Learn to Scuba Dive in Cairns

Did you enjoy our guide to the Great Barrier Reef on a Budget? Well, perhaps you fancy learning to scuba dive in one of the best places on Earth.  Stretching for 2,300km (1,429 miles) along the north-eastern coastline of Queensland in Australia, the Great Barrier Reef offers warm, clear waters with excellent visibility and an amazing diversity of brightly coloured corals, fish and marine life.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is larger than Switzerland, Holland and the UK combined. It is home to the world’s largest coral reef system and it is the largest living organism – that’s a whole lot of large! The reef, which was listed under international protection in 1981 by World Heritage is an amazing natural phenomenon which comprises over 2,900 individual coral reefs, countless tropical islands, sand and coral cays.

Why Cairns?

Australia is one of the safest places to learn to scuba dive on earth.  The industry is strictly regulated to ensure maximum diver safety and only 1 in 430,000 Queensland scuba dives end in fatality, compared to 6.5 per 100,000 in Japan and 1 per 100,000 in the USA.

Cairns is the last northern township of any significant size in Queensland: it is also the closest mainland point to the Great Barrier Reef, which means more time diving, less time travelling.  This sprawling coastal community is a natural paradise, bordered by the Daintree Rainforests and the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef.

Cairns is also billed as Queensland’s adventure capital. And it’s no wonder;  activities on offer include bungy jumping, white water rafting, jungle surfing, hot air ballooning, sky diving, kayaking, jet skiing, snorkelling and of course – scuba diving!

Scuba Diving

Courses in Cairns

There are many places you can learn to dive in Cairns.  The city is home to world class training centres, featuring heated pools and highly qualified, professional dive instructors.  You can choose between PADI and SSI Open Water Learn to Scuba Dive Courses: both are internationally recognised certifications, which will allow you to dive anywhere in the world, once obtained.

Cheap Scuba Diving in Cairns

For budget conscious travellers we highly recommend Cairns Dive Centre’s 4 Day SSI Learn to Dive Open Water Course.  Priced at just 325 EURO this course includes two days tuition in Cairns and two days ‘liveaboard’ scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, including all equipment and meals while at sea.

Health & Safety

Please note: to participate in a learn to scuba dive course on the Great Barrier Reef, you need to pass a Dive Medical Certificate, which is in compliance with Australian Standards AS 4005.1.  Cairns Dive Centre arrange for a doctor to attend day 1 of the course, who will conduct the appropriate Dive Medical Tests for 37 EURO (this is in addition to the course cost).

For your own safety, there are some medical conditions which will stop you from diving. These include asthma, diabetes, heart and lung conditions, as well as any sinus and ear infections.  Some of these things may seem like minor ailments, but should be treated seriously.  For example, did you know that scuba diving with an ear infection may lead to permanent hearing loss?


Once you have passed your Dive Medical and completed the preliminary paperwork, it is off to Cairns Dive Centre’s Scuba Training Facility on Sheridan Street, in Cairns.  SSI Training Handbooks are given out and the SSI Dive Instructor talks you through the theory of scuba diving, covering all of the equipment.  After a short lunch break, it is into the pool where you have to demonstrate your ability to swim, tread water and snorkel: all fundamental requirements if you want to learn to scuba dive.

The next step is learning how to prepare and put on your scuba equipment including wetsuit, mask, fins, snorkel, tanks, weights, regulators and BC.  These are all provided and included in the course cost.  Geared up, it is into the pool to practice breathing under water, mask removal and clearing and regulator retrievals, which is where you end day 1 of your learn to scuba dive course.

Overnight some study is required and on the morning of Day 2, there is a theory test.  Once you have passed this, there is more classroom scuba tuition before heading back to the pool where you learn to monitor your air supply and depth, practice the skills of buddy air sharing, buoyancy control and emergency ascents (amongst other things).

The Great Barrier Reef is where you complete the second half of this course, spending two days and one night aboard the liveaboard vessel, MV Kangaroo Explorer.  Transfers, meals, accommodation, equipment and 6 scuba dives are all included in the course price.

Cairns Dive Centre’s smaller day vessel, MV Sunkist, provides transfers from Cairns to MV Kangaroo Explorer, which is usually found about 60km (37 miles) offshore from Cairns, on one of the ‘southern’ reefs Milln, Moore or Thetford. After a two hour transfer you are shown to your cabin, given an introduction to the boat and served lunch, before getting ready for your first scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef.

Learn to be an Open Water Scuba Diver

To become a certified Open Water Scuba Diver you must successfully complete 4 training dives, with your Dive Instructor, demonstrating each of the skills you learnt in the pool.

You will never forget your first Great Barrier Reef scuba dive.  As soon as you hit the water and start breathing underwater, you’re hooked!  The world around you transforms into a silent sea of bubbles, cascading around you like you are floating in champagne (as the water here is definitely clearer than beer! – visibility is anywhere from 10m – 25m).

Descending on the Great Barrier Reef, under the watchful eye of your instructor, you are soon surrounded by schools of fish ranging from 3cm up to 100cm, or more! This is so much better than snorkelling!  The silence, other than your own breathing, is surreal.  The fish dart around you and turtles cruise gracefully by, except now you can follow them, sharing their underwater world.

Treasure in the Great Barrier Reef!

A highlight for most people is the Anemone Fish – also known as Clown Fish – or Nemo.  These little critters live in anemone, which wave gently in the currents.  Although cute, these fish are quite protective of their home and if you hover too long (and OK extend your finger to their face) they have been known to give you a little bite.  It does not hurt, but let me tell you, the shock factor was enough to make me practice my mask clearance again.

We explored 4 different dive sites during this trip and saw everything that makes the Great Barrier Reef “Great”.  This magical, underwater world is a must see in your lifetime and learning to scuba dive on it is a pleasure and a privilege.

Just some of the many, many things you can expect to see include massive schools of dotted sweetlips, reef sharks, turtles, trumpetfish, giant clams, nudibranches, stingrays, anemone, hard and soft corals, cod, parrotfish, pufferfish, feather stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and more.

Don’t forget, you can book a Cairns  youth hostel for the duration of your stay and save your travel money for more exciting things…like scuba diving!

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