Great Barrier Reef Liveaboard Cruises

RECENT TRIP GALLERIES ON SPIRIT OF FREEDOM

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Thu 11th May 2017 - Mon 15th May 2017 - ( 15) images

Trip photo's from our 4 Day Coral Sea Trip 11th - 15th May

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Mon 8th May 2017 - Thu 11th May 2017 - ( 14) images

Images from our 3 Day Cod Hole and Ribbon Reef trip 8 - 11 May, 2016

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Thu 4th May 2017 - Mon 8th May 2017 - ( 15) images

When you look at the run of luck that we have had lately in regards to wind you would think we would be better off brining kite surfers out to play in the swells as they break on the windward side of the reefs. Our luck was holding for another missed Osprey trip so we put our heads together and decided that going north was the best option. To put this into context we normally reserve going north for our special Far North Excursions so this would certainly be a very unique trip for everyone on board.

We headed out for our first two dives on Thursday afternoon to Coral Princess Bommie. We love this spot for it's diversity of corals and fish life as well as. White tip reef sharks, Flowery Cod, Fusiliers, Lagoon Rays are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the diversity of this site. When we finished up our dives here everyone was relaxing over dinner getting to know each other when we broke the news to them that we would be heading north and that they could expect to see some of the most amazing coral the GBR has to offer.

We headed to an area just north of Princess Charlotte Bay, A full nights steam North of Lizard Island. Our first two dives of the day were at a site called Aladins Cave. We put Matty in the water to see what was happening below and he came back with a report of a Silver Tip Reef Shark as well as a Black Tip reef shark both coming up close to him, perfect. Two dives here on the steeply sloped wall then finishing up in the shallows where the mountains of table and plate corals formed some exceptionally amazing topography. With overhangs and swim throughs I am already itching to got back there for Far North later this year.

Over Lunch we traveled down to Amazing Grace where we did a live drop on a plateau that sticks out from the eastern end of the reef. We managed to find a back eddy current so everyone hung around in the same area letting the marine life swim past them. Again we had sharks and a turtle as well as lots of big Barracuda. We brought everyone back to SOF with the tenders and they were all very amazed at the health of the reef. I was asked if there was any bleaching and I informed everyone that there has been very little bleaching North of Port Douglas this year and from Cooktown North we have seen even less.

The last dive for the day and we found ourselves at Pirates Caves in a challenging current. We worked our way down the mooring line and once close to the reef we were out of the water flow and able to dive comfortably. The cave system here is excellent with double layers of caves so you can explore it at 12 meters then come up to 5 and cover a whole new area.. It really is like an interconnected Swiss Cheese type dive site. A really fantastic site to finish off the day with everyone extremely vocal about the amazing topography.

Over Friday night we traveled 120 miles south to Ribbon Reef No. 5 where we would start Saturday out at Hi Five. This site has a wall that comes down to 18 meters and then changes to a sandy bottom with scattered coral patches. Perfect if you are a Big Green Turtle, Or a human size Moray Eel, A silver tip shark or even a little black tip shark. If the marine life isn't interesting enough there is also a cave system here to explore as well.
Arriving at any dive site is usually a fairly un eventful process for the customers. Most don't even batter an eyelid as the lay in the sun chairs on the upper deck. However arriving at Rouge there were cameras and cheers aplenty as a pod of 80 dolphins surrounded the boat and hung out with us for half an hour. We even delayed the first dive so that we could spend more time watching them. The dive itself yielded a very well camouflaged hawksbill turtle as well as a trove of fusiliers wondering along the wall. The second dive at Rouge we explored the overhangs and caves in the back of the site. Lots of buoyance lessons to be learnt from swimming around in areas with soft sandy bottoms.

With the day rolling on we did a quick move to Clam Gardens. The afternoon dive was pretty relaxed with a snoozing white tip reef shark on the bottom and a really nice large flounder swimming over the reef. The night dive was plenty of hunting action with the Red Bass and Trevally putting on a show of skills in the dark to find their prey. With it getting a little cooler everyone appreciated the hot water rinse and hot towels when they came up from the dive.

When I talk about Steve's Bommie I always find myself trying to compare it to any other dive site I have seen in my years of travel. The simple answer is, there is no other. While yes there are other pinnacles out there and they are good nothing I have found has ever come close to the marine life diversity at Steve's. With 3 types of sharks, 2 types of turtles, 4 types of anemone fish, 3 types of scorpion fish and a collection of stone fish. All in all the only thing that changes is where the critters are and the visibility that we have to find them. Everyone says this is by far one of their favorite dives and it is well worth doing the two dives that we do on a Sunday morning here.

Flair point is where we spent the afternoon. Two dives here with an abandon ship drill in between. I love getting everyone dressed up in their life jackets and getting the customers involved in our crew training. The more realistic the training the better it is for the crew. It was a really good drill and goes to show how well the crew are working together.

For the second time this trip we had Dolphins come to visit, they cruised by the boat and had a good look before cruising off. The dives were great with sharks, turtles, rays and nudibranchs for everyone. We finished up our second dive around five o'clock and moved back to Steve's Bommie where we would have dinner. On the way over we found the Dolphins again making it the most Dolphin magic trip we have had in a long time. They came over and rode the bow wave as we cruised along showing off their superior surfer skills on the way.

It has been a great trip with people from all over the world joining us. Argentina to England, Australia and America. All the corners of the globe. Our crew are about to split for five weeks starting tomorrow while the boat goes into maintenance mode. We are all heading in different directions but after this trip I am sure just like me, the rest of the crew are already looking forward to coming back and seeing what else awaits us out here. Every trip we do we learn about and appreciate our amazing reef and the marine life surrounding it.

Until we blow bubbles again,
Happy diving everyone.

Angus Rowe
Trip Director.

 

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Mon 1st May 2017 - Thu 4th May 2017 - ( 15) images

Stay Tuned, trip report coming soon...!

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Mon 24th April 2017 - Thu 27th April 2017 - ( 5) images

On Monday the 24th of April we departed Cairns Mariner in steam for the Great Barrier Reef for our Cod Hole expedition. After all the meet and greets with the crew and customers it was time for some diving. Our fist dive location for the three-day trip was Norman Reef located 30 nautical miles NW of Cairns.

We conducted two dives on Norman Reef before our over night steam up towards the Ribbon Reefs.
On Tuesday morning we awoke at the notorious Steve's Bommie, a magical dive site which sits just off Ribbon #3. This pinnacle rises up from over 30m to just 4m from the surface making it a mecca for all walks (swims) of marine life. Steve's never ceases to amaze even the most experienced diver; there is always something new and special to see here. Next up was Rouge, which is further north in between Ribbon #5 & #6. The topography here creates an underwater playground with many crevasses and swim throughs and also a range of deep and shallow coral formations. After lunch we moved to Andy's Postcard which is close to Rouge but this pinnacle in the channel between the Ribbons collects an abundance of life with thousands of fusiliers schooling together to avoid predatory fish which never works to well so there was much excitement on this dive.

