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  • Writer's pictureGlenna

How to Choose the Best Diving Day Tour from Cairns

What's the top thing to do in Cairns? Visit the Great Barrier Reef, of course! Cairns is a great launching point to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world. With so many tour operators, it might be hard to choose the best diving day tour from Cairns.

From what we could find, all of the day tours are pretty much the same. If you want to go diving, make sure you book a tour that isn’t just snorkeling (which is most of the cheaper ones). The itinerary is generally leave early in the morning, visit 2 sites on the Great Barrier Reef with lunch in between, and head back. Most include a talk by a marine biologist, meals and snorkel gear, and the first dive (if offered). You can sometimes do an exploratory dive if you haven't been certified.

Reef Experience boat best diving day tour from Cairns

We ended up going out 3 times, twice with Reef Experience and once with Passions of Paradise thanks to the ExperienceOz voucher I won in the RACQ 150 Must-Do’s in Queensland photo contest!

We liked both diving tours, although they had some slight differences. Pros and cons are found below with photos of amazing life under the sea!

scuba diving best diving day tour from Cairns

Reef Experience

We found this one after Passions was booked out for the first day we wanted to go out. This outfit also has a live aboard dive boat, which we would’ve loved to do but it was ridiculously expensive. Like, over a thousand dollars for two people for 1 night expensive, so we decided to do 2 day trips instead.

The Reef Experience boat stops at the live aboard to transfer passengers on the way out to the reef. Otherwise, much was the same as Passions - Made sure to prioritize reef conservation, decent food with a chef on board, underwater photographers (photos for purchase), and friendly staff.

Reef Experience dive boat

Pro or Con? - Reef Experience has more of a “she’ll be right” attitude about diving. If you’re experienced, this is awesome as you can get a navigation briefing and go off on your own. If not, you have to hire a dive guide for $15pp.


  • A floating platform at the back allows for easy entry and water exits, especially with heavy dive gear.

  • Comfy black couches on the top deck offer a nice place to warm up after your dive or snorkel.

  • Fun crew, a bit younger than Passions, but this might have just been the crew on the days we went out. Also, the marine biologist on our first outing was absolutely hilarious!


  • The dive gear on this boat was a bit... well-loved. On our first dive trip with them, Bobby’s regulator was leaking a bit of air. We came back up to check it but the dive master didn’t seem concerned so we kept going. On our second dive trip, we kept getting dive watches that weren’t working. Thankfully one of us always had a functioning one or we would’ve had to return to the surface or rely on our built-in dive computers, which aren’t as accurate.

  • They do have a very strict time dive time limit of 40 minutes if you go off on your own, so don’t go too far!


Our first dive outing with Reef Experience was probably the best of the three trips we took due to low winds and fantastic visibility. We saw so many fish, and both times spotted white-tipped reef sharks.

best diving day tour from Cairns Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef tropical fish
Great Barrier Reef coral

The second time out wasn't the best visibility, and on our second dive we battled a massive rip current on the way back to the boat! Just a reminder that every site is different, and every day is different.

coral reef Great Barrier Reef best diving day tour from Cairns

We were happy to see the reef looking so healthy here! If you're interesting in learning more about the reef and coral bleaching, check out Chasing Coral.

Passions of Paradise

This dive boat was recommended to us by a friend as an eco-friendly option that really cares about preserving the Great Barrier Reef.

scuba best diving day tour from Cairns


  • A much more professional dive setup in terms of gear and safety. We were given a very thorough briefing and had to go out with a dive guide. If you’re a beginner diver or haven’t been out for a while, I’d highly recommend this outfit.

  • We had our longest dive of the trip here, with a time of 60 minutes!

  • Passions use a sailboat, so they try sail at least one way, depending on the wind to cut down on emissions and save the planet!

  • This boat has a more comfortable interior with soft benches instead of hard seats.

best diving day tour from Cairns GBR
group scuba best diving day tour from Cairns


  • We didn’t like having to go with the guide, as we felt really rushed the whole time trying to keep up with him. Reef Experience didn’t make us take one, just gave us a dive navigation briefing.

  • We had an extremely short surface time (time between dives) where we ate lunch. This might just have been because the spots we visited were close together, but it was so short that we didn’t feel great on the second dive.

  • The crew also wasn’t quite as fun as Reef Experience, but that might have just been the crew on that day.


The coolest thing we saw when we were out with these guys was a HUGE turtle! The underwater photographer kept signing “BIG turtle this way!!!” and we were like, sure dude. But then we saw its head pop over the reef and we all freaked out a little.

sea turtle Great Barrier Reef
100 year old sea turtle Great Barrier Reef Cairns

Afterward the dive master checked photos and said they hadn’t seen that one before. He and the marine biologist estimated it was at least 100 years old. Crazy!

The Great Barrier Reef from above

We were also lucky enough to get a view of the reef from above with GSL Aviation. Did you know you can see the Great Barrier Reef from outer space?

islands scenic flight from Cairns
Cairns scenic flight
GSL Aviation Cairns
GSL Aviation Cairns Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef scenic flight aerial photography

As beautiful as it was, we like it even more from below!

Hope you find this post useful when choosing the best diving day tour from Cairns. Whichever you pick, you'll be visiting a World Heritage Site, the state icon of Queensland, and a place that has inspired many to help conserve the ocean's creatures. Let us know if you have any questions about Reef Experience, Passions of Paradise, ExperienceOz, or other things to do in Cairns.



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