Whether you are thinking about a try-dive, getting prepared to join your liveaboard or waiting to explore the Great Barrier Reef during daily dives, Cairns has its gates open all the year round for you.
Cairns is one of the main and most known cities in Australia which is located on a coastal strip of Queensland between the Great Dividing Range and the Coral Sea.
The International Airport of Cairns can be found 7km (4mi) to the north from the city. It is serviced by all domestic airlines as well as several international companies from Asia and New Zealand.
The city of Cairns has a train and a bus connection with major Australian destinations. It also hosts an important touristic port which is a starting point for many daily diving and snorkeling tours as well as a stopping point for cruise ships around South Pacific Ocean.
There are so many diving opportunities around Cairns that you only need to determine how long you’d like to dive and what is your budget.
The best budget option when you have some time limits is to visit Outer Barrier Reef which is situated 60km (37mi) away from Cairns. It includes such dive spots as Flynn, Norman, Saxon, Milln, Thetford, Briggs, and Hastings. This area offers relaxed diving with a wide range of marine life and critters which are great for photography and night dives.
The choice of how to arrange your daily diving from Cairns is very diverse: you can try sailing boats, pontoons, a floating hotel, modern catamarans, and other types of vessels. Usually, you can rent all the needed equipment including wetsuit or Lycra protection from your boat operator. The entry into the water is usually made with the giant stride.
If you are an advanced diver and have enough time, that it might be the best idea to join one of the liveaboards traveling to Ribbon Reefs or Osprey Reef.
When making night dives especially during the warmest months you should take special care of Jellyfish which can be attracted by the torch light.
Dive Courses and Dive Centres
If you are thinking of starting your underwater adventure, then Cairns is the most popular place to take your first diving course, like PADI Open Water. This is a unique opportunity not only to get certified but also to start your log book in one of the world’s best diving destinations. Prices are very reasonable. If you do not know how to choose a club, you can use Dive Shop and Resort locator at PADI.com. Those ranked with 5-star currently have the best rating. Otherwise, you can just drop into the Dive Shop and join them if you find them reliable.
5-7 days will be enough to finalize your Open Water Certification. First, 2 days you need to spend in Cairns to pass classroom and pool training. After that, you will have an opportunity to join one of the liveaboards going to the Outer Reef usually for 3 days. Some clubs offer combined packages for Open and Advanced Open Water Courses as well as some additional training on marine biology and reefs.
It is important to know that a medical certificate stating that you fit to dive is needed. You can take it in advance from your local physician or it is possible to be arranged in Cairns.
Best Dive Sites Overview
Flynn Reef features such diving spots as Coral Gardens, Tennis Court, Tracey’s Bommie, and Gordon’s Mooring. It is situated to the east from Cairns. The dive sites consist of walls; coral gardens with different colorful soft corals as well as Table Coral, Staghorn Coral, and other hard coral species; overhangs, small tunnels, and swim-throughs. The depth varies between 5-30m (16-98ft.). There are several resident Turtles around the area. You can find Anemones with Clownfish, Wobbegong Shark, and Morays. The reefs are surrounded by Sweetlips, Goatfish, Surgeonfish, Rabbitfish, and Parrotfish.
This Reef is located 55km (34mi) to the east from Cairns. There are several dive spots here like Three Sisters, Swimming Pools, Whale Bommie, and some others. The depth ranges between 5-30m (16-98ft).
If you dive from the deeper side of the Reef you will encounter a large number of small creatures: Flatworms, Sea Stars, Nudibranchs, Eels, Crabs, Painted Lobsters, and Shrimps. There are many hard and soft corals, including Sea Fans, Black Coral, Staghorn Coral, Mushroom Coral, and Table Coral. The most common fish here is Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, Surgeonfish, Wrasse, Snappers, Groupers, and Fusiliers. If you look around you might also notice Barracuda, Green Sea Turtle, Whitetip Reef Shark, and Bull Ray.