Our fourth dive was at Clam Gardens, which is also where we would conduct our night dive. As the name suggests there is dozens of clams many of which would easily weigh several hundred kilograms. While darkness saturates the sky all the freaks of the night come out in search of a late night snack under the protection of the night. Crustaceans littler the reef and are easily spotted with bright glowing eyes in the divers torch lights. While we enjoyed dessert we steamed further north towards Ribbon #10 for our over night anchorage.

As we arose on Wednesday it looked as the weather had calmed and we had a beautiful day on and under the water ahead of us. Our first dive was on Pixie Pinnacle, this dive site never ceases to amaze with astounding coral formations and the fish life with more diversity than the amazon. Up next was Challenger bay which lies just around the corner. Challenger Bay hosts more prominently larger fish species with some resident reef sharks and Maori Wrasse while also there is plenty of macro on offer in the way of nudibranchs.

Over lunch we steamed to the top of Ribbon #10 where the Cod Hole lays. This is always a highlight of the trip with several large Potato Cod come to join the divers and as always they are more than happy to oblige for a photo. Our final dive of the trip was due west of the cod hole, half way to Lizard Island, Snake Pit. A reef system that comes up from over 30m and plateaus at 15m creating a beautiful platform for divers. So obviously we spotted some Olive Sea Snakes but also there is a huge turtle, larger than most and schooling fish all along the ledges.

Unfortunately the diving was over for our three day expedition but the fun was not, we moved into the shelter of Watson's Bay on Lizard Island for an Aussie style BBQ where we all shared a few drinks, swapped stories and contacts creating diving friends for life. Thank you all for joining us.

Ellis Spurrier
Trip Director.

 

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Thu 20th April 2017 - Mon 24th April 2017 - ( 14) images

Windy Windy with a slight chance of Gusty was the forecast for our Coral Sea trip. We Left Lizard Island on the hope of getting out to Osprey Reef but also breaking out the sea sick meds as well.

Our first stop was at Coral Princess Bommie. There is a custom we have here and that is that someone always goes where we say not to and then end up getting picked up be Terry's Taxi. This week was no exception to the rule with Terry's Taxi paying another visit to the Bermuda Triangle.. The site it's self is very stunning with patches of coral on a sandy bottom. Each patch of Coral is a different species to the others and the fish life choose their preferred type of coral to live in meaning that it is like looking at a different fish tank every time you move.

That night we left for Osprey after making sure everyone was in their beds and comfortable. The Ocean has a way of being tougher than any man or beast and it was out to show us that it was boss. After an hour and a bit we turned around and headed back to the Ribbon Reefs and the quiet anchorage of Challenger Bay.

On Friday Morning we steamed up to the Cod Hole for two dives. The first one had a couple of white tip reef sharks cruising about as well as a couple of sleepy eyed cod. On the second dive we decided to do a cod feed and managed to track down three cod. The smallest one was chased off almost immediately by the other two. The largest one was so lazy that it just sat on the bottom waiting for us to put the food in its mouth. It has us well trained. And the last one was a mid size Cod who was charging about trying to get as much food as possible making for an entertaining show for all.

We love a good drift dive and Captains Corner is one of the best we have for currents and speed. We dropped in with the tenders and came flying along the reef and around the corner. The one thing to keep in mind when drift diving is that the bigger you are the more the current grabs you and the faster you go. Most of us were back at the boat in less than 40 minutes having had our adrenalin punch for the day.

We moved along Ribbon Reef 9 ¾ to Challenger Bay and the surreal action of the night dive. We do two dives at Challenger and after the night dive is complete most divers agree that it is one of the best dives they have ever done. There was a huge amount of hunting action involving the Trevally and Sharks and everything up close and easy to see.

Saturday Morning and we were at the Bottom of Ribbon Reef 9 for a dive at Wonder Wall. A slight current was running along the wall bringing in some good marine life and a Large Potato Cod was hanging about waiting for a meal to drift by. A few Nudi's were spotted as well.

Dive two for Saturday and Clam Gardens was the pick of the spots. The current was still playing the game and it was nice and still in the water. An easy meandering hour long dive with the Giant Clams for everyone to gaze over.

Dive three was a weather related coin toss. We decided that it was to blustery for Crack A Jack so we headed to Rouge instead. Rouge has a fantastic amount of swim throughs and amazing topography that allows the light to shimmer down from above making for beautiful affect. Most of our divers were starting to get adventurous by this point of the trip and headed off in buddy pairs to check it all out.

Saturday afternoon and evening and what better place to be than George's Gardens. This area has some very large Moray Eels as well as some interesting topography. The reef gardens on top drop away fairly steeply creating a fairly vertical wall. With large clams and new soft coral growth this is one site that is not only an easy dive but a very pretty one as well.

Sunday Funday at Steve's Bommie where the Turtles were out to play and the fish were doing the same. A Wobbygong was watching the action from his hole in the reef and the stone fish were doing what they do best, nothing at all. We did two dives here before moving over to Flair Point for the afternoon.

With the trip drawing to a close the crew did some emergency drill training and this week was missing diver. It is always nice when we find the missing diver as most of the time it is Captain Tony and we do need him from time to time.

That is it from us for another week I know everyone on board had a fantastic time with some even mentioning the Challenger Bay night dive as one of the best dives they have ever done.

Until Next time.

Angus Rowe,
Trip Director.

 

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Mon 17th April 2017 - Thu 20th April 2017 - ( 14) images

Monday the 17th April was a fairly blustery day with a cooling South East wind blowing all the way up the east coast of Australia. Up here in Cairns that meant for a few small bumps as we headed out to Saxon Reef for our first two dives of the Cod Hole trip. We arrived at Turtle Bommie with 22 eager divers waiting for their chance to dive the Great Barrier Reef. Under the water waiting to greet them were a couple of white tip reef sharks and a very relaxed turtle who was enjoying it's dinner. We stayed for two dives before enjoying a Salmon dinner of our own as we headed North towards Ribbon Reef No. 3.

Steve's Bommie is our regular Tuesday Morning dive and it has never failed to produce the goods. The vis was great and the Marine life was out to play with plenty to see. Trevally swarming from left and right. Clown Fish in every anemone. White Tip reef sharks on the bottom and Leafy Scorpion Fish in their usual spots. Another great Tuesday at Steves.

For dive two and three we did something a little different and dived two separate sites at the same time. We have three sites that we can pick from on Ribbon Reef Three that are all pretty close together. One of them is a very small pinnacle called Christmas Tree Bommie. It is so small that we only like to have a dozen divers on it at a time so that is exactly what we did. By have half the boat dive Whistful Gardens and the other half dive Christmas tree. We Sat Spirit of Freedom on a Mooring that lies between the two sites and used the Tenders to drop in on Christmas Tree and did a short surface swim to Whistful. Both sites have very colorful corals and clams as well as a great selection of marine life including several clown fish species as well as Cods, Trevally, Barracuda and the smaller stuff like cleaner shrimp and nudibranchs.

