Liveaboard? Spirit of Freedom or Taka?

Old Feb 24th, 2007, 01:10 PM
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Liveaboard? Spirit of Freedom or Taka?

OK, I've done my homework. Looked in many guidebooks and have done some searches on this board and on tripadvisor, but I'm still a little confused.

We'd like to do a liveaboard as a way to see the reef. We'd be going as snorkellers (husband has lung issues so can't dive). We're in our 30s. OK, this is going to be a huge chunk of the budget so I want to make sure that I'm making the right choice.

If we take a trip out of Cairns, I'm deciding between Taka and Spirit of Freedom--I know a lot of people take Spirit of Freedom, but for the same price--Taka offers an extra day...but maybe Spirit of Freedom is a lot better...

So, that's the first dilemma. The second is that I keep running across comments that the reef near Cairns is degraded. Another option would be to take daytrips from Cape Tribulation. Or any other suggestions? (Lizard Island is out of the question--unless we camp!)

I guess I'm just looking for some assurance that that a liveaboard is the best way to see the reef. Like I said, this would be a large portion of the budget, but we're totally willing to spend the money, if it is indeed worth it. I just don't want to end up disappointed!
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Old Feb 24th, 2007, 07:31 PM
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We went to the GBR this past summer and spent one night out on the reef. I also thought it would be a great way to see the reef. DH might disagree, but I thought it was a highlight of our trip. The winds were blowing about 30 knots and we weren't able to move the boat at all. It also made for some rocky conditions and tough snorkeling (we both have lung conditions and can't dive). DH begged out on some of the dives, but I was first in and last out for each one (including a dawn one where I was the only snorkeler and they had to send a crew member with me as a partner).

Long story short - it was fabulous!!!! We went with Reef Encounter. They were absolutely great and not much more expensive than spending the night in a hotel and doing a couple of day trips out to the reef. If I did it again, I would spend two nights (which was an option - you could book as many nights as you want).

As for the reef being degraded out from Cairns - I don't know what it was like before, but it was the absolute BEST snorkeling I have EVER done.

Check out Reef Encounter. The only down side is that they use a rather old and slow boat to get out to the reef, but once out there the Reef Encounter itself is quite nice and comfortable. The cabins were much bigger than I expected and the food was great. The crew was also incredible. And we met some really nice folks on the trip. Give it a try.
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Old Feb 24th, 2007, 08:43 PM
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Thanks jcasale, I just discovered DiveTheReef.com. They get a commission from various operators to help sell trips--apparently the companies pay for this, not the tourist. The upside is that they help you pick a trip b/c they work with so many operators...anyway, hopefully, they'll help us choose. We're looking to do a three or four night trip. It's great to hear that you really enjoyed this. It's so expensive, but it looks like one of those experiences that will really be worth it.
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Old Feb 25th, 2007, 03:28 AM
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Hi Eliza - there's reef elsewhere - like it's a couple of thousand of kilometres long.

It's funny that the word "liveaboard" tends to be associated with Cairns, etc. where the norm is day trips.

You'd never hear it used in connection with the Whitsundays - where most folk have csught on that it's a huge waste of time returning to land; why not stay on board, visit a different location each day, enjoy the starry nights; and get to stop on some of the islands too?

Unbeatable!!

So there are huge numbers of boats offering overnight trips (liveaboards)which are far better options imho than going out on a boat from Cairns that is aimed at divers.

Just do a google for Whitsundays and you will see what I mean. Or come back and I'll fish out some of the best sites I've found.

Price, including NP tax for 3 days 2 nights is in the 425-530 range (aud) though there are more lux options should you so desire.

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Old Feb 25th, 2007, 07:32 AM
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I haven't been to the GBR yet, but it seems that liveaboard is associated with Cairns because so many more boats leave from that area. That said, the boats are more expensive, so I am willing to consider Whitsundays....

