For over 18 months I have been helping visitors to Cairns book and organise their holidays by working in an Information Centre. ...

Friday, 23 September 2016


So I am out on the Great Barrier Reef once more. (I know, I know it isn’t fair! Sorry, NOT sorry!) This time with the fabulous Ocean Freedom. Right away after check in when I board the vessel I could see this wasn’t your average run of the mill reef boat. Over 3 decks there are spacious, luxury leather seating, booths, an indoor air-conditioned saloon, scenic roof top flight deck and loads of space. We are instructed to place our shoes and bags in little cubby boxes allowing for even more room without the usual clutter. As I took my seat in a comfy booth I almost expected P Diddy or Leonardo DiCaprio to come through the saloon door, all dressed in cruising white with a Stoli Vodka on the rocks in their hands! This was a real “cruise” boat out to the reef and that “cruise” out to Freedom’s first site would only take just over an hour. Bonus!

The many facets of Freedom. Photo's from my iphone.

A cup of coffee, pastry & piece of fruit later we were underway. The usual briefings take place delivered confidently by (you could tell) experienced staff. We were in good hands, you could feel the Freedom VIBE. Just over an hour we find ourselves already amongst aqua waters at our first site at Upolu Cay (you don't usually visit here first, my day was in reverse due to tides & weather conditions). This tiny little sandy Cay had only 45 minutes left to be walked upon so everyone was encouraged to get themselves sorted, grab their snorkel, mask & fins (and pop an optional wet suit on, included free of charge) for the shuttle in the glass bottom boat over to the cay. From there they could snorkel easily from the sand or partake in an included guided snorkel tour, suitable if you are a little nervous. I stood by and watched them go, shortly after to see a tiny little sandy cay covered in little people. On this day, a lot of people in the safety briefing raised their hands to say they have never snorkelled before. I forget this is pretty much the majority of people coming to the Great Barrier Reef. I have to slap myself sometimes to remind myself how fortunate I am living in this corner of the world! I also need to remind myself that I am a very strong swimmer & snorkeler and much at home in the deep blue. Most International visitors are not.
 Just look at that colour! Photo's on my iPhone of the arrival.

Next, the Introduction diving got underway. This site/operation is perfect if you are a scaredy-cat first time diver and want to give it a go. They only take you down 3-4   meters (at the Cay site) making this the perfect first time experience. If you have intro dived before and don’t have your license yet, you may want to try it again at another boat & site to get some depth (or if the boat goes to the deeper site first). The dive length is 20-25 minutes long so if your uncomfortable in any way it isn’t for long. You also have to be patient, a lot of people on this day trip usually take an intro dive and you are given a number and must wait your turn. For those who want to go further & longer, $50 extra will allow you to have a second dive at the 2nd site. If your dive master is happy with you on that second dive and confident in your skills, you get a lot more freedom to move about on your own and not be joined at the hip to your dive master, like in the first dive.
Introduction Diving at the Cay. Photo's by Tara Reynolds.

This vessel is the only one that has a "2 people only rule" for the intro dive. Most boats have a group size of 4 or even 6 intro divers to one master and you must remain together, holding on as a group. If one person in that group has trouble equalising or is a little afraid it can effect the whole group. With Ocean Freedom, that ratio is very small as there is only  the 2 of you to effect each other. There is a lot of time spent at this site! On this day they only finished with the last divers at the end of our time there. That was a lot of divers!
Some Anemone's at the Cay site. Photo by Tara Reynolds on the Canon G16.

I enjoyed my snorkel. I have been to similar sites which are prefect for turtle and ray spotting and I wasn’t disappointed… I saw 4 Blue Spotted Rays. No turtles today, but I was pretty chuffed at finding Nemo once again and got some cute photos. Visibility was epic, exploring the little bommies was fun and relaxing. Once I had exhausted them all I got out with time left to grab some sun.

Images from the Sandy Cay. Photo's by Tara Reynolds.

Since it was such good weather the staff decided to transfer a load of people to the 2nd site in the glass bottom boat, so I jumped at the chance. This was a strategical move on the staffs part as we headed out on our tour they started serving lunch to the group remaining on the boat so there were no long lunch lines. Oblivious to this at the time, our Marine Biologist was telling us all about the reef on route to site number 2. Very pretty corals & giant clams and it was becoming clear this was a Blue Starfish territory as I counted 4 on the glass bottom boat tour alone.

 Images on my iPhone of the Glass Bottom Boat.

The main vessel made it’s way to the 2nd site and we made our way to join it. We were greeted by Barry, the Barracuda… a massive friendly fish who now relies on Ocean freedom to feed him every day and has permission to do so.

Now, it was my turn for lunch (such a highlight in my day…lol!)
Fabulous Food on Freedom. You never go hungry! Photo's from my iPhone.

