A long overdue trip report from our Great Barrier Reef Liveaboard in Australia. During our 3-week long itinerary in Down Under, we treated ourselves with a liveaboard 4-day / 3-night Cod Hole and Ribbon Reefs Dive Trip on the TAKA II boat. An expense for sure since we are budget travelers but when it comes to diving, we are splurging when we can to explore the marine world. If you plan to scuba dive in Australia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site like the Great Barrier Reef is worthy!
TAKA II: A Fantastic Great Barrier Reef Liveaboard
The boat is considered by some as basic since this is a diver’s boat, but we would find it luxury due to its fantastic crew and team of professional divers. Our experience aboard TAKA II made our scuba diving Great Barrier Reef a dream come true!
TAKA Boat & Cabins
The 30m (98 feet) TAKA boat in itself was a no-thrill all-diving business boat. A large common area for meals and dive preparation, a well-equipped deck area with our gear, BCDs and Tanks, and shared showers area, and a sundeck that we used for studying and relaxing between dives. The boat featured 13 cabins, fitting for up to 30 guests. The onboard accommodation ranges from en-suite deluxe cabins on the upper deck to shared bathrooms standard and quad rooms on the lower deck. Our room was a 3-person cabin, with ample bunk bed below and a single top bunk, but luckily Bruno and I were the only occupants.
The common area is a large room that serves both as a dining area and lounge. Pre-dive briefing and day reviews take place there. Tea, coffee, and snacks are freely available for a quick bite and drinks. Several fish ID books lay in the saloon and come handy to do your post-dive reviews. Photographers will appreciate the provided computer to check their photos and stay connected to family and friends through the boat’s internet connection.
With two areas to relax – the upper open sundeck or the covered second deck – there is always a seat to enjoy a well-deserved break.
TAKA Food & Services
While not of gourmet levels, the meals were varied and plentiful. From pasta to fresh vegetables, meat and fish, the cook served us with diverse cuisine covering from local cuisines to international recipes. No one left hungry! Cakes, desserts, and bread were all “boat-made” and excellent.
The entire TAKA staff was just excellent. Between the divemasters, diving staff, and boat staff, about 12 or so crew members took care of us. Professional, friendly, and experienced, the TAKA crew helped us have a fantastic liveaboard experience.
Great Barrier Reef Scuba Diving from TAKA
The dive deck is spacious, with toilets and freshwater showers. Due to the limited water supply, showers have to be short but highly appreciated nonetheless. A personal storage area is available to each diver, where you can store your pre-diving clothes and post-diving gear.
The benefits of a liveaboard diving cruise are evident as we could explore remote diving spots that would be impossible to reach as a day cruise. The liveaboard allowed us to get the maximum time on the water and diving.
Diving Safety First
The diving crew on the TAKA puts a top priority on safety. From the dive site briefings, making sure all divers had the required level for the trip, to protecting coral and marine life, they were watchful at every step. Their pre-dive safety check, dive-in, and dive-out procedure requested checking name out and in from their dive list, ensuring all divers were accounted for at the end of each dive. This practice should be standard in our mind, but they were the only boat we ever had that level of safety.
Some of the passengers on TAKA II were no divers, but they enjoyed snorkeling during our dives. Not surprisingly divers and snorkelers can share the best place to snorkel Great Barrier Reef!
PADI Certification: Getting Advanced Open Water Certified
As occasional divers, I wanted to take on our PADI AOW certification. We had experienced some less than stellar diving operations where we felt many safety procedures had been ignored. Getting AOW certified would give us a better grasp and bring us a step closer to becoming more self-reliant independent divers, building our confidence and expand our scuba skills.
Because our last dive was a while back, we went for a refresher dive in Cairns. The 2-hour class was done through ProDive Cairns (a partner of DiveTheReef.com where we booked our boat) and took place in a pool. It was perfect as we could practice suiting up and putting our gear together, and reviewing the safety check of our buddy system. More importantly, we practice different safety measures such as mask fill-up, out-of-air, buoyancy, etc. The refresher course made me feel more confident and is a must-do if you haven’t dived for some times.
[Interested in learning to dive? Enroll in a PADI class.]
Once onboard, the TAKA dive crew was top notch, and I don’t think we ever met such a professional staff, friendly, patient, encouraging and in the meantime on top of safety measures. Knowing we just did a refresher, our divemaster took a few minutes at the beginning of our first dive to ensure we were competent in the ocean. She had us practice the same skills while the other divers were enjoying the dive site while we were doing so. With both her and us at ease, we resumed our first dive.
