Where the Rainforest Meets the Reef

Scuba diving off the Daintree offers a quick intro into what will soon become a life-long obsession
  |  Gorp.com
clown fish
Nemo Found: A clown fish intermingling with the Great Barrier Reef. (courtesy, Tourism Australia)

I admit it. I didn't want to go scuba diving. Not because I didn't think my first attempt at diving would be less than rewarding—barring an Open Water event, I knew that the Great Barrier Reef would live up to the hype. I simply didn't want to spend half of my only day in the world's largest barrier reef submerged in four feet of water, learning hand singals and how to breath, while the rest of the boat was snorkeling, chasing after sea turtles and rays and clown fish, skimming over brightly colored coral reef systems, and keeping one anxious eye open for the occasional tiger shark. But Leanne's gentle suggestion that we see what scuba would entail before we nixed it proved—as always—to be sage advice for this Northern-Hemisphere skeptic.

We'd actually been slated to join Odyssey H2O, one of two outfitters that run reef trips from the Daintree, the day before. But the tumultuous weather—always a possibility in Cape Tribulation, even during the dry season—had made the water too choppy for the team to load the boat. So we found ourselves with one long, leisurely day in the Daintree with nothing to do—hardly a form of punishment. We lounged on Cape Tribulation Beach, but that didn't last too long. Even with the sun behind the clouds for most of the morning, in less than two hours my fish-belly-white legs were the color of vibrant pink coral. I'd heard that the sun in the Southern Hemisphere was much stronger than in the north, something to do with the hole in the ozone being larger... My pale, Irish/German skin didn't stand a chance. So we packed up and took the car south to the coastal enclave of Port Douglas, a quiet beach town with a scenic row of stores and dive shops, good seafood restaurants, a gorgeous stretch of beachfront, and soaring real-estate prices. By the time we returned to the Daintree, darkness had descended on the rainforest in a rich, black-velvet curtain. We crawled along the road, our headlights swallowed by the night, and retreated to the comfort of the only pub in town—the Jungle Bar, an extension of PK's, Cape Trib's only backpacker's hostel—before returning to the Coconut Beach Rainforest Lodge and praying to the rainforest gods that the morning wouldn't greet us with another cancellation.

Early the next day, we were again standing on Cape Tribulation Beach, our shoes tossed into a crate with two-dozen other pairs, waiting to be transported to the massive speedboat bobbing just offshore. Even though the seemingly perpetual storm clouds still hovered over most of Cape Trib, weather reports on the reef proffered blue skies and Visine-clear waters. We hopped onboard a motorized raft with four other reef-bound travelers and half an hour later, the waiting speedboat was rushing us away from the beach toward the reef.

The advantages of scuba diving with H2O became immediately obvious as we were cruising across the open ocean. Most reef excursions—whether from Cairns, Port Douglas, or any other town bordering the reef—evoke mass-transit tour bus nightmares: literally hundreds of people shuttled onto massive catamarans, making a slow crawl toward the outer reefs where that same crowd dives into the same stretch of water. Odyssey H2O tops capacity at 30, meaning less people in the water and more attention from educated guides. Then there's the downtime. Unless you're prone to seasickness, boat rides are undeniably pleasant. But when your goal is to get to the reef, time spent in transit is time lost. Odyssey H2O's boat blazed the 12 nautical miles with Ian Thorpedo-like efficiency. Less than 45 minutes after leaving Cape Trib Beach, we were at Mackay Reef, a gorgeous expanse of light-cobalt-colored water with a thin stretch of a sandy atoll in the distance.


Nathan Borchelt is the lead editor for Away.com

Published: 15 Nov 2004 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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