We spent the afternoon and night dive at Clam Gardens looking at Moray Eels and White Tip Reef sharks. We had a few night dive newbies and they loved seeing the Bioluminescence in the water.

Wednesday morning we woke up at Pixie's Pinnacle where everyone came up with big smiles. The quality of the coral here is impressive and the fish life second to none. It is always a favorite amongst our divers and this week was no exception with plenty of pelagic fish charging around the place keeping everyone very entertained.

The world famous Cod Hole for two dives with the Sharks and Cod competing to be the main attraction on the first dive. It is really amazing when we have some younger kids on the boat, as some of our cod are the same size as them! Now the Cod are a temperamental bunch and to be honest I have never had a Cod Feed where none of them showed up. That was until today. It was a very unique Cod Feed with not much of anything going on and the Red Bass absolutely destroying and food that was offered up. It is a refreshing reminder that the Cod are in fact not dependent on us for food and they choose to partake in the feeds. It is also a wonderful reminder that they choose to live at the Cod Hole and don't simply stay here waiting for their weekly hand out.

Last dive of the trip was a chilled no current dive at Dynamite Pass. We had no current and clear Vis to finish things off. It has been a windy time up on the surface this week with the wind adding a bit of a chill effect to things. First time I have seen so many hoodie's getting warn this year. Might be a sign of the times for the next few months and the air temps. The great part is that the Ocean Temp has dropped to 27 degrees and with this cooling the risk of coral bleaching has completely disappeared. We have only seen a very small amount of bleaching on our sites and with this water temp drop the coral has a very good chance of a full recovery.

That is all for this Cod Hole Trip. Until next time,

Angus Rowe,

Trip Director.

 

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Thu 6th April 2017 - Mon 10th April 2017 - ( 13) images

True statement "The conditions out here are officially horrible". Said by our fearless captain while trying to tie the boat up in 30 knots of wind and sideways rain. It can be said that our 6 months of perfect glass out spectacular conditions have ended with a bluster. So what is the best thing to do when the surface weather isn't great for playing golf, go diving or course.

We started this Coral Sea trip by looking at the weather forecast, and more importantly the wave heights for outside the reef. 3 - 5 meter waves are no ones cup of tea so we decided that not heading to Osprey would be the wiser option. We started the diving at Ribbon Reef no. 9 and Coral Princess Bommie.

The first shark sightings for the trip happened within 30 seconds of getting in the water and not to be outdone a pod of dolphins came past for a look. We even managed to find a stone fish just hanging out under the boat.

Day two started out at Pixie's pinnacle where a grey reef shark came up and gave us a nice toothy grin. A green Moray was also showing off his pearly whites while getting a clean from a cleaner wrasse.

We moved down the wall a little ways and dived Pixie's wall for the second dive of the day. A Green Turtle glided by and didn't pay us much notice. The more keen eyed people spotted a few nudi branchs along the way too.

Captains Corner for a drift dive and the current was certainly playing the game. We dropped in and we were off with the reef zipping past like watching a forest from the window of a car. We rounded the corner and a back eddie slowed us down to a mild swim as we traveled the second half of the dive much slower than the first. Again a Green Turtle showed us up as it moved with ease in the current.

Challenger bay for a late afternoon and night dive and the action was plentiful. We could hear the crunching and banging of fish getting caught and eaten by other fish as well as the sharks streaking by in the darkness trying to get there slice of the action. Lots of close sharky action on this particular night.

30 knots of wind are challenging enough to tie up the boat. When it involves an anchor drop and backing the boat up to an eight meter wide pinnacle it takes a far bit of planning and a little luck to put everything where you want it. First thing you have to do is find the pinnacle, when it is ten meters below the surface and the sky is grey and the waves are rolling it is very tough. Fortunately we have one heck of a captain and with a little captains talk everything came into place nicely and we were right to go. Why go to so much effort, well because Crack A Jack is worth it. Turtles and pelagic fish of epic proportions. Fabulous soft corals. Insane cleaning stations that involve dozens of shrimp and moray eels. Absolutely worth the effort. In fact it is the first time I have ever seen a round of applause given when we have tied up to a dive site.

Clam Gardens for the second dive and it was pleasing to hear some of the experience well traveled divers talk about how amazing the clams are and that they are certainly some of the larger clams they have seen. The vis was a little affected by the weather for this dive but never the less everyone said the clams were spectacular.

Rouge is not a site we visit often as it normally does not fit into our fair weather itineraries however when the weather turns we certainly do like coming here and having a look around. Lots of large cracks in the reef and exceptional topography allowing the light rays to rain down from above. A very amazing site for photography.

Last up for the day was two dives at George's Garden. This site has some very impressive Giant Clams as well as a very decent wall to swim along. The gardens area on top of this site in the top five meters has unfortunately being pretty well hit by a storm in the past but it is nice to see new coral growth beginning to appear. The night dive was a little different to the one at challenger bay. It had lots of fish and no other fish trying to hunt and kill them. It was very nice to do a night dive and see so many fish out and about without the constant threat from the hunters.

Trevally that capture a persons attention for 15 minutes, Wobbygong sharks, stone fish, octopus and not to mention a mild current and great vis. Steve's Bommie turning on the goods once again on a Sunday morning. It is so good we are going to stay and do a second dive. Sunday Funday.

Flair point for the last two dives of the trip. Everyone was amazed at the size of the Massive Corals here. It is always nice to watch the newer divers by this point of the trip. Their bouancy is much improved as is there general diving technique. The move slower and find more things, the use less air and easily hit 60 minute bottom times. It is always rewarding to see the advice of the crew making a difference in the water and people really picking up some great skills while having fun too.

We are headed south towards Cairns and Pier Bar happy hour on Monday. Until next time.

Angus Rowe,
Trip Director.

 

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Mon 3rd April 2017 - Thu 6th April 2017 - ( 13) images

On a sunny Thursday morning our guests had a scenic flight up to Lizard Island from Cairns, after a short ride in the RIBs through the Blue Lagoon we had fresh faces aboard before lunch. Shortly after our meet and greet with all the friendly crew it was time to make way for Ribbon Reef #10 to begin the 4 day Coral Sea expedition.

Our first dive is the customary orientation dive to shake off any rust so to speak and get ourselves ready for what lay ahead. Later in the afternoon we dived ‘Lighthouse Bommie' which is a pinnacle that rises up from 28m to 6m creating an oasis in the dessert situated off Ribbon #10. Large schools of bait fish darted around the pinnacle as Trevally and Barracuda chased in search of an afternoon snack. It was then time to ‘batten down the hatches' as we headed out towards Osprey Reef on an overnight steam.

