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Deep Sea Divers Den. Long-established, PADI-5-star-rated Deep Sea Divers Den has a roaming permit that allows its guides to visit any part of the Great Barrier Reef, including 17 exclusive moorings on the reef's outer edge. Day trips include up to three dives or snorkeling opportunities; gear and lunch is included in the price, but reef tax (A$20) and photos cost extra. Expect to pay A$205 for a day trip with two certified dives, A$225 with three, or A$205 with one. It's A$140 for guided snorkeling tours. 319 Draper St., CBD, Cairns, QLD, 4870. 07/4046–7333. www.diversden.com.au.
Mike Ball Dive Expeditions. Mike Ball, an enthusiastic American who's been diving the Great Barrier Reef since 1969, 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$1,687 for a budget dorm berth. Allow for standard gear hire fees (A$44 per day) and nitrox (A$75–A$150), personal guides (A$150 per day), and reef tax (A$18 per day). Dive courses cost extra but there are several available, and the quality of instruction's high. 143 Lake St., CBD, Cairns, QLD, 4870. 07/4053–0500. www.mikeball.com.
Ocean Spirit Cruises. This operator offers daily trips (A$176) on its sleek sailing catamaran that include four hours at Michaelmas Cay on the Great Barrier Reef, a marine biologist presentation, guided snorkeling, a fish-feeding demonstration, a semi-submersible tour, morning and afternoon tea, and a buffet lunch. Reef and port charges are an extra A$6. If you're a beginner, have mobility issues, or aren't a strong swimmer, this might be the best operator for you. Reef Fleet Terminal, 1 Spence St., CBD, Cairns, QLD, 4870. 07/4031–2920. www.oceanspirit.com.au.
Pro Dive Cairns. This Advanced Ecotourism–certified operator runs multiday, live-aboard trips on three custom-built dive boats, and offers PADI-5-star-accredited courses at their state-of-the-art training facility in Cairns. Three-, four- and seven-day trips take a maximum of 28 divers and snorkelers to Outer Barrier Reef, Cod Hole, Ribbon Reefs, and Coral Sea sites, where they can dive ecologically diverse sites with optimal visibility. Trips include accommodation in serviced quad-share, twin, or double cabins, TVs, and private en-suites. You also get chef-prepared meals, top-end gear, and guided dives. Pro Dive Cairns Training Centre, 116 Spence St., CBD, Cairns, QLD, 4870. 07/4031–5255. www.prodivecairns.com.
Tusa Dive. Among Cairns' best dive boats are the custom-built fast cats run by Tusa Dive, a PADI-, SSI-, and Advanced Ecotourism–accredited outfit that whisks up to 64 passengers out to two of 16 sites on the Great Barrier Reef. Get dive briefs and info en route, along with continual refreshments including a big lunch. In the water, people of all ages and experience levels can dive (A$250–A$290 for beginners; A$225–A$245 for certified divers) or snorkel (A$180) under the watchful gaze of guides. Every passenger pays a A$10 reef tax. Three- and seven-day, multi-dive trips to Cod Hole and the Coral Sea start from A$510. Shield St. at The Esplanade, CBD, Cairns, QLD, 4870. 07/4047–9100. www.tusadive.com.