But, according to my research the northern reef is more pristine. Here is a sample itinerary of the trip that I am considering on the Spririt of Freedom:

Monday: Boarding Spirit of Freedom at 11:15am at Trinity Wharf (complimentary transfers from Cairns city hotels are included) for a 12 noon departure. Lunch will be served on board while you cruise to the Great Barrier Reef to the north of Cairns, for an afternoon orientation dive and a twilight or night dive.


Tuesday: Today you dive Steveís Bommie, on Ribbon Reef # 3. This is an isolated pinnacle that rises from 100 feet at its base to around 15 feet from the surface. Colourful antheas and a vast array of fish cover this bommie, while big eye trevally and barracuda hang out in the blue. Look for nudibranch and stonefish. Today you may also dive the Clam Gardens, where giant clams up to three feet across will amaze you. Some of our other favourite sites in this area of the Ribbons include Flare Point and the beautiful Gorgonia Wall.


Wednesday: This morning we will dive the Cod Hole. This is a popular dive site famous for itís resident family of large Potato Cod, (Groper). Good opportunity for photographers. You may also dive Dynamite Pass, possibly as a drift dive, well known as a channel for sharks cruising from the Coral Sea to the Barrier Reef. This afternoon you may dive Lighthouse Bommie, where Golden Sea Snakes are frequently sighted. In the spring months this site is also a Manta Ray cleaning station. Other sites we may visit today include Challenger Bay and Pixie Wall. This evening we cruise into Watsonís Bay on Lizard Island where we will overnight in the lea of the island.


Thursday: This morning, after a leisurely breakfast, you have the opportunity to go ashore and explore Lizard Island. At 10:30am you will board a twin-engine light aircraft at Lizard Island for your low level flight over the reef back to Cairns. Arriving back at Cairns airport at approximately 12:00 noon, the Spirit of Freedom courtesy coach will meet you for your transfer back to your Cairns city hotel.

They have a discounted price for snorkelers...I'm totally willing to consider the Whitsundays, though. Do you have suggestions for the best trip? (You're a heavy poster, so "fishing out" wherever you commented on the Whitsundays is not as easy as you might think!)
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Old Feb 25th, 2007, 10:20 AM
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test
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Old Feb 25th, 2007, 04:40 PM
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Greetings Eliza26

We have been out on Spirit of Freedom. SOF is a luxurious live aboard, with upscale accomodations and meals. SOF provides 4 meals a day plus snacks, the meals are the best we have ever had on a live aboard. The SOF makes their own water so you don't have to worry about cutting those showers short. SOF has active fin stabilizers which keep the rolling down when underway.

We have never been on Taka but have talked with divers who have. Since we have not personally experienced diving off of that vessel I don't want to get into specific comparisons of the 2. All I would say is that I think the SOF would be the more comfortable vessel.

The SOF crew does a great job of pre dive briefings. They wash down your gear for you at the end of the day. You get a warm towel as soon as you get out of the water. It doesn't get any better than that. All you have to do on SOF is dive or snorkel.

There are many other excellent operations along the GBR. Living on some of the islands would be ok for some, but for us - we are hard core divers - we want to be able to dive, dive, dive. You can't get that from an island operation the same way you can from a liveaboard. But staying on an island offers things that you can't get on a liveaboard. It comes down to what you want to do the most.

Diving the GBR is magical. The inner reefs are nice, but the outer reefs and Coral Sea are where you really want to be.

If you decide on day trips vs liveaboards. You will find lots of them in Cairns, Port Douglas, and other locations we have not been. Tusa out of Cairns and Calypso out of Port Douglas are day boats we have used and highly recommend.

Cheers

Steve and Andrea
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Old Feb 25th, 2007, 07:09 PM
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Steve - thanks for the info on the SOF. We are booked on the SOF in November. We have been spoiled diving in the Caribbean on dive boats where they prepare your equipment for each dive. Do they set up your equipment on SOF? We are also used to guided dives and I'm not the best navigator underwater. How far away from the boat are the dive sites?