On Friday morning we awoke to a beautiful sunrise over the glistening open ocean. Our first dive of five was a drift at ‘Around The Bend' in which looked as it was going to be a memorable one with crystal clear water and a gentle current. Being the first dive of the day we get to see everything waking up and in search of some breakfast from a train of Bumphead Parrot Fish in search of some corals to dopey turtles still with some sleep in their eyes. After our breakfast we headed south down to Rapid horn, which put on another amazing drift with a little bit more current we drifted close to a mile. Through out the drift divers got to see an assortment of fishes along the way, colourful Anthias dancing amongst the reef as well as Butterfly, Angel Fish and a large Potato Cod to top it all off. Over lunch we travelled to the south east corner of Osprey for our third dive, and as soon as the divers hit the water a couple of intrigued Silver Tip Reef Sharks came in for a closer look in addition to other reef sharks making for an excitable dive also with topography resembling a labyrinth.

Following three full on dives we had a quick afternoon siesta as we steamed back up to the entrance for our final day dive, we always do a day dive at the location of our night dive to help divers familiarize themselves with the site. At ‘Forgotten Lagoon' where you can actually see the bottom, awaited the usual array of fish and also a secret swim through to add to the adventure and once night fell and we got in the dive site had transformed into something special, there is something about night diving in spectacular visibility, humbling in a way. After an energy sapping day packed full of escapades it was a short trip to our over night mooring allowing for everyone to get an early nights rest in for tomorrow in which once again will be another action packed day at Osprey Reef.

Saturday started spectacularly, 5 knot variable winds, flats seas and never ending visibility. We were going to spend our day up on the northern end of Osprey with our first dive being along ‘Blue Marlin Wall'. The divers did a live drop just after 7am into a slight current towards ‘North Horn', at the beginning of the dive a pair of Eagle Rays glided past gracefully and as we got closer to our end point more and more reef sharks came into see what all the fuss was about and they stayed with us until the end of the dive, things were looking good for the shark attraction dive we had planned for the afternoon. Our second dive was along ‘Soft Coral' wall also drifting north to the ‘Horn'; here we get a sloping wall which once at 40m drops off to the abyss. As the name suggests, there is beautiful soft corals throughout the wall but also large fan corals as well as plate and branching corals which of course house an abundance of marine life from Christmas Tree Worms in every colour to hunting pelagics also at the end of the dive a Leopard Shark was laying on a sandy bank watching the divers swim over top. Now it was time for the ‘Shark Attraction' dive, always a huge highlight the divers were buddy checked and raring to go as soon as dive time was called. Once everyone was in place at the underwater auditorium, the cage came down with dozens of Grey Reef Sharks in its wake. The sharks circled the tuna head filled cage with anticipation, awaiting for Gretta our dive master to release the lid. Once the top was open all hell broke loose with over three dozen sharks fighting for some tuna, this chaos continued for what seemed like an entire dive as the sharks wrestled over the tuna heads, for some it was a surprise others an adrenalin rush but a memorable dive was had by all.

It's always hard to have a follow up dive just as good at the shark attraction so we mixed things up a little and moved down to ‘Admiralty' which has a number of swim throughs and caverns one of which has a large admiralty anchor laying at the bottom of it. A fun dive making a nice way to end our time out at Osprey and unfortunately it was time to tie everything down and settle down for the overnight steam back to the Ribbon Reefs.

On Sunday morning we a rose to another spectacular day near Ribbon #5, too days itinerary consisted of some pinnacles to change up the diving style as its challenging to top Osprey's beauty. During the night the winds shifted to the prevailing south east and also picked up considerably putting a change into our plans so we started our day in some shelter at ‘Gorgonian Bay', a nice coral covered wall with a nice shallow bay with Giant Clams and with residing with them where juvenile fish seeking shelter from the big blue. Next up was the infamous ‘Steve's Bommie' located near the bottom of Ribbon #3, Steve's is always a great dive and makes an appearance on the highlight reel with a large abundance of fish from big to small and also the rarities like Leafy Scorpions, a number of nudibranchs, Wobbygong Shark and also a young Green Sea Turtle.

We dived Steve's a second time giving the Mates a chance to do their weekly maintenance and checks in the Engine Room, but by diving this site a second time around it gives you a chance to find all the cool critters that you might have missed the first time around and also get that perfect photo of Nemo who resides on the top of the pinnacle. For our final dive of what has been an amazing trip was at ‘Coral Princess Bommie', which takes up to an hour to swim one lap around. A beautiful coral dive with large Stag Horn gardens and Giant Clams dotted around it, it is also home to a couple of large Napoleon Wrasse who have a couple of holes in the wall in which the call home every evening so it's always nice to see them heading off to bed in the late afternoon.

Unfortunately it was time to wrap things up and prepare ourselves for the overnight steam back to Cairns. A lot of fun was had by all and many new friendships were made, I thank you all for joining us and hope to see you again one day.

Ellis Spurrier
Trip Director

 

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Thu 30th March 2017 - Mon 3rd April 2017 - ( 18) images

On a sunny Thursday morning our guests had a scenic flight up to Lizard Island from Cairns, after a short ride in the RIBs through the Blue Lagoon we had fresh faces aboard before lunch. Shortly after our meet and greet with all the friendly crew it was time to make way for Ribbon Reef #10 to begin the 4 day Coral Sea expedition.

Our first dive is the customary orientation dive to shake off any rust so to speak and get ourselves ready for what lay ahead. Later in the afternoon we dived ‘Lighthouse Bommie' which is a pinnacle that rises up from 28m to 6m creating an oasis in the dessert situated off Ribbon #10. Large schools of bait fish darted around the pinnacle as Trevally and Barracuda chased in search of an afternoon snack. It was then time to ‘batten down the hatches' as we headed out towards Osprey Reef on an overnight steam.

On Friday morning we awoke to a beautiful sunrise over the glistening open ocean. Our first dive of five was a drift at ‘Around The Bend' in which looked as it was going to be a memorable one with crystal clear water and a gentle current. Being the first dive of the day we get to see everything waking up and in search of some breakfast from a train of Bumphead Parrot Fish in search of some corals to dopey turtles still with some sleep in their eyes. After our breakfast we headed south down to Rapid horn, which put on another amazing drift with a little bit more current we drifted close to a mile. Through out the drift divers got to see an assortment of fishes along the way, colourful Anthias dancing amongst the reef as well as Butterfly, Angel Fish and a large Potato Cod to top it all off. Over lunch we travelled to the south east corner of Osprey for our third dive, and as soon as the divers hit the water a couple of intrigued Silver Tip Reef Sharks came in for a closer look in addition to other reef sharks making for an excitable dive also with topography resembling a labyrinth.

Following three full on dives we had a quick afternoon siesta as we steamed back up to the entrance for our final day dive, we always do a day dive at the location of our night dive to help divers familiarize themselves with the site. At ‘Forgotten Lagoon' where you can actually see the bottom, awaited the usual array of fish and also a secret swim through to add to the adventure and once night fell and we got in the dive site had transformed into something special, there is something about night diving in spectacular visibility, humbling in a way. After an energy sapping day packed full of escapades it was a short trip to our over night mooring allowing for everyone to get an early nights rest in for tomorrow in which once again will be another action packed day at Osprey Reef.

