For a certified scuba diver, deciding whether or not to dive the Great Barrier Reef is a no brainer and you should really make the most of it by considering a Great Barrier Reef liveaboard. Deciding whether or not to try night diving on the Great Barrier Reef is a whole new ball game.
For someone who’s never been night diving before, it begs a few questions. Some relate to safety… How will I know where I’m going? What if I lose the group? How will my buddy know if I’m having problems? Will I be able to see my gauge to check how much air I have left?
And then there’s the one glaringly obvious question… What’s the point if we won’t be able to see anything?!
A SNEAK PREVIEW
All of the above questions paled into insignificance when the crew of Deep Sea Divers Den ran down to the dining hall of our liveaboard boat after dinner to tell us to come and see what was going on behind the boat…
That would be ‘behind the boat’ where the platform was that we’d be using to enter the water for our night dive. Were we crazy?! Apparently so.
We gathered for the dive briefing, which contained safety information and shark jokes in equal measure. ‘If a shark is coming too close, shine your torch directly into its face’, they told us. If that doesn’t work, shine it on yourself to show it how big you are… And if that fails too, shine it on your buddy!’
ENTERING THE WATER
If jumping in while holding your mask and regulator in place isn’t your forte, try attempting to grasp a torch and a GoPro at the same time.
By some miracle, we all resurfaced with torches and nerves still intact and we followed our guide around the side of the boat, grabbing blindly at a rope and battling to snorkel against some very large waves. The sea surface was so rough, we were actually looking forward to descending into the darkness.
Once we’d got to grips with regulating buoyancy with no reference point to indicate whether we were rising or sinking, the obvious next move was to record our success with a Blair Witch-style underwater selfie….
The visibility was actually less than most of us had expected. We literally had no idea what was around us unless we shone our torches directly at something. My three dive buddies were each nothing more than a small, round, glowing blob – until they pointed their torch right at me, in which case, everything was a bright blur and I was blinded for the next few seconds.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
We discovered that the best technique was to identify who the guide was and to stay as close to them as possible. Any buddy duties swiftly went out of the window, and the rest of us would have been next to useless if anything had happened anyway.
Our guide was fantastic at checking to make sure we were ok and trying to warn us about any big coral structures we might not have noticed.
At one point, we witnessed a giant cod attack a shark. It actually took the shark’s head in its mouth and we heard a crunch as it clamped its jaws shut.
With two or more torches shining on one animal, we could generally make it out quite clearly, especially if we swiped the light back and forth quickly. Focusing on one fish for too long was considered cruel, though, as this would make it very vulnerable to predators.
TRYING TO CAPTURE IMAGES
If you know the feeling of constant disappointment when you check the quality of photos taken in low light, you’re a fraction of the way to understanding how difficult it was to get a photo on a dive…at night…underwater…with a GoPro.
Anyone who’s used a GoPro before will know that it’s not that easy to capture the intended shot, since you can’t check an LCD screen to make sure everything is in the frame. Add to that the difficulty of using your other hand to shine a light at precisely the right angle onto something you don’t know is there until it darts by, while also maintaining buoyancy and not kicking your buddy or a huge chunk of precious coral, and you’ve got some idea of why my photos are so awful!
On the plus side, the images in this post quite accurately reflect the intensity and otherworldliness of the experience.
It was definitely scary at times, although probably the worst moments were the anticipation and difficulty of navigating the waves before we descended and then the issue of controlling our ascent without a clear view of our depth monitors. One of our team managed to bang his head on the bottom of the liveaboard!
But despite the hiccups, it was an incredible experience. The marine life was completely different after nightfall. The pretty reef fish had withdrawn to safe shelters and, in their place, huge black- and white-tipped reef sharks and cod prowled the sea bed in search of breakfast.
So, back to those initial concerns:
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU’RE GOING?
You can generally see enough by sweeping your torch back and forth regularly, and following the guide gives you a good indication of what depth you should be at.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU LOSE THE GROUP
Your guide won’t let that happen. They watch everyone closely and come and drag you back if you stray too far. However, there are standard dive procedures and these will be included in your briefing.
HOW WILL YOUR BUDDY KNOW IF YOU HAVE A PROBLEM?
Your buddy might not notice as much as usual, but again, the guide is trained to keep a close eye on you. They’ll check you’re ok at regular intervals. You can also use your torch to signal distress or give other information.
WILL YOU BE ABLE TO READ YOUR GAGUE?
It’s not as easy as in the daylight, but you can make out the numbers if you shine your torch at the right angle. Signal to the guide by pointing your torch directly down and making symbols with your other hand within the light beam. If you can’t see it, the guide will come over and check it themselves.
WHAT’S THE POINT?
It’s a spooky, yet strangely relaxing sensation being weightless in the pitch black. It’s an adrenaline rush and a challenge. It’s a massive accomplishment. You’ll see a whole new underwater world like no other dive you’ve been on. And what’s more, it’s included in your Deep Sea Divers Den liveaboard package, so the question really is: ‘Why the hell not?!’
For those who’ve done night diving before and are looking for something even more unique, Deep Sea Divers Den are the only company on the Great Barrier Reef to offer fluoro night dives. With a specialist torch and a filter over your goggles, the underwater world comes to life in a vivid array of luminous colours. Fluoro dives cost an additional AU$50. Get in there quickly though. They only have the capacity to take down two fluoro divers per night.
I was a guest of Deep Sea Divers Den. Any opinions expressed in this post are a genuine reflection of how I felt about my experience. For more information on Deep Sea Divers Den, visit their Facebook page. You can learn more about the different dive packages available in Cairns at divethereef.com.