The food was great! I know, I know… you didn’t come out all this way for the food, I get it! HOWEVER…. there IS a difference and I notice it as I get to head out to the reef often. Smoked Salmon leapt up off the buffet at me. YES!!!! I LOVE SMOKED SALMON! The usual potato salad wasn’t potato, it was Kumera (sweet potato) and sooooooo delicious! The prawns, salads, chicken, cold meats platter were also delicious. I was ravenous and consumed all my Salmon in seconds and wanted more, thankfully you get to have seconds!

The staff announced it was Adventure Drift Snorkel time. Stuff it, my food hadn’t settled but this was what I had been waiting for. I suited up (I am a soft local and felt cold. The clouds were closing in and it started to sprinkle with rain) boarded the tender with a small group of passengers  and headed away to a site north of the boat.
In the water ready for the adventure. Photo by Tara Reynolds

This second site is the Wonder Wall. and I am told the starting point of our tour was called Jaws. Good! I wanted to see a shark. Alas, it wasn’t to be that day and it started raining heavily *sigh*. That didn’t matter, as soon as we were in the water the visibility was amaze-balls and this site was  proving to be something special. The fish don't care if it rains! I actually wasn’t prepared for this site to be so good! As we swam slowly on our tour towards the main vessel with our guide, rain drops patting our backs, I hung to the back of the group and got snap happy… my trigger finger working over time!!! The coral was in very good nick here with minimal bleaching and so diverse in colour range and coral types. 

Images of coral diversity & colour taken on a G16 Camera, hired from Calypso Cameras Cairns. Photo's by Tara Reynolds.

I found Nemo. Yes, his anemone had been effected by coral bleaching but it was already on the mend and having some Anemone fish living there is proof it was still alive and well.
Nemo happy in his house. Photo by Tara Reynolds.

There were loads of Giant clams at this site and many giant Bat Fish.

Photo's on the G16 Canon from Calypso.

I also came across a large Map Pufferfish just chilling out.

Mr Pufferfish Chillaxing. Photo by Tara Reynolds.

The Coral colours were amazing! After the Adventure drift finished back at the boat I spent another further hour enjoying the site. I was loving it!

I came across a large group of Trumpet Fish. If I didn’t move much they drifted right long side me. I was part of their school!

Photo's by Tara Reynolds.

Barry even came up to me to say hello.
The Barracuda. Photo by Tara Reynolds.

I exited the water after a couple of hours (which I couldn't believe). I was cold and my fingers were all prunes! I felt I achieved everything I wanted out of the day and didn’t leave empty handed. Most people were back on the boat, already changed and ready to go home. There is a HUGE amount of water time on this day trip. If you don’t snorkel a lot the day may drag on for you but if you partake in everything possible, as I did and maximise your day you will get the most out of it.  Get out there and get involved!

Another great thing about this day trip is the lack of travel time. It was only 1 hour back to Cairns, I was panicking a little I wouldn’t get enough time to enjoy my wine! The service continued on the journey home with staff handing out fresh fruit platters, an indulgent cheese platter (with blue cheese and brie!!!) and colourful cake platter.
Cheese! Afternoon tea was awesome. Photo on my iPhone.

Phew! It was a big day and my little snorkelling legs were knackered! If you dislike long travel times to the Outer Reef and can get a little sea sick, on a good glassy day this boat trip may be the best option for you. If you are a water baby like me, again, get out on Ocean Freedom! If you like to be “FREE” with your snorkelling space (as in don’t like roped off restricted areas in front of a pontoon) with a massive area to explore with the option to explore further away with the Adventure Drift Snorkel… again, think about getting on board with these guys! If you want to try a shallow easy Introduction Dive for the very first time… yup…you guessed it......this is the boat for you!

I want to give a MASSIVE shout out to Ocean Freedom’s staff. All friendly, all professional, all knowledgable… all conducted their duties with a smile on their face. Follow their Instagram & FB page. #oceanfreedom http://www.oceanfreedom.com.au

Remember, visit our website for more information on this tour or to make a booking. I can also be contacted through my FB or Instagram. http://www.reefinfo.com.au

Another MASSIVE thanks goes to Calyposo camera hire. I can’t go out to the reef without one of their cameras (I just feel naked!) especially the Canon G16 which I have come to love. See the friendly staff located conveniently at the Reef Fleet Terminal where you check in for your day trips. http://calypsoproductions.com.au


The Tour:
Full day trip (6 hours on the reef!)

08:00am - 4.30pm (Check in Reef Fleet Terminal)

Suitable for: 
  • Families 
  • Adventure snorkeler
  • Nervous first time diver (shallow dive)
  • Those scared of deep open water (one site is very shallow)
Fitness level (out of 5):
  • 💪 💪
Time of year:
  • All year round
  • Stinger suits worn October to May
  • $195.00 AUD Adult (including $10 reef levy)
  • $110.00 AUD Child (including levy)
  • $553.00 AUD Family (including levy)

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