Saturday started spectacularly, 5 knot variable winds, flats seas and never ending visibility. We were going to spend our day up on the northern end of Osprey with our first dive being along ‘Blue Marlin Wall'. The divers did a live drop just after 7am into a slight current towards ‘North Horn', at the beginning of the dive a pair of Eagle Rays glided past gracefully and as we got closer to our end point more and more reef sharks came into see what all the fuss was about and they stayed with us until the end of the dive, things were looking good for the shark attraction dive we had planned for the afternoon. Our second dive was along ‘Soft Coral' wall also drifting north to the ‘Horn'; here we get a sloping wall which once at 40m drops off to the abyss. As the name suggests, there is beautiful soft corals throughout the wall but also large fan corals as well as plate and branching corals which of course house an abundance of marine life from Christmas Tree Worms in every colour to hunting pelagics also at the end of the dive a Leopard Shark was laying on a sandy bank watching the divers swim over top. Now it was time for the ‘Shark Attraction' dive, always a huge highlight the divers were buddy checked and raring to go as soon as dive time was called. Once everyone was in place at the underwater auditorium, the cage came down with dozens of Grey Reef Sharks in its wake. The sharks circled the tuna head filled cage with anticipation, awaiting for Gretta our dive master to release the lid. Once the top was open all hell broke loose with over three dozen sharks fighting for some tuna, this chaos continued for what seemed like an entire dive as the sharks wrestled over the tuna heads, for some it was a surprise others an adrenalin rush but a memorable dive was had by all.

It's always hard to have a follow up dive just as good at the shark attraction so we mixed things up a little and moved down to ‘Admiralty' which has a number of swim throughs and caverns one of which has a large admiralty anchor laying at the bottom of it. A fun dive making a nice way to end our time out at Osprey and unfortunately it was time to tie everything down and settle down for the overnight steam back to the Ribbon Reefs.

On Sunday morning we a rose to another spectacular day near Ribbon #5, too days itinerary consisted of some pinnacles to change up the diving style as its challenging to top Osprey's beauty. During the night the winds shifted to the prevailing south east and also picked up considerably putting a change into our plans so we started our day in some shelter at ‘Gorgonian Bay', a nice coral covered wall with a nice shallow bay with Giant Clams and with residing with them where juvenile fish seeking shelter from the big blue. Next up was the infamous ‘Steve's Bommie' located near the bottom of Ribbon #3, Steve's is always a great dive and makes an appearance on the highlight reel with a large abundance of fish from big to small and also the rarities like Leafy Scorpions, a number of nudibranchs, Wobbygong Shark and also a young Green Sea Turtle.

We dived Steve's a second time giving the Mates a chance to do their weekly maintenance and checks in the Engine Room, but by diving this site a second time around it gives you a chance to find all the cool critters that you might have missed the first time around and also get that perfect photo of Nemo who resides on the top of the pinnacle. For our final dive of what has been an amazing trip was at ‘Coral Princess Bommie', which takes up to an hour to swim one lap around. A beautiful coral dive with large Stag Horn gardens and Giant Clams dotted around it, it is also home to a couple of large Napoleon Wrasse who have a couple of holes in the wall in which the call home every evening so it's always nice to see them heading off to bed in the late afternoon.
Unfortunately it was time to wrap things up and prepare ourselves for the overnight steam back to Cairns. A lot of fun was had by all and many new friendships were made, I thank you all for joining us and hope to see you again one day.

Ellis Spurrier
Trip Director

 

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Mon 27th March 2017 - Thu 30th March 2017 - ( 14) images

So it was time for us to leave Cairns and Cyclone Debbie behind, luckily for us the storm had headed south while we were off north. On Monday afternoon we had made it up to Norman Reef where we would do two dives before making way for the upper Ribbon Reefs. Both dives were on the dive site ‘Troppos' where we were lucky enough to chill with a few Green Sea and Hawksbill turtles in the shallows as the day was coming to a close. A magical sunset was awaiting the divers as they exited the water and said good-bye to Norman Reef and steamed into the night.

On Tuesday morning we awoke to mixed conditions, with the forecast being 25 knot Northwesterly for the next few days we were in for interesting run. Unable to tie up to our usual moorings we did live drops and pick ups for the first two dives both of which were drift dives and with large tides they were exciting drifts. For dive three we found a sheltered edge and managed to tie up too which gave the deck crew a bit of a break as for us divers the diving never stopped. We had a lovely dive in between Ribbon Reef 8 & 9, which was plentiful in fish life from large schools of fusiliers and mackerel to cute little Box Fish. In the afternoon we dived ‘The Crack' which is a reef wall with a large fracture like crevasse into the reef. This creates a safe haven for smaller and juvenile species and also has great coral cover in which makes the perfect safety stop location right off the back of the boat. This is also where we did our night dive which is always a bit of fun as the lights go out all the creepy crawlies come out to play, the reef was littered in crustaceans and their orange glowing eyes.
Wednesday morning was just as the weatherman predicted, windy! But luckily for us there is no wind underwater. We started the day off with another drift dive along a coral covered wall on Ribbon #9 and a pair of Eagle Rays glided effortlessly through the current as the divers floated by. Next up was ‘Vertical Gardens' which is one of my personal favorites, a large concave wall with corals from one meter down past thirty meters. This semi-circle fish bowl never ceases to amaze even the most experienced diver.

Over lunch we steamed north to the ‘Cod Hole', and as you'd expect it was so much fun with several enormous Potato Cod joining in for their afternoon snack all the while being ever so photogenic, show offs. Our final dive for the expedition was at ‘Snake Pit', with an incoming tide we had nutrient rich water coming in from the Coral Sea fertilizing the site bing in an abundance of fish life. Big schools of Rainbow Runners and Mackerel Tuna chased the darting bait fish all over the reef and to top it off a gigantic Green Sea Turtle made an appearance, one of the largest I've ever seen!

What a fun filled trip we've had filled with exciting diving regardless of the conditions above the water it was smooth sailing underneath. After our final dive we popped over to Lizard Island to find some shelter for the evening and shared a fantastic Aussie style BBQ.


Ellis Spurrier
Trip Director

 

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Thu 23rd March 2017 - Mon 27th March 2017 - ( 14) images

Fresh faces flown into Lizard Island were welcomed aboard late morning to meet Spirit Of Freedom and all the crew. We soon made way to Ribbon Reef #10 to get our four day Coral Sea expedition underway, kicking it off with two afternoon dives and a exciting night dive with all the night time predators at Challenger Bay. Once we all got to know each other a little better over a few quiet beverages it was time to make way for Osprey Reef, with lake like conditions; we departed for a night of smooth sailing.

