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Snorkeling and diving
Deep Sea Divers Den. Long-established, PADI-5-star-rated Deep Sea Divers Den has a roaming permit that allows guides to visit any part of the Great Barrier Reef, including 14 permanent moorings on the outer reef. Day trips include up to three dives, gear, and lunch. Pricing schemes are reasonable: from A$175 for a reef day trip with two dives, A$195 with three; from A$395 for a 2-day, 5-dive live-aboard trip; and A$110 for a day's unlimited snorkeling, gear and guided tour included. 319 Draper St., CBD, Cairns, QLD, 4870. 07/4046–7333. www.diversden.com.au.
Mike Ball Dive Expeditions. Mike Ball Dive Expeditions has been diving the Great Barrier Reef since 1969, and is credited with many underwater "firsts." Ball, an enthusiastic American, runs multiday, multidive trips along the Queensland coastline on which experienced divers get to set their own bottom times and dive their own plans—or be expertly guided. Custom-built, twin-hulled live-aboard boats loaded with top-end gear, serious divers, and qualified chefs depart twice-weekly to visit renowned dive sites and spot minke whales and sharks. Prices start at A$1,547 for a three-night fly/dive trip; allow for standard gear hire fees (A$40 per day) and nitrox, guides and reef tax (A$18 per trip). Dive courses cost extra but the quality of instruction's high. 143 Lake St., CBD, Cairns, QLD, 4870. 07/4053–0500. www.mikeball.com.
Ocean Spirit Cruises. Ocean Spirit Cruises offers daily trips that include four hours at Michaelmas Cay on the Great Barrier Reef (A$190) or coral viewing at Oyster and Upolo reefs (A$110-A$140); reef tax and port charges are included. The cost of both trips also includes guided snorkeling, optional dives, and a fresh buffet lunch with plenty of seafood, cold meats, salads, and dessert options. For guided introductory dives, you'll pay an extra A$120–A$175; for certified dives, it's A$60–A$100, gear included. If you're a beginner or aren't a strong swimmer, this might be the best operator for you. Office 3/Level 1, Shangri-La Marina, Pierpoint Rd., CBD, Cairns, QLD, 4870. 07/4031–2920 or 1800/644227. www.oceanspirit.com.au.
Tusa Dive. Among Cairns' best dive boats are the custom-built fast cats run by Tusa Dive, which zoom up to 64 passengers out to sites on the Great Barrier Reef. On board, there's space aplenty. Get dive briefs and info en route to the sites, and continual refreshments including a big lunch. In the water, people of all ages and experience levels can dive (A$190–A$265) or snorkel (A$165) under the watchful gaze of guides. Get your photo taken with marine critters for posterity. Three-day multi-dive live-aboard trips cost between A$510 and A$645 per person. Shield St. at The Esplanade, CBD, Cairns, QLD, 4870. 07/4047–9100. www.tusadive.com.
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