great barrier reef, Your Bucket List Guide to Diving The Great Barrier Reef
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Your Bucket List Guide to Diving The Great Barrier Reef

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I am not sure if it is just me, but diving in the Great Barrier Reef always seemed like the creme de la creme. Maybe it was because it is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world or the fact that it is the world’s largest reef system, but it was no surprise that diving the Great Barrier Reef had always been at the top of my list. And if this is on your bucket list too, then you have come to the right place!

My Bucket List Review of Diving the Great Barrier Reef

My Overall Rating8/10
CategoryScuba Diving
Who Needs to Add This to Their Bucket List?Scuba divers and fish lovers
Best Time to GoDecember – February
Traveling DifficultyEasy
Physical DifficultyModerate
Popularity Rating9/10
Group/Tour RequiredTechnically no (if you are rich and scuba certified), but it is recommended
to go with a tour group.
Wheelchair AccessibleNo

If you need more information, you check out all you need to know about my Bucket List Reviews.

Why should the Great Barrier Reef be added to your bucket list?

When they say that this is the largest reef system, they are not joking. The Great Barrier Reef has almost 3,000 individual reefs and 980 islands, and it stretches 2,600km.  This baby is so big that you can view it from space and fit 70 million football fields into it

Combine that with the fact that it has a wide variety of species, you get one hyped-up bucket list item! 

That is why if you ever get a chance to dive in the Great Barrier Reef, you should definitely hop on it (or should I say, “dive in it”?)

Tips and Tricks for Diving the Great Barrier Reef

When is the best time to go?

  • December-February: good visibility, warmest water
  • August-December: less rain and wind, good visibility
  • June-November: minke and humpback whale spotting as well as the coral spawning.
  • April-September: manta ray and hammerhead spotting.
great barrier reef, Your Bucket List Guide to Diving The Great Barrier Reef
Looking at some clown fish in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Please note! You might think that the best time to go would be during summer (so during our winter season because Australia’s seasons are backward). However,  November to May is also stinger season. However, if you want to go from December to February, it has the best visibility and warmer water. 

Don’t worry—the weather and water temperatures are still nice from May to November if you go in winter! I went in September and had no issues. The water was actually a very good temperature! 

The Great Barrier Reef offers good conditions all year, unlike many other diving sites so you really can’t go wrong. I would just make sure to talk to your company and/or dive master to make sure you are aware of any safety hazards while diving.

Where should I depart from if I want to dive the Great Barrier Reef?

There are several towns in Australia along the coast that you can depart from, but the most popular are Port Douglas and Cairns.


Let me start by saying that I departed from Cairns. I chose it because it seemed to be the most popular place to depart for the reef and had more adventurous excursions besides diving. Overall, I had no issues with it! It was a nice town and the reef was amazing! I think that if I ever go again, I would like to try Port Douglas or one of the other less touristy ports.

Port Douglas

If I am being honest, I have heard mixed things about Port Douglas. It is about 45-60 minutes from Cairns. I know that it is closer to the outer reef and offers more laid-back diving experiences. There are fewer tour operators. I met a guy on the boat that I was on that said the diving is a bit better out there. Do we believe him? I’ll leave it up to you!

Tour Ideas for the Great Barrier Reef

great barrier reef, Your Bucket List Guide to Diving The Great Barrier Reef

Remember your sea sickness pills

Keep in mind that the reef is a way outside of Cairns (maybe a little less if you are departing from Port Douglas).

However, if you are easily seasick, I would make sure to pack some seasickness pills just in case. This is a big bucket list moment and it would suck to have it ruined by a bad case of seasickness!

Consider a liveaboard!

Behold my own bucket list! I have always wanted to try a lifeaboard! *Wink wink* if you are a liveaboard company please take pity on me.

When I was on the boat, there were several people who were going to transfer to a liveaboard. Basically, you sleep on the boat and do a 2/3 tank dive a day.

Wear a stinger suit if needed (ask your guide)

Stinger season is normally when the water is warmer. It is normally from October/November until May

Ask your company and/or dive master about any concerns you may have and if you need to wear a stinger suit.

Think about renting an underwater camera

If you are into any sort of photography, this reef is a goldmine for amazing photos. Even if you do not have expensive underwater gear, I found that a lot of places in Cairns (or even the dive company) give you the option to rent photography gear. 

This is awesome memorabilia and you might get some amazing shots!

Not ready to jump all the way in but still want a thrilling water adventure? Check out…

My Personal Experience with Diving the Great Barrier Reef

This experience has always been very high on my bucket list. Therefore, when I was visiting Australia in September, I made a special trip to Cairns just to dive into the reef. I was very very nervous due to the fact that my ear had been wrapped and under strict orders to not get wet for the past three months. So this was the first time that it was officially submerged—and it was oh, so worth it! 

I flew into Cairns the night before. There are some other really fun things to do in this coastal town but, as I mentioned before, I flew in just to cross this off of my bucket list. 

Diving with Diver’s Den

The company I went with was Diver’s Den, which operates tours out of Cairns. This provided me with a nice day trip and two tank dives. Once we got to the boat, we relaxed and had a safety briefing. The trip from the coast to the actual reef was about an hour or so (but it may be up to 2 hours depending on how far you go out). 

There were quite a lot of people on the boat itself and there were many guides and tours going out at different times. Since I was PADI certified and without a buddy (I was traveling solo), I was put into a group with another couple and a buddy for me. We hung out, ate some food, talked about diving stories, and enjoyed the view while we waited for our turn. 