When we awoke at Osprey Reef calm seas and clear skies greeted us. Our first dive was a drift at ‘Around the Bend'. With amazing visibility and a light current we floated along the wall of the reef. As we made our way all of the divers had the thrill of spotting a Marble Ray, Cow Tail Ray and a large Tiger Shark! What an epic way to start our two days in the Coral Sea. After breakfast we moved to the ‘False Entrance' for dive two where reef sharks sleep peacefully on the sandy floor un-phased by the divers. Over lunch we steamed up to ‘North Horn' where all the sharks were waiting in anticipation for their afternoon snack; the shark attraction dive is always a huge highlight of the trip with dozens of sharks and some gigantic Potato Cod coming to join in on the action. To finish off what had already been a blockbuster of a day we did a dive at the newly dubbed ‘Forgotten Lagoon'. A nice, calm dive in shallow waters acts as a protective habitat for many juvenile and smaller fish species. Some divers were even lucky enough to have a visit from a small Eagle Ray cruising through the shallows! After warm showers, we settled in for a movie night complete with popcorn and Tim Tams for our overnight stay at Osprey Reef.

Day three of the trip and we awoke to another spectacular sunrise over the Coral Sea. With north-easterly winds, it was the perfect opportunity to have an adventurous day of exploring the southern end of Osprey Reef. The morning kicked off with our excited and eager divers being live dropped along the reef wall headed towards Rapid Horn, the southernmost tip of Osprey Reef. Within minutes, a huge school of Bumphead Parrot Fish came passing through to say Good Morning as we were descending. Shortly after the Grey Reef sharks were cruising along in the blue, coming in to check out the morning action. Dive two was around on the south-western corner of Osprey where we were once again live dropped and with it being unfamiliar territory several intrigued Silver Tip Reef Sharks came in to see what all the fuss was about and ended up hanging around for a good part of the dive. In the afternoon we had moved around and up to the eastern edge of the reef and dived a site called ‘A-Maze-ing' which has the deep drop off coming up to a network of bommies scattered about the shallower part of the reef's edge. The divers navigated the labyrinth finding all kinds of hidden gems and in the end finding the boat with ease. Our day ended with the final dive at ‘Admiralty' which is an eventful dive with caves, caverns and swim throughs, in which one swim through has a large admiralty anchor laying on the bottom guarded by reef sharks at the entrance and morays on the inside. After another awesome day at Osprey none of the guests wanted to leave but it was time for us to make our way back to the Ribbon Reefs over night.

After a peaceful overnight steam we awoke to spectacular conditions surrounding the Ribbon Reefs. Our first dive was at a very special spot called ‘Crack'A'Jack', which is a pinnacle coming up from 40m. Once we had moored up we could practically see the bottom and with no current we were set for a magical dive. Anthias and Bassalets danced over the top of the bommie while schools of Jacks darted amongst the baitfish. Magnificent corals lined the pinnacle with all the tiny hidden treasures in between. Dives two and three were also pinnacle dives but this time at the notorious Steve's Bommie. This dive never ceases to amaze even the most experienced diver, littered in scorpion fish, pipe fish and pairing nudibranchs it was a very special couple of dives. To top off what has been one of the most amazing trips we dived a beautiful bay in between Ribbon #2 & #3, ‘Joanie's Joy'. Such a relaxing way to finish off an action packed dive expedition. After all the dive equipment had been cleaned and stowed away we joined together for a fabulous feast of Australian BBQ cuisine, with a great meal and a few drinks, life long friendships began to bud as we swapped stories and address' all the while we quietly steamed back towards Cairns. Unfortunately the trip was over but it didn't mean the fun had to end. Thank you to all that joined us, it was an absolute pleasure and we hope to see you some day soon.

Ellis Spurrier
Trip Director

 

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Mon 20th March 2017 - Thu 23rd March 2017 - ( 15) images

When the weather forecast looks to be surreal for a trip to the Ribbon Reefs it is always worth double checking and even triple checking to make sure it hasn't changed. After all when you arrive at Spirit Of Freedom on a Monday Morning we like to brag to the other Crew just how good our weather is going to be. This week though we were out bragged with sightings of Tiger Sharks and Exceptional Visibility from last week. So we got about the business of getting ready for the week ahead.

As we left Cairns the only ripples on the ocean were from our wake and that of fish breaking the surface. It was a glass out all the way to Normal Reef and the first two dives of the trip at Playgrounds. A nice Green Turtle, Grey Reef Shark and a Moray Eel were all the highlights of our first two dives.

We headed north for Ribbon Reef No.3 and Steve's Bommie. Normally we would arrive at Steve's around 1am but with the weather so calm we took the outside path up the reef and cut off a couple of hours of travel time.

When you are standing on the boat and can see the mooring blocks 38 meters below the water it is far to say the Vis is certainly above average. I have never seen Vis as good as this at Steve's Bommie. On the dive you could easily see all of the surrounding patches of reef scattered across the sea floor. We even noticed a white tip reef shark napping on the sea floor and a grey reef shark circling around near the bommie. There was a very chilled out hawksbill turtle that we cam across as well as a bossy Octopus that seemed to want to take charge of a camera for a photo shoot. A couple of Stone Fish and even a free swimming one were all pretty easy to spot this week. As always a spectacular dive at Steve's with Caroline even suggesting it was life changing.

Up next was our second favorite pinnacle, Crack-A-Jack. Again off the charts vis and no current making for a very nice dive. Lots of cleaner shrimp all over the the top part of the pinnacle and glass fish everywhere. An Octopus picked a crazy moment to dive into a hole and almost paid dearly for it with an eagle eyed Trevally spotting the movement and just missing with an attacking pass.

Siesta time, zzzzzzzzzzzz

Pixie's Wall is know for it cleaning stations white sandy bottom. A white tip reef shark decided to steel the show by buzzing around everyone at the end of the dive and I was asked if Barramundi are found on the Great Barrier Reef. We have a fish called a Barramundi Cod and that is what was found. They are a rare and completely protected fish however are not a part of the Barramundi family they still resemble them in shape.

Challenger Bay for an afternoon and night dive was pretty interesting. The quote of the trip would be "Sola, when that shark swam between your legs, were you nervous?" That pretty much sums it up.

Lighthouse Bommie and some Olive Sea Snakes was a great way to kick off what would be a very memorable Wednesday. The ocean was flat, the wind was calm and the dive at lighthouse was full of marine life with plenty of Barracuda and Fusiliers zipping all over the place.

We headed for the cod hole and our after breakfast dive was feeding a couple of pretty feisty Potato Cod. Normally the large cod rule the roost at the Cod Hole but today one of the smaller cod decided he had had enough of the old ways. He took charge and gulped down as much food as he could keeping all the larger cod at bay.

The second Cod Hole dive was a drift dive coming in from the exposed side and around the corner into the Cod Hole itself. The current was a lovely incoming tide and made for a pretty zippy drift and we were back in shark ally and hanging around the ten meter zone for a while when a bunch of rattling and banging started up. I knew it was Matty the Smiling German based on the noise but he was just outside my vision to see what he was on about. It didn't take much waiting before I got my answer as I started swimming towards him a ten foot Hammer Head went barreling between us. I did not expect that at all and Matty tells me it had been swimming in circles around him before I cam over to see what was going on.

