“Okay, we’re here,” says the skipper as he cuts the engine. Everyone piles up on the deck – we’ve been waiting for this for the last two days, making our way from mainland Australia into open sea. ‘Here’ is the Great Barrier Reef, the only living thing visible from space, a vast reef stretching from the north to the south of Queensland in Australia.
There is not much to see above water – at low tide the reefs are a little bit more visible, lighter patches of turquoise amongst the darker blue of deep water but besides the wide horizon and a few other boats, there is nothing else out here. We don our wetsuits, strap on our BCDs and giant step into the blue beyond.
The water on the reef is warmer and clearer than in the Whitsunday Islands because there is the Eastern Australian Current and no run off from land. Bait Reef is comprised mostly of coral gardens, but we are here to dive the Stepping Stones, where over a dozen, perfectly vertical coral bommies line up in an orderly row.
The pinnacles are covered in coral – soft corals, fans waving tentatively in the current, huge wavy plates forming weird silhouettes. Amongst the coral, clouds of colour – tropical fish in shades of blue, yellow and red – dart about. Larger hunters like cod, wrasse and trevally prowl the site.
We dive the Maze, twice – a complex of canyons, caves and crevices at the southern end of the Stepping Stones – once during the day and then during a night day. There are cuttlefish, curious wrasse, coral in a variety of shapes and forms. The reef itself is a wonderful place, filled with movement and colour – we clock 45 minutes on both our dives, and find it hard to come back up when our gauges tick down to 50 bar.