Once it was our turn, we got ready and created a dive plan together. One thing that I really loved about this company is that it gave our group freedom in regard to drafting our own diving plan. Together, we decided that we would see most of the reef and then head to a bit deeper waters for a chance to see more wildlife.

great barrier reef, Your Bucket List Guide to Diving The Great Barrier Reef
Starting my dive with Divers Den in the Great Barrier Reef out of Cairns, Australia.

Once we decided, we buddied up again and took the leap into the water. 

I have heard rumors that some of the coral was dying due to human interaction and whitewashing. Although I did see some of this, the coral seemed to be alive and thriving to me (especially compared to other places)! And WOW! 

This was truly a thriving ecosystem. I have never seen such a diverse group of fish, coral, and other marine life! For my diving enthusiasts—you know how in your dive log there is normally a section where you write what you saw/did? I literally ran out of room. It was insane!  I think that the only place where I saw a more thriving coral ecosystem was Fiji.

My personal favs were the parrot fish and the black-tip reef sharks. I was truly in my own mermaid heaven

When we went to a deeper section of the reef, it only seemed to liven more! There was a point where I was on my back swimming and a turtle swam up my body and over my head! 

Suddenly, out of nowhere—the woman from the couple that I had made friends with swam over to me and grabbed my hand. I looked at her stunned facial expression. Thoroughly confused, I scanned my environment ready to put my emergency diving training to use. I soon realized that she was looking straight ahead and there she was: a whale in the distance

I don’t know if I was just in the moment or if I had always wanted to dive with a whale, but I just started crying. Definitely a bit awkward in a mask but what can you do? After we got out of the water, the guide said that it was his guess that it was a dwarf minke whale or a humpback, but it was too far away to tell for certain. Either way, I was in complete awe and it was one of the coolest moments I have had so far! 

Things to Keep in Mind


As I mentioned before, you might want to avoid the summer season because it is more likely you will run into stingers. But what exactly is a stinger? 

Here’s a quick safety lesson—stingers are a subspecies of jellyfish. The most common stingers in the reef are the box jellyfish and the Irukandji. These are extremely venomous and potentially lethal. Box jellyfish have a box-shaped bell with up to 15 tentacles and produce a sharp burning sensation when stung. The Irukandji are much smaller and are harder to spot. Most people do not feel the sting and feel symptoms up to an hour later. 

Talk to your dive master for more information and see if you are in or near a jellyfish habitat (most guides and tours are not). 

If you are stung, inform the dive crew and captain immediately, pour vinegar over the area, and (IMPORTANT) contact emergency services as soon as possible! 

You can rent a stinger suit (and might want to anyway), but you can also just decrease your risk and avoid it and go from June-September.

great barrier reef, Your Bucket List Guide to Diving The Great Barrier Reef
Getting close with the fishes at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia!

Fun Facts About the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is so big that it is the size of 70 million football fields. 

There are too many species to count! 

When I say that the ecosystem was booming, I really mean it. Normally the population of marine life has been quite limited, but it was not the case with the Great Barrier Reef. Even though I have seen healthier coral reefs (*cough cough FIJI), nothing has compared to the diversity of species in this massive reef!

In fact, they said that there are more than 1,625 species of fish and 10% of the world’s fish species inhabit the reef!

  • 30 species of whale, dolphin, and porpoise 
  • 6 species of turtles.
  • 600 species of soft and hard coral.

Coral comes from polyps (tiny marine creatures that have sac-like bodies and tentacles) that use calcium and carbonate ions to give it its rock-like structure.

These creatures have symbiotic relationships with algae—they absorb light from the sun and then feed coral and give them their bright colors. 

They are actually nocturnal and during the night the polyps come out from their casings and catch any small creatures passing by. 

They only spawn once a year when the polyp releases its genetic material into the water. A single polyp can start an entire reef!

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most popular attractions in Australia, drawing in over 2 million people per year!

This generates a lot of money that can be contributed to reef protection.

great barrier reef, Your Bucket List Guide to Diving The Great Barrier Reef
One of my favorite travel photos of me peaking my head out behind some coral at the Great Barrier Reef.

How You Can Protect the Great Barrier Reef

Unfortunately, as with many other things, the reef is in danger due to climate change and human interaction

With the rising sea temperatures, the coral is at greater risk of bleaching and death

The rising number of tourists and pollution also causes the coral to bleach and die. Bleaching just means that the polyps kick out the algae. This doesn’t cause the coral to immediately die but loses its color and their main food source. This can increase the risk of starvation and disease. This can happen because of divers touching the coral, leaving trash in the water, or introducing sun creams or lotions to the reef

Therefore, if you are going to take part in this incredible diving activity, it is VERY important that you do your best to take care of the reef and preserve its beauty! Here are some things that you can do to do your part in the conservation of the reef!

Use reef-protected sunscreen!

Some ingredients can be very harmful to the coral! Make sure to only use reef/coral-friendly sunscreen. Or take the even better option and get a long-sleeved rash guard! I have worn this multiple times and it has been more effective than sunscreen.

Shower before you enter the water and don’t use any beauty products beforehand.

Make sure that you don’t have any harsh beauty products on your skin when you enter the water. Trust me–the fishies don’t care if you are beautiful when you visit them 🙂

Don’t touch the coral!

Sometimes this is unavoidable. However, it is your responsibility as a diver to do your best to not touch the coral and damage any ecosystem. Make sure that you are trained enough before you dive so that you can leave as little trace of your presence as possible.

Do you have a trip planned to the Great Barrier Reef? Make sure to follow my on social media and tag me so that I can cheer you on when you are crossing this incredible activity off of your bucket list!

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