Thanks!
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Old Feb 26th, 2007, 05:42 AM
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Hi Barbaras

We are going back out in Oct ourselves. They don't set up your gear for you, but they bring it all on board. They pick you up at your hotel (they have a limit as to how far they go, but I can't remember what it is). Once you are in their van from that point on you just have fun. They tag your gear/luggage. They will place your gear on the dive deck and your luggage in your state room.

You set your gear up one time and leave it. They rinse it, fill the tanks, double check the pressure right before each dive. Then you break it down at the end of the week. They haul it all off of the SOF and back into the busses/vans etc for you.

The moorings are very close so it's always a short swim to the "bommie".

The pre-dive briefs are some of the best we have seen and we dive a lot. I wouldn't worry about your u/w nav skills. Just try to recognize some large u/w object, (fan, coral head etc) then watch your pressure..go in one direction, make that turn when appropriate and after about the same time swimming back, look for that landmark. The SOF takes out 26 divers and she is usually booked full. The word is out about SOF. So while there won't be several hundred divers trying to see the reef you are on, there will be 24 other folks besides yourselves. So there should be a few with excellent nav skills that you can also keep an eye on.

They always have a skiff in the water as well, so they could pick you up if you "popped" up to far away to swim back.

They also put your fins on and take them off for you before/after each dive. With the Christmas tree ladder you walk up onto the dive deck with your fins on.

Every 2 dive positions has its own dive box (your seat) for stowing gear. There is also a "dry box" located right over your tank for t-shirts etc.

November is a wonderful time of the year to dive there. We did the Nov trip in 2005. It's very warm, little to no wind etc. But it's generally very calm next to a reef regardless of the surrounding seas.

Cheers

Steve
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Old Feb 26th, 2007, 06:42 AM
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Steve - thanks for the reassurance! I can't wait!!
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Old Feb 26th, 2007, 09:21 AM
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Steve, does the SOF have gear to rent for people who don't have their own?
Sally in Seattle, now signed up for scuba lessons and open dives in the cold, cold Puget Sound (we MUST be dedicated!)
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Old Feb 26th, 2007, 10:36 AM
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Hi SnrSeattle

Yes you can rent (hire) all the gear you need from SOF. They have some package deals which are on their web site.

I did reply to your other post as well btw.

Cheers

Steve
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Old Feb 26th, 2007, 04:11 PM
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SOF and Taka are both very good dive experiences, but SOF is definitely more luxurious. But then, consider what sort of accommodation you choose on land - do you go for 3, 4 or 5 star? Do you prefer to spend your money on the accomm or the activity? If one of you is going to spend a fair bit of time aboard, due to not snorkeling as much as possible, then the nicer boat can be a good idea. Both have been operating forever, and both have very high standards. All boats rent equipment, and good stuff too. I know people, experienced divers, who have a great time on both.

That being said, they are both dive boats. In an area where one of the great joys of snorkeling is acres of beautiful reef that breaks the surface at low tide, and you can snorkel with fish and coral inches away from your mask, going to areas primarily for divers - 15 ft from the surface is a long way when you are snorkeling - isn't so great. It might be OK in the Caribbean, but why not take most advnatage of what the GBR has to offer? (besides as many fish and corals in a few acres as the entire Caribbean). And no, the reef isn't degraded so you would notice - boats simply avoid any damaged areas, as there is so much reef available. The overnighters around the Whitsundays are primarily island hopping, and while the isands have associated coral reefs, they are not the outer barrier reef, good though they may be. Among other things, wind, rain and turbulence will reduce visiblity there more quickly than on the outer reef.

