First of all I would like to emphasize that I have wanted to get my PADI Open Water Dive Certificate for around 4 years, but living in England has not really brought many opportunities without having to deal with freezing cold temperatures. So what better place to consider completing the PADI Open Water Dive Course than the world famous and original diving haven, The Great Barrier Reef. I chose Down Under Dive after being advised to by a friend and also considering that they were one of the cheapest companies operating from Cairns.
However, despite being cheaper than other companies this did not reflect the professionalism of the company and the staff. From my own impressions it is obvious they have been operating for several years and in that time have refined the art of teaching people how to get to grips with diving with great enthusiasm. My dive instructor, Joe, was one such individual who was so enthused by diving that it was hard not to be taken in by it.
Don't get me wrong, if you think PADI Open Water Dive certification is easy to acquire you're grossly misinformed. You cannot achieve this in one day, it takes a minimum of 4 and at least 2 are in a classroom. Considering I haven't been under classroom conditions for at least 5 years I appreciate that this can be daunting but when you have a cheeky Aussie teaching you how to dive it isn't quite so bad. Plus, they give you ample amounts of coffee in case you start to doze off.
The first 2 days are spent running through the theory behind diving with spells in a swimming pool with all the stylish gear on under controlled conditions. What I loved about the dive course is that no matter how confident you were our instructor catered to everyone's individual need. In our group a few did struggle to start with but nobody was made to feel uncomfortable and they were encouraged to carry on with the support of the group.
"..it is difficult to concentrate when you pass turtles, sharks, octopus..."
The second two days were what we had been waiting for, 2 days diving the Great Barrier Reef. Again be warned, if you think you will be looking at pretty Nemo's on the reef, there is a little more to it than that. Remember you are trying to achieve a globally recognised certification so all eyes should remain on your instructor, although it is difficult to concentrate when you pass turtles, sharks, octopus (I did not lie Joe!) and the famous Wally, the Wrasse.
You spend two whole days (8 - 5) on the Great Barrier Reef, some on the boat, some on the surface and a lot under the water carrying our various procedures to show your competence. The atmosphere on the boat gets you excited and all staff seem to have great character and enthusiasm for their work, reminding you that you did the right thing choosing to learn to dive on the Great Barrier Reef.
To sweeten the deal, on these days you are given complimentary coffee and a muffin in the morning, an Aussie-style BBQ buffet for lunch and even wine and cheese on the return voyage. After 4 days, Joe our instructor, delightfully (and finally!) informed us that we had all passed our PADI Open Water Course and he individually asked us if we would like to meet for drinks later that evening to celebrate our achievements.
All in all this was a once in a lifetime experience and I would like to thank everyone involved, especially Joe, my instructor, and the other members of our team who made the experience so enjoyable as well as Down Under Dive who made it all possible. Despite the popular debate, in my view Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef is still the only place to learn to dive in Australia.