The Ribbon Reefs in far north Queensland, Australia have some of the best Great Barrier Reef diving sites. Their remote location, 60km offshore and 240km north of Cairns, mean they are less visited than most and have excellent visibility, year round.
Favourite Ribbon Reef dive sites would have to be the Cod Hole and Steve’s Bommie. The best way to visit this diving paradise is on a liveaboard trip from Cairns. We went with Spirit of Freedom, a luxurious 37m monohull vessel that offers 3, 4 and 7 day trips.
Departing Cairns on Thursday 15 September 2011, we took a low level scenic flight along the Daintree Rainforest coastline, passing over the Great Barrier Reef and spotting a Humpback Whale mother and calf. Arriving at Lizard Island, we tender transferred to Spirit of Freedom, which was moored in Watsons Bay.
Monolith was our first dive site on the Ribbon Reefs. A gentle wall dive, this proved a great introduction to area and we saw reef sharks, giant clams, magnificent sea anemone with their resident pink anemonefish, nudibranchs and streaming schools of blue-lined snapper.
Day 2 offered four dives on different sites across the Ribbon Reefs. The highlight was definitely the Cod Feed at the Cod Hole. This dive can be enjoyed by most scuba divers, having a maximum depth of around 15m. It’s a group dive and Spirit of Freedom’s Chris Haslam took a container of pilchards down with him, to provide the cods’ afternoon feast.
Settled in a circle on the sandy bottom, we were amazed to see several giant Potato Cod (larger than me) darting in and out, coming within centimeters of our masks to snap up the pilchards. Chris moves around the circle, so all divers got a close-up of the action.
Red Bass and Yellow-tailed Fusiliers joined in the feed, and in the distance, a White-tipped Reef Shark cruised silently amongst the coral bommies. Visibility was excellent at 30m and this is a dive you’ll remember forever.
Spirit of Freedom gives divers the chance to enjoy up to five dives per day (including night dives). Each site is chosen to maximize experience, pending conditions. Cruising across the Ribbon Reefs on day 3 we saw an amazing variety of marine life including Humphead Maori Wrasse (Napoleon Wrasse), Trumpetfish, Pufferfish, Triggerfish, Anemonefish, Butterfly Fish, Angelfish, Cuttlefish, Reef Sharks, Nudibranchs, Giant Clams and much, much more.
Steve’s Bommie was the first site of our final day on the Ribbon Reefs and what a highlight! Waking up to a glorious morning of sunshine and calm waters, we splashed down for the first dive at 7.20am. In the 15-20m visibility we saw a school of hundreds of yellow Snapper, spiraling down around the bommie.
Descending to the sandy ocean floor at 30m, we stopped by to say hello to the resident gnome, leaving a note in his guest book. Making our way back to 21m, we cruised by the memorial plaque, proclaiming the site as Steve’s Bommie, and then slowly ascended taking in the diverse marine life.
Steve’s Bommie is like an aquarium for Great Barrier Reef fish species! After a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausages, hashbrowns, grilled tomato and toast, we were eager for our second dive, which started at 10am. The Snapper were still there, and on this dive we spent more time exploring the upper reaches of Steve’s Bommie. Large schools of Unicornfish hovered in the waters just off the bommie, while further afield, Big-eye Trevally cruised under the boat.
On the bommie, we saw five Anemonefish species, as well as Great Barrier Reef fish of all sizes, shapes and colours. From Lionfish and Stonefish, to Surgeonfish, Triggerfish, Trout, Cod, Bream and Hawkfish, there were all there on Steve’s Bommie. The diverse maze of marine life was complemented by hundreds of multi-coloured Damsels and Chromis, massing in the clear blue waters. This is what the Great Barrier Reef is all about!
Spirit of Freedom has a range of air-conditioned cabins (Quad, Double, Stateroom and Ocean View) allowing you to tailor your trip to suit your budget and needs. Customer service is king on this boat and nothing is missed! From the never ending tea, coffee, biscuit and fruit bowls, to the on-board chef and the dive crew, who not only defog your mask before every dive, but also help put on and take off your fins on the dive deck.
The daily itinerary is eat – dive – eat – dive – eat – dive – dive – eat. First breakfast is yoghurt, cereals and fruit, second breakfast is cooked bacon, eggs, pancakes and more. Lunch is a satisfying and changing buffet, while dinner is served ala carte style, complemented with Australian wines and finished with dessert. The menu is varied and delicious: trust me you’ll not go hungry on this boat!