Snake Pit for some great vis and Bat Fish city to finish things off. A nice easy dive and a pretty chilled out conditions with very little current. Lots of smaller fish covering the reef and a little blue spot stingray came past for a look. A very nice dive to finish of the trip.

The conditions were exactly as forcast for the trip and we have had some wonderful people to share them with.

Until next time.

Angus Rowe,
Trip Director.

 

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Thu 16th March 2017 - Mon 20th March 2017 - ( 15) images

Fresh faces flown into Lizard Island were welcomed aboard late morning to meet Spirit Of Freedom and all the crew. We soon made way to Ribbon Reef #10 to get our four day Coral Sea expedition underway, kicking it off with two afternoon dives and a exciting night dive with all the night time predators at Challenger Bay. Once we all got to know each other a little better over a few quiet beverages it was time to make way for Osprey Reef, with lake like conditions; we departed for a night of smooth sailing.

When we awoke at Osprey Reef calm seas and clear skies greeted us. Our first dive was a drift at ‘Around the Bend'. With amazing visibility and a light current we floated along the wall of the reef. As we made our way all of the divers had the thrill of spotting a Marble Ray, Cow Tail Ray and a large Tiger Shark! What an epic way to start our two days in the Coral Sea. After breakfast we moved to the ‘False Entrance' for dive two where reef sharks sleep peacefully on the sandy floor un-phased by the divers. Over lunch we steamed up to ‘North Horn' where all the sharks were waiting in anticipation for their afternoon snack; the shark attraction dive is always a huge highlight of the trip with dozens of sharks and some gigantic Potato Cod coming to join in on the action. To finish off what had already been a blockbuster of a day we did a dive at the newly dubbed ‘Forgotten Lagoon'. A nice, calm dive in shallow waters acts as a protective habitat for many juvenile and smaller fish species. Some divers were even lucky enough to have a visit from a small Eagle Ray cruising through the shallows! After warm showers, we settled in for a movie night complete with popcorn and Tim Tams for our overnight stay at Osprey Reef.

Day three of the trip and we awoke to another spectacular sunrise over the Coral Sea. With north-easterly winds, it was the perfect opportunity to have an adventurous day of exploring the southern end of Osprey Reef. The morning kicked off with our excited and eager divers being live dropped along the reef wall headed towards Rapid Horn, the southernmost tip of Osprey Reef. Within minutes, a huge school of Bumphead Parrot Fish came passing through to say Good Morning as we were descending. Shortly after the Grey Reef sharks were cruising along in the blue, coming in to check out the morning action. Dive two was around on the south-western corner of Osprey where we were once again live dropped and with it being unfamiliar territory several intrigued Silver Tip Reef Sharks came in to see what all the fuss was about and ended up hanging around for a good part of the dive. In the afternoon we had moved around and up to the eastern edge of the reef and dived a site called ‘A-Maze-ing' which has the deep drop off coming up to a network of bommies scattered about the shallower part of the reef's edge. The divers navigated the labyrinth finding all kinds of hidden gems and in the end finding the boat with ease. Our day ended with the final dive at ‘Admiralty' which is an eventful dive with caves, caverns and swim throughs, in which one swim through has a large admiralty anchor laying on the bottom guarded by reef sharks at the entrance and morays on the inside. After another awesome day at Osprey none of the guests wanted to leave but it was time for us to make our way back to the Ribbon Reefs over night.

After a peaceful overnight steam we awoke to spectacular conditions surrounding the Ribbon Reefs. Our first dive was at a very special spot called ‘Crack'A'Jack', which is a pinnacle coming up from 40m. Once we had moored up we could practically see the bottom and with no current we were set for a magical dive. Anthias and Bassalets danced over the top of the bommie while schools of Jacks darted amongst the baitfish. Magnificent corals lined the pinnacle with all the tiny hidden treasures in between. Dives two and three were also pinnacle dives but this time at the notorious Steve's Bommie. This dive never ceases to amaze even the most experienced diver, littered in scorpion fish, pipe fish and pairing nudibranchs it was a very special couple of dives. To top off what has been one of the most amazing trips we dived a beautiful bay in between Ribbon #2 & #3, ‘Joanie's Joy'. Such a relaxing way to finish off an action packed dive expedition. After all the dive equipment had been cleaned and stowed away we joined together for a fabulous feast of Australian BBQ cuisine, with a great meal and a few drinks, life long friendships began to bud as we swapped stories and address' all the while we quietly steamed back towards Cairns. Unfortunately the trip was over but it didn't mean the fun had to end. Thank you to all that joined us, it was an absolute pleasure and we hope to see you some day soon.

Ellis Spurrier
Trip Director

 

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Mon 13th March 2017 - Thu 16th March 2017 - ( 12) images

All Aboard! We departed Cairns harbor on a sunny Monday afternoon heading for the outer barrier reef, first stop Norman Reef. After our meet and greet with all the crew and safety briefs complete it was time to do some diving! We did two dives at Troppos with a nice shallow bay and deeper walls making for good check out dives where divers become familiar with our practices and equipment. Most spotted a Green Sea Turtle with other seeing two or three! Once we had everyone back on board it was time for dinner and an overnight steam up to the Ribbon Reefs.

We awoke to an amazing sunrise and flat seas the day ahead was looking good with five dives planned our first dive of the day was at Steve's Bommie. This dive never ceases to amaze even the most experienced diver with an abundance of marine life it truly is a site to see. Our next stop was further north towards Ribbon #5 at a special little spot dubbed ‘Crack ‘A' Jack'. Another pinnacle with a steady flow of nutrient rich water from the Coral Sea it also puts on a show similar to Steve's. Many pelagics chasing small bait fish amongst the brightly coloured corals all over the bommie makes for an entertaining show. Just a short drive around the corner we where tied up for lunch at Gorgonian Bay. Many fusiliers schooled along the reef and shark mackerel sat out in the blue waiting for their chance to strike while in close crayfish and other crustaceans lined the reef. Our final stop of the day was Clam Gardens where we did an afternoon dive and also a night dive, which is always a favourite for many and a little nerve racking for those going under in the dark for the first time, but the newbies always exit the water with huge smiles on their face! Once we where all packed up it was time to head north to the upper ribbons, which according to the weather man it was going to be another spectacular day.
On Wednesday morning the conditions where next to perfect for what we had in store for our divers with our first dive being a drift at Pixie Reef. With an incoming tide we had a beautiful wall dive in which required next to no fin kicks, such a relaxing way to start the day. After breakfast we moved up to Lighthouse Bommie. As the divers entered the water they where greeted by a large school of Jacks, great visibility and of course Raphael the turtle. With a lunchtime steam north to the Cod Hole we had dolphins surfing our wake. The cod feed is always a highlight of the trip and is always exciting for the crew also. Several giants glided gracefully amongst everyone in anticipation for their afternoon snack whilst divers got that all-important selfie with these gracious creatures.

To top off what has been a magical trip and also a experience of a lifetime for many we had our final dive at Snake Pit. With continuous calm waters and crystal visibility there was so much to see, an Eagle Ray swam loops around the dive site while a huge Logger Head Turtle floated lazily amongst everyone.

