis they become reliant on the provided food and stop cleansing the reef of its diseased fish.

 This can cause diseases to be passed on at much higher rates!  Because the feeding at Osprey happens so infrequently, it does not disrupt the normal feeding patterns of the sharks.  Kristy turned the shark feed into a real underwater show.  Bringing the sharks right past the group a number of times. At one point a large Gray Reef swam through the group with a tuna head in its mouth bringing the feeding frenzy literally right between us!

Day 3

Day three took us to another one of Australia’s most famous dive sites, Cod Hole.  

The aptly named site brings the opportunity to dive with some extra-large Potato Cod.  We did two dives at the Cod Hole so we could best experience the amazing coral in the shallows.  

During our first dive at Cod Hole the resident large Cod made a definite connection with club member Sara.  This fish followed us for almost all of both dives.  He literally hugged her the whole way, until Sara was actually trying to escape him! 

It is worth mentioning at this point that all the food that we received on this trip was amazing! Everyone agreed that is was probably the best food we had received on any dive trip!

 Everyday started with a light breakfast, followed by a full breakfast with bacon, eggs, toast, salmon, sausage muffins etc….. Lunch every day was something different and with a huge variety.  Each lunch had at least 5 different food options plus soup each day.  Then we would have a different snack after our 4th dive.  Something like cake or freshly make cookies. A nd a large dinner to finish everything off.

We also had the pleasure of seeing Pablo’s (Our On-board Reef Ecologist and Photographer) Reef Ecology presentation, where he educated us of on some of the more intricate ecological processes that we had been experiencing the last few days.  I think it’s in areas like this where good dive operators really set themselves apart from the pack.

The last day of diving brought us in past Lizard Island and to some more amazing dive sites.  By far the best of which was Steve’s Bommie.  A bommie is a small coral pinnacle formed when coral grows on top of coral for thousands of years. Steve’s Bommie was not just covered in coral but also had some very interesting macro life.  On this site we found Leafy Scorpion fish, Giant Frog fish, Wobbegong shark and Stone fish.  This really completed the diversity of this trip.  We had seen HEAPS of sharks, some of the best coral Australia has to offer, great macro diving and a great atmosphere on the boat. 

Last but certainly not least, is the amazing people we shared this experience with.  A liveaboard can always be very dependent on the other passengers on board.  We are extremely lucky at Scuba Culture to consistently book out dive trips with a really top-notch group of club members.  On this trip I feel we had people from all walks of life, getting to know each other and mixing over the shared love of diving and adventure.

We finished the trip with a blow out party night, complete with party shirts and a big BBQ.  There really isn’t anything better than having a beer and a BBQ at sea,  sharing stories and chatting about the things that we had seen over the last few days.  The night ended with a photo competition where guests submitted pictures and a winner was chosen.  The winner was no other than Scuba Culture’s own Chris Henry!  With a fantastic picture of two baby White Tip sharks resting during the shark feed.

In summary, our trip with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions was a fantastic success!  A great break from Melbourne in winter, and providing some of the best diving Australia has to offer!  All shared with some fantastic people.  I look forward to seeing everyone again on their next adventure with Scuba Culture!