Diving Mike Ball style is quite the way to do it, with great equipment, amazing dive sites and wonderful staff. Each diver is assigned a spot for the duration of the trip with a water bottle and a towel that is fresh out of the dryer each time you surface (great for those windy days!). All of our dives during the three day adventure were in the Ribbon Reef section of the Great Barrier Reef, a well protected area with many pristine colourful and diverse dive sites.
Although we were to begin with a dive of the famous Cod Hole, weather conditions were not ideal so we headed to a site named Eagle Rock instead. On arrival we had the amazing surprise to find 8-10 Minke Whales, just waiting for us to play! This meant the first part of the day was spent snorkelling with these beautiful creatures (see Alan’s previous post for more on this). This was a beautiful site to start with; full of fish, turtles and rays all around the massive rock. We stayed here for the first evening and were invited to have a night dive. This is something I have always been extremely nervous about; the idea of navigating in a pitch dark ocean had never been appealing to me and I had not made my mind up until the first day of the liveaboard, after being able to assess the quality of the staff and how comfortable I felt. I decided to push myself and go ahead with it – this was helped by the fact we would be diving in the same spot as the afternoon, that we were going to be paired with two other first time night divers and guided by a lovely girl, Annie. We were equipped with glowsticks and flashlights and off we went into the choppy dark water. Extremely nervous to begin, once under the surface I realised I could see more than I imagined and became calm quite quickly. We all followed our guide slowly looking for night creatures of all sorts in and around the nooks and crannies of the rock. Fun things we spotted included our first epaulette shark, a sea snail and cone crab. An awesome experience.
Day 2 brought us back to the famous Cod Hole. Excited to see these big bad fish, we jumped in as quickly as we could for what would be our first unguided dive! Although guides are often available, most divers prefer to go off on their own. Having previously never done so, we found ourselves a bit nervous, but after gaining confidence the first day and being told the site in question was very easy to navigate, we decided to go for it. Diving while navigating is very different than simply following a guide. You immediately need to situate yourself, note where you descend and at what depth the anchoring rope is etc. We both got used to it pretty quickly though and really enjoyed the freedom of it. Being just the two of us on the bottom of the ocean, deciding where to go and how long to spend in each place was really liberating. After going around for 40 minutes and spotting lots of life including a close encounter with a large reef shark, we realised we had not seen a giant cod yet! Back up on the boat, mixed reviews from divers let us know not many cods were around, but also that we were the only not to have seen any at all. Not ready to miss out, we put our tanks away and our snorkels on to quickly jump back in. To our great joy, there was one swimming around just beneath the boat who immediately took great interest in us, coming very close for inspection
That same afternoon we went on to Lighthouse Bommie, a personal favourite. The bommie starts at 24 metres down and finishes at about 5 metres down, making it a great site for snorkellers at the top. Lionfish, clownfish, parrotfish, many huge schools of colourful fish as well as all sorts of coral and anemone made for a beautiful dive. The highlight however was a massive green turtle resting in a nook on the edge of the bommie. When we went down for a second dive here later in the day, we were even more pleasantly surprised to find that this time the turtle was out of its nook and resting on coral, meaning we could get extremely close to it. You could tell this resident was used to divers as it did not budge one bit or seem bothered at all by our lingering presence
Among more whale fun the next day we fit two dives in the popular site, Steve’s Bommie. Named after an avid diver who loved the area and came to an untimely death, this was the deepest dive I had done to date, with a 30 metres deep start. This is often a favourite site and you can quickly understand why due to its amazing variety of coral, gorgonian fans, schools of trevally, baraccuda, snappers and goatfish. Both dives were spectacular and left us wanting more.
Our final dive was at a site called Flare Point, a large site that is full of coral and interesting passages, including several small caves. We got into the deeper water to begin where we spotted a huge turtle in the distance, but quickly retreated to the shallows as the current was so strong. The rest of our time was mostly spent looking at the details of the intricate coral, spotting nudibranchs and watching fish feed which many of them seemed to be doing! Less spectacular than the previous dives but beautiful nonetheless, we surfaced very nostalgic we wouldn’t be diving again.
Although a costly experience, we were so happy to have put money aside for this experience 10 months ago, as choosing the right operator is essential to having a good and safe time. From the food, to the accommodation, staff, equipment and of course the dives, everything was great. All the reviews we read were true, Mike Ball really knows how to do it and we hope to be lucky enough to do something similar again one day.