Both of us have wanted to visit the Great Barrier Reef for a long time, which was yet another reason we knew we had to include Australia on this trip. We did a little research and came up with the fantastic idea of doing a four day liveaboard trip on the boat Reef Encounter.
Given that this was a wedding present and we both saw it as a pseudo-honeymoon, we went with the “first class” option so that we had a super cute, perfectly placed cabin on the top deck looking out over the bow and a crew member, Callandra, specially assigned just to us as a dive buddy for Max and as our go-to person for anything we might need while on the boat.
Living on the boat made things so easy – great food, a nice room, and no long rides out to each dive site everyday, since we were actually living on the Great Barrier Reef! Reef Encounter mainly visits the Hastings, Norman and Saxon reefs (the Great Barrier Reef is actually a 2,300km-long ecosystem made of thousands of reefs and hundreds of islands), so every day we went to two or three different sites somewhere on those three reefs. It was incredible to get out in the water so frequently. Our days usually went like this: diving/snorkeling at 6:30am for about an hour, breakfast, skipping the 8:30am diving/snorkeling session, diving and snorkeling at 10:30am, lunch, snorkeling together at 1:30pm, diving/snorkeling at 3:30pm, dinner, night diving at 7:30pm, and then dessert before going to bed and doing it all over again!
Diving on the Great Barrier Reef was every bit as spectacular as you can imagine. Incredible amounts of fish, colorful coral, and a great deal of larger creatures like sharks, sea turtles, manta rays, and even an octopus! Max spent the first few dives re-learning manual controls on his camera and strobe, and the remainder having a blast taking unhurried photos with the benefit of a single buddy and no larger group to keep up with. The back-to-back dives allowed for immediate photo download, review, and minor editing in our cabin before heading out again with new ideas and settings to try.
Meanwhile, Kristan gained a reputation for being the annoying snorkeler who would go in with the first divers (aka Max and Cally), swim as far as the lookout would let her, and wouldn’t come out until the last divers came out about 80 minutes later.
Strangest thing about being 30 miles offshore on a protected reef? Cell service. We were completely surprised to have a decent data connection where we could share a few photos, download an underwater photography book onto a kindle, and even check in on Foursquare. (By the way, as of writing, Max is still the mayor of the Great Barrier Reef.)
The best part was the last day, which happened to be Max’s birthday. Kristan had secretly plotted with Cally to not only surprise him on a dive with underwater birthday letters and a visit from a free-diving Kristan but also get a birthday cake with lunch shaped like a turtle!
We had such a great and amazing time. We can’t wait to go on another liveaboard!