As an anxious person who always needs about five minutes to feel comfortable in the water for ANY dive, they made sure I felt at ease every single time. They even topped up my tanks as much as possible when it became apparent I was using my air ahead of anyone else in our group. They would still bring me up first, allowing the rest of the team to enjoy their remaining time observing the marine life close to the boat. It was somewhat tiring to do the book studies during break time, instead of napping or chatting with the other divers were doing. But overall, we learned so much and in such a fantastic environment that I don’t regret a second. TAKA 2 was probably the best liveaboard Great Barrier Reef we could have booked.
Great Barrier Reef Dive Sites
Great Barrier Reef diving doesn’t need any introduction, as one of the most famous scuba-diving destinations on earth. And for good reasons. Our liveaboard with TAKA 2 allowed us to see some of the best sites scuba diving in Great Barrier Reef.
The Ribbon Reefs include ten separate reefs, numbered 1 to 10. Sometimes called the Northern Reefs thanks to their location in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef. The Reefs are the habitat for extensive biodiversity, beds of corals, walls, caves, and canyons perfect for diving explorations. The most popular dive spot on the Ribbon Reefs is the popular Cod Hole.
Given their remote locations, the Ribbon Reefs cannot be reached as day trips from Cairns, but are better accessed via a multi-day liveaboard. But the Ribbon Reefs are worth it, probably the best place to scuba dive Great Barrier Reef.
Famous Cod Hole
The coral gardens of Cod Hole should be high on every diver’s list. The site sits between 16-65 (5-20M) and usually has a visibility of 98 ft (30M), making it a diver’s favorite. That, and the Giant Potato Cods (Groupers) that you will see there. While feeding is a regular practice, we are not in favor of feeding the fish. It is common to see White Tip Reef Sharks and Grey Reef Sharks. No wonder Cod Hole Great Barrier Reef is everyone’s favorite!
[Click here to read our Cod Hole post]
This fantastic pinnacle was our favorite dive site, also in the Ribbon Reefs! The pinnacle starts at 90 feet (30m) and goes up to 16 ft (5m) from the surface. These depths make it the perfect location to do a deep dive to the bottom of the bommie, and enjoy your safety stop admiring the top.
The bommie is an incredible habitat area for such a large variety of fish. Large schools fo Snappers, Trevally, Goatfish, and Fusiliers live around the pinnacle. Shrimp anemones, crabs, flame shells, and nudibranchs are populating the walls of the bommie. But anemone fish steal the show and can be found everywhere.
The shallow and sheltered conditions of Challenger Bay, together with fantastic colorful coral reefs, make it perfect for night dives. Add little to no current, and sandy bottom, and you will be able to stop and watch sting rays, moray and garden eels, at your leisure.
Far north of the Great Barrier Reef, Norman Reef is famous thanks to excellent dive sites for all levels. Caves will be the favorite to expert divers. One of the most popular dive sites, the crystal clear water offers terrific visibility sometimes up to 100 feet (30 m).
Marine Life Seasonal Activities
- Coral Spawning dates vary but usually happen in October and November
- Whale-watching: Dwarf Minke and humpback whales can be spotted from May to August, and again in November.
When to Visit Great Barrier Reef?
You can dive the Great Barrier Reef pretty much all year long, though some months are better than others:
- Best scuba diving season: mid-August to mid-December.
Seasons are reversed in the South Hemisphere,
- with winter (April to September) sunny, dry and warm (though with potentially strong winds),
- and summer (October to May) usually with short bursts of heavy rains. Watch for the monsoon that occurs January and March.
- Best water conditions: visibility is at its clearest from September to November on the Cod Hole and Ribbon Reefs. The water temperature is constant at 80°F (27°C).
Great Barrier Reef Liveaboards from Cairns
Give the Great Barrier Reef location; most cruises depart from Cairns. Similarly, Taka Liveaboard also left from Cairns, especially for trips to the Outer Great Barrier Reef (Norman and Saxon reefs) and Ribbon Reefs. It would appear that the TAKA II now serves the Salomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
Other highly rated Australia liveaboard diving reviews and recommended Great Barrier Reef Liveaboard Dive Cruises going to the Cod Hole and Ribbon Reefs include mike ball dive expedition, the MV Spirit of Freedom from the Tusa dive center, Cairns, and the MV Ocean Quest liveaboard operated by Deep Sea Divers Den. They all offer Great Barrier Reef diving packages at different price points.
[Click to find diving cruises from Cairns]
If you are looking to reach the Ribbon Reefs, you need to plan for a Great Barrier Reef 3-day cruise at the minimum.
Things to do in Cairns
Cairns is the natural hub for the Great Barrier Reef, but make sure to add a few days after your diving trip to explore Queensland. An excellent way to make use of your no-fly time post-diving! Visit Cairns, rent a car or a motorbike and head to Port Douglas, up to Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation, and explore rainforests, and beaches.