Despite the extra travel time, there's much to be said for a few nights on the Reef Encounter, maybe a day out with Tusa, another day with Poseidon further north, etc. You'll see different areas of the reef, but have a day to rest if you're tired and won't waste a days/cost, and still get 3 to 5 hours of snorkeling a day. Although you'll still have hotel and food costs, you could go see the great wildlife on the Tablelands, or other alternatives.
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Old Feb 26th, 2007, 06:55 PM
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Thank you everyone for your comments. Seems like Spirit of Freedom might be the boat for us.

Beryl,
Welcome to the board. My understanding is that the marine life visited on the particular trip that I'm interested in (see above) is relatively close to the surface. And while, we are normally budget travelers, I am not adverse to a little bit of luxury. We'll balance the expense of the boat with staying at less expensive places...We do spend money on activities, but this sort of seems like an activity to me...

But, I'm a bit confused about where you are suggesting that we go. Are you saying that we shouldn't go the GBR at all?

I did price out the trips you suggested and I don't think I'd really be saving any money, since I'd have to pay for dinners and rooms...

BTW, I thought I'd seen every Australia guidebook, but I just discovered Lonely Planet's Diving and Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef. It seems like a great guide to dive spots on the reef and rates sites on difficulty and whether they are appropriate for snorkelers. Just a tip for anyone else planning to go to the GBR
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Old Feb 26th, 2007, 07:19 PM
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Eliza, sorry if I was confusing, I'm saying you should definitely go to the GBR, not just island hop the Whitsundays, nice as they are. And, you will really enjoy SOF, if that's the way you go, which it seems it will be. You won't regret it, I was just laying out the options. All the boats I mentioned operate out of Cairns/Port Douglas, visiting the reef off FNQ. Well, the wildife isn't the reef, but you should make an effort to take a look. Wait-a-While is a good outfitter for that. Enjoy the reef!
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Old Feb 26th, 2007, 08:27 PM
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Thanks Beryl!
I think I'm leaning in the direction of the SOF, but I think this is one of the hardest trips I've planned, so don't be suprised if I change my mind again! SOF seems like they offer the best experience--great reef locations, a stop at Lizard Island and a flight over the reef! It sounds wonderful. (BTW, this is my 30th birthday present for myself!)

I'm also starting to look into the area surrounding the GBR as one of the primary reasons for visiting Australia is to see the unique wildlife. I'm actually waiting for my Watching Wildlife: Australia book to come from Amazon! (I started that long recent thread about where to go to see wildlife). I'll check out Wait-A-While. Thanks for tip!
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Old Feb 26th, 2007, 09:45 PM
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Eliza, other wildlife spotting people are available from Allan (Treeroo who posts here--sorry I can't find his website) Jonathan Munro (http://www.wildwatch.com.au/)Pete Bexendell (http://www.nqhit.com.au/Suggested_To...tage_Tours.htm) and others. The last two do personalized tours. We also want to go to Mareeba Wetlands, Chilagoe Caves, and Undara Lava Tubes (I am telling you this so you have places to google, sorry if you already know about them.) We are booked on the SOF for Oct. 22 as is another Fodorite, by coincidence. Hope to see you then!
Sally in Seattle
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Old Feb 27th, 2007, 05:54 AM
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Eliza26

Happy Birthday - our first trip down under was for our 25th wedding anniversary (6 years ago).

If you want to see some wildlife and maybe the rainforest, take a look at David Armbrusts web site. http://www.anhs.com.au/

He gives a fabulous tour and you get quite close to lots of animals. We took his tour on our first trip and then in 2005 when we had our daughter with us. He never takes more than 4 on his trips. There are also many tours up to Cape Tribulation.

Any trip to Oz or NZ will be difficult to plan. Oz is such a large country and NZ takes a long time to get around. So many things to see, and if you are traveling from the states it takes a long time to get there. Guess thats why we have been so many times now. But we always go back to Cairns.

Cheers

Steve and Andrea

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Old Feb 27th, 2007, 01:21 PM
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Alan Gillanders: http://www.alanswildlifetours.com.au/
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