Moore Reef is famous for its Giant Clams which can be as large as 2m (6ft.). There are also fields of Staghorn Coral providing a nursery area for small reef fish, Shrimps, and Crabs. There are many colorful Nudibranchs around the area. On sandy spots, you can look for Stingrays. Occasionally, Whitetip Reef Shark, Grey Reef Shark, and Napoleon pass through the channels. Pelagic is represented by schools of Barracuda, Trevally, and Mackerel.
This Reef is one of the farthest among the Outer Reefs located on the edge of the continental shelf. The average depth here is 5-20m (16-65ft.). There are nice swim-throughs and walls here. It is possible to see larger pelagic in this area. The most common inhabitants are Rays, Barracuda, Jacks, Whitetip Reef Sharks, Octopus, Morays, and Napoleon. Dolphins are usually seen from the boats, though it’s rare to meet them under the water.
Thetford Reef is made of coral pinnacles which are divided by channels with sandy bottom at 16-25m (52-82ft.). There are many overhangs and swim-throughs which give fantastic photographic opportunities among beautiful Anemones, Staghorn Corals, Gorgonians, and Giant Clams. The pinnacles are full of Parrotfish, Triggerfish, Angelfish, Wrasse, Butterflyfish, Damselfish, and Fusiliers. Stingrays, Napoleons, Morays, and Octopuses are common here too.
Best Dive Season
You can enjoy diving around Cairns in any time of the year. If you wish to have the best visibility, then it might be better to arrive in June or in September-November. The period between the middle of August and the middle of December is usually referred to as the best diving season.
Warm tropical waters of Cairns do not get colder than 23ºC (73ºF) with an average temperature of 24ºC (75ºF) and the highest temperature of 29-30ºC (84-86ºF).
The city of Cairns is influenced by the tropical climate which brings wet season during November-May with monsoon rains and winds while dry season usually runs between June and October.
You will hardly face any strong currents in Outer Reef, only at some dive spots of Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reef. The average visibility is 5-20m (16-65ft.) with the best of 40m (131ft.).
Even experienced divers find marine life around Cairns breath-taking. The corals of various shapes and structures form the basis for the extraordinary underwater realm. Soft corals are imbued with all colors of the rainbow. Some of the hard corals impress by their size like magnificent Sea Fans while Staghorn Corals remind bushy trees. Giant Clams might exceed 2m (6ft.) in size offering opportunities for practicing underwater photography.
The reefs are inhabited by a huge variety of crustaceans, reef fish, and invertebrates. The most common fish to meet around the area of Cairns is Angelfish, Parrotfish, Batfish, Lionfish, Sweetlips, Grouper, Damselfish, Snapper, Napoleon, Butterflyfish, Triggerfish, and Surgeonfish.
It is common to see Whitetip Reef Shark, Green Sea Turtle, Octopus, Morays, Rays, and Wobbegong Shark around the area.
October and November are popular not only for Coral spawning event but also for Humpback Whales which can be seen around as of June. Minke Whales also pass through the area between June and August.
The only unpleasant creature which you should treat with care is Jellyfish. As some of them are poisonous, special suit protection is necessary between November-May being the peak of the Jellyfish season.
As dive centers are usually separated from resorts and hotels in Cairns, you can choose any type of accommodation according to your preferences.
Cairns Coconut Holiday Resort
This Resort can be found at the southern entrance of Cairns. It occupies the territory of 11 hectares (28 acres) with rainforest, palms, and gardens. There is a great choice of accommodation for any type of traveler: Sun Lagoon or Coconut Condos, Villas, Holiday Units, and En-suite Cabins. The Resort features 2 large pools with waterslides, Splash Waterpark, Jumping Pillow, a gym, Children’s playground, tennis courts, BBQ areas, mini golf, pedal karts, outdoor cinema, and many other entertainments.
Sea Change Beachfront Apartments
This complex of 5-star apartments is located in the northern part of Cairns along the Trinity Beach. It offers 1, 2, 3 and 4 bedroom apartments. Each apartment features a big balcony with views over the Coral Sea, Spa bath, and a fully equipped kitchen. There are a pool and Spa on the territory of the Resort. WiFi is provided for free in all apartments.