Go on a Kuranda Scenic Railway Day Trip from Cairns, or visit one of the many islands like Fitzroy or Green Island on day cruises. Enjoy a bird’s view from a helicopter ride, take a kayak, or go horseback riding.
As the major city in Queensland, the choice of Cairns hotels is rather broad. Budget hotels, hostels, guesthouses, eco-lodges, B&Bs, luxury resorts – you name it. Cairns lodging is spread throughout the city, from the beachfront to the forest area.
Great Barrier Reef Liveaboard Travel Tips
- While you might be going in the sunny and warm season, take long sleeve and pant as well as a wind jacket to cover from the night wind breeze
- Keep a set of dry clothes close to your diving gear, and change as soon as you are back on the boat. This will keep you warm between dives. On the same idea, take two swimsuits to change
- Flip-flops or waterproof sandals like these Teva sandals
- If you bring your gear, double and triple check your equipment. Once you are in the middle of the ocean, it will be hard to find or replace a missing piece. But don’t go crazy with spare parts – space is limited on board
- Tag everything to limit the risks of losing bits and pieces!
- A flashlight for night dive, and a set of spare batteries. Many boats offer night lamps, but they might not have enough for everyone
- If you are renting your gear on the ship, and need special sizes, make sure to let the liveaboard tour operator in advance
- In your safety kit, consider bringing a whistle, a mirror, a market floater, and small LED light.
- Bring enough batteries and chargers
- Recheck and test your waterproof casing
- Make sure to bring red filters to filter out the blue or green light
- Extension cord as the electrical outlets might not be ideally located
- A portable hard drive with a viewing screen might be a good idea to store and view your photos on the go if you don’t bring any laptop with you.
- Click for more in-depth marine photography gear and underwater photography tips
Great Barrier Reef Photos
A TAKA crew member was also a professional underwater photograph, with pro equipment. See below some of the shots he took. Photos: TAKA
- A good sunscreen is essential – keep it handy with your diving gear. An aftersun cream to hydrate might be a good idea after a day in salty water
- Make sure the sunscreen is biodegradable to protect the coral reefs from arming elements. From our research, Titanium oxide and Zinc oxide are biodegradable; other chemical ingredients are not. As this time of writing, the major sunscreen brands (Coppertone, Banana Boat, No-Ad, etc.) are not biodegradable. However, several products from these brands – Tropical Sands (formerly MexiTan), Caribbean Solutions, Kiss My face, Alba Botanica, BATAB, Hawaiian Tropic Biodegradable, Soleo Organics, and Badger – are biodegradable. Check each product to verify. http://www.cancun-discounts.com/biodegradable-sunscreen.htm
- Reusable water bottle with a carabiner clip to store close to your scuba gear, handy for a quick sip before and after diving. You can get dehydrated quickly, especially after the dives
- Plan for some eye-shut time as 3 -4 dives a day is rather exhausting
- Prophylactic ear drops to prevent external canal infections, which can happen during repetitive diving. However, stop diving if you have ear pain.
- Seasickness can happen at any time to everyone. Tablets might be a good supply if you think you might need. Note that we are no doctor and you should seek medical advice to see whether you can use any of these drugs or drops mentioned here.
- Diving Insurance. We recommend DAN (Divers Alert Network), which is pretty much the industry leader in term of scuba-diving insurance.
- Soft-shell luggage or duffel bags are better than hard-shells because they can squeeze in small space.
- Bring books or an iBook for the relax session on the sundeck
- Ear plugs for a good night sleep if you are sharing a cabin to keep your budget low or want to enjoy a nap during the day
Travel Books & Fish ID Guides
TAKA Dive Boat Review
What we liked
- The Organization was excellent, the crew professional and their diving safety procedures top notch
- The boart was not fancy, but clean and well setup, indeed a perfect diver boat.
- Though it was a full cruise, it did not feel too crowded
- Food was tasty, plentiful and readily available
- Of course, the Great Barrier Reef was as paradise as expected
What we would have liked
- We could have done without the feeding of the Giant Potato Cods, as we are not keen on feeding wildlife
- Because we were studying for our PADI AOW between dives, the reading did not leave much time to relax and recover
- We could probably stretch for another day to be able to relax more
Overall we felt TAKA 2 was a excellent boat, clean and well equipped, no thrill but everything you needed for a perfect diving trip. We could not have asked for a better Great Barrier Reef Liveaboard dive experience. In our opinion, this was the best Great Barrier Reef vacation possible.
Stay tuned for new blog posts on Australia, wildlife on Kangaroo Island, Great Barrier Reef, and scuba-diving in Raja Ampat or Bonaire, and sign-up to our newsletter to get our posts from our world trip adventures directly in your inbox. Or follow us on our trip and adventure travel via Facebook, Instagram, YouTube.
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