Waters Edge Apartments
The Resort is located on Cairns Esplanade. It offers luxury accommodation in 2 and 3 bedroom Ocean View Apartments or 3 bedroom Swim out Apartments. The latter type of apartment can accommodate up to 6 people. There is a direct access to a swimming pool straight from the own deck. There are also several bathrooms including a Spa bath in this type of apartment. You can find saltwater pools and BBQ facilities on the territory of the Resort.
The Reef House Resort & Spa
If you wish to escape from the noise of Cairns, then it might be a good idea to stay at Palm Cove beachside village featuring the Reef House. It is located 25-minutes away from Cairns. This luxury Resort offers Studios, Apartments, and Suites. Each accommodation has a private balcony or verandah, tea/coffee making facilities, bathrobes, and toiletries. Some of the rooms have private Spas. There are 3 swimming pools and 2 Spa pools, a restaurant and a bar on the territory. Each evening the guests are offered complimentary Punch at Brigadier’s Lounge.
There are 2 types of liveaboards starting from Cairns. One of them usually offers trips from 1 night up to 1 week. These itineraries cover dive sites at the Outer Great Barrier Reef. The other type of liveaboard suggests minimum 3-night itineraries to visit Ribbon Reef, Osprey Reef, and other destinations in the Coral Sea. Such trips can last up to 1-2 weeks.
Spirit of Freedom
Spirit of Freedom is one of the most famous liveaboards of the Great Barrier Reef. The 37m (121ft.) long vessel provides comfortable accommodation for 26 divers. There are 11 Cabins, all with en-suite bathrooms and A/C. The liveaboard features own wine cellar to offer complimentary drinks to the guests.
M/V Spoilsport belongs to Mike Ball Dive Expeditions. This 30m (98ft.) liveaboard features 14 Cabins to accommodate up to 28 guests. The guests can relax on a spacious sundeck and a lounge deck. The itinerary usually covers Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reef. Some specialized expeditions are offered as well.
Ocean Quest is a catamaran. She is 36m (118ft.) long with 23 cabins. Each cabin has a private bathroom, A/C, and TV. It operates in the Outer Great Barrier Reef. One of the attractions aboard is a custom-designed mask filter and torches for a spectacular night diving when you can enjoy the fluorescent underwater world.
There are 3 vessels which make up the Scubapro Fleet. Each of the liveaboards is 25m (82ft.) long and it can take aboard 32 divers. Boats visit the Outer Reef dive sites. If you need WiFi, it is available aboard free of charge.
MV Kangaroo Explorer
Kangaroo Explorer is ready to accommodate 36 guests as she is a 26m (85ft.) long liveaboard. There are 6 Double Cabins, 6 Twin Cabins, and 3 Quad Cabins. Each Cabin has a private bathroom and A/C. The boat services the Outer Reef dive destinations.
Other Activities For Non-Divers
The best way to enjoy snorkeling around Cairns is to join one of the daily boats leaving for the Outer Reef. There are many boat operators who offer such trips. You need to remember about Jellyfish and sun protection thus wetsuit or Lycra is highly recommended. The best protection should cover your body, feet, hands, and neck. Some suits even have hoods to protect the head. Snorkelers as well as other visitors
Need to pay the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park fee which is 6 AUD (~4.6 USD) in January-March for the full-day and 6.50 AUD (~5 USD) in April-December. Some additional fees (like port or fuel fees) can be added by your operator.
Activities and Excursions
There are many different activities to be arranged in Cairns besides diving and snorkeling. Water sports of all types can be found along the coast. There are several beautiful nature parks in the nearby area which are recommended for visiting and trekking tours, like the Australian Platypus Park & Tarzali Lakes Aquaculture Centre and Daintree National Park. You can also join the Kuranda Scenic Railway at Cairns Railway Station.
It is unforgettable to see the Great Barrier Reef from the air during a helicopter flight, hot air balloon flight, scenic seaplane flights or skydiving tour.