A great time was had by all as lifetime friendships where made and unforgettable memories. Until next time!


Ellis Spurrier
Trip Director

 

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Thu 9th March 2017 - Mon 13th March 2017 - ( 15) images

The only ripples that we could find on Thursday the 09th of March were ripples in the sand on the beach. Without a doubt it was the calmest glass out conditions that are possible. We took the opportunity to dive a spot that we do not get to visit very often-called Vertical Gardens.

The first two dives to start the trip and we had kicked things into high gear with not one, not two but 3 devil rays buzzing us during the first dive. The corals along this exposed stretch of reef are very colorful and stunning in color and quality. With the flat conditions the crossing to Osprey would be a nice flat affair but we decided that Osprey could wait a little and we went and had a look at Shark Reef first up.

Shark Reef is a pretty small spot with only a couple of dives done on it a year and it is clear to see why it gets it's names. It is a deep reef with the shallowest parts been around 14 meters deep with very stunning Edges and Ledges that gives it it's Plato style topography. The conditions have to be just perfect to dive it with wind and tide all very important. We got everything set up and underway and made our way into the 50m visibility and then along the top edge of the lip at 30 meters. Upon turning around and drifting back to the line we had a Scalloped Hammerhead cruise up and swing by us. This was followed by 3 silvertip reef sharks cruising about checking out what all the fuss was about. A very special dive seeing one or the other of these shark species and to get them both within a minute of each other was outstanding.

Rapid Horn at Osprey Reef for a live drop and drift along this Sothern end of Osprey. Grey Reef Sharks and stunning coral with a lazy current and a Tender Ride back to SOF.

Dive 3 and we found ourselves in one of those full moon anomalies where the current just wouldn't stop running. We waited it out for a while and eventually had to submit to ocean over man rules and moved from False Entrance to Secret Caves. A few overhangs and some nice fans and soft corals tucked away mad this a nice colorful site.

Dive 4 and it was time to really get into the reef with t he swim throughs of Admiralty Anchor. Lots of places to explore on this very well known site with large and small gaps to go through as well as plenty of marine live with GT's (Giant Trevally), Moray Eels and white tip reef sharks sleeping on the bottom.

After dinner and a night dive at Admiralty and we had lots of Bump Headed Parrot Fish Joining us as they schooled up for the evening. A few sharks and some excellent star gazing just to top the day off well.

Saturday Morning and drifting down Blue Marlin wall with a huge Silver Tip reef shark and crystal clear water. I love weekends.

Dive 2 and we fed the ravenous grey reef sharks and as per usual the Potato Cod were in the middle of all of the action too. Lots of feeding action and a few scuffles for food. Reminded me of dinner with my brothers.
For dive 3 at North Horn we did a nice long drift dive down soft coral wall where we found hundreds of Trevally cruising along with us. The sun was out and we really enjoyed the colorful spectacle of soft corals on this site.

We ended the Osprey Reef part of the trip with a dive at False Entrance. The sleeping white tips laying around on the bottom really summed up life as a shark. Eat, swim and sleep. Not much different to diving from SOF to be honest.

Back to the Ribbon Reefs for a double Steve's Bommie and some very amazing marine life. It all got very exciting when a very large Manta Ray showed up along with a green turtle, 2 Octopus fighting and a Wobbygong sleeping. And that was all in 20 minutes!.

After our double dive at Steve's we headed for Joanie's Joy where we spotted a lonely white tip reef shark laying on the sand snoozing. A couple of Nudibranchs were crawling along at 18 meters and the visibility was very good in the nice 29 degree Celsius water.

Flair point was the dive to finish off the trip and a few of our customers were flying in the early afternoon the following day so while the divers dived the party got underway on board. Everyone has been very social this trip and there is a really nice bond between everybody. We are sitting on Steve's Bommie Mooring at the moment about to have our sunset BBQ dinner.

Until next time.

Angus Rowe.
Trip Director.

 

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Mon 6th March 2017 - Thu 9th March 2017 - ( 14) images

With all aboard we departed Cairns under the sun steaming to the outer reefs on flat seas. After our meet and greet with all the friendly crew we were off to the Great Barrier Reef with our first stop being Norman Reef, dive site Playground. Once we'd finished our first two dives and shaken off the rust so to speak we made way for the Ribbon Reefs over night.

We awoke on Tuesday to a beautiful sunrise and kicked off the days diving at the notorious Steve's Bommie located at Ribbon Reef No.3 where a Green Sea Turtle and Nemo greeted all the divers. Dive two of five was 'up the road' at Ribbon #5.

A special little spot named Crack'A'Jack was a highlight for many with an abundance of marine life from the tiny macro to large hunting pelagics. Over lunch we steamed further north to ribbon #9 and dived Wonder Wall. Magnificent corals and dancing butterfly fish kept the divers wanting more. We soon moved on to Challenger Bay, a lovely afternoon dive with some shy garden eels and coral gardens. Once night fell the daytime creatures went off to bed and creepy crawlies came out to play, the site came to life with a many hunting pelagics including white tip and grey reef sharks but mostly giant trevalleys ruled the site by night also the crustaceans come out to play with glowing orange eyes in our torch lights they lit up the reef. A great day had by all, we enjoyed some delicious dessert served up by our amazing chef we swapped photos and stories of the day as we settled in for the night with high anticipation of the day ahead.

On Wednesday we were greeted with a lightly cloud cluttered sky but flat seas which would make for an enjoyable days diving. The mornings diving consisted of a pinnacle dive, Lighthouse Bommie was teaming with life from the brightly coloured nudibranchs to large schools of Barracuda and an arrangement of magnificent corals. After breakfast we headed further north to the infamous Cod Hole. We all gathered together for that all important selfie with the giant Potato Cod and of course she obliged. Next up was a drift dive through Dynamite pass with a brisk current we zipped along the reef with minimal effort. To finish off our awesome trip we had our final dive at the Snake Pit, which is not too far from Lizard Island. The long and elegant Olive Sea Snake weaved in and out of the coral heads as we swam through the Crinoid forest and whist on our final safety stop hundreds of mesmerizing Comb Jellies drifted past as they flashed their bioluminescence.

Once again another fabulous trip was topped off with a BBQ and a beautiful sunset with beautiful people.

Ellis Spurrier
Trip Director

 

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Thu 2nd March 2017 - Mon 6th March 2017 - ( 18) images

4 Day Coral Sea Trip Report coming soon...

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Mon 27th February 2017 - Thu 2nd March 2017 - ( 12) images

3 Day Coral Sea Trip Report coming soon...

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Thu 23rd February 2017 - Mon 27th February 2017 - ( 15) images

Lizard Island is always a dominating feature of the skyline when diving up around Ribbon Reef no. 10. It looms upwards from the ocean and I always feel like we are seeing this area for the first time because of how remote it really is. When you fly up to join Spirit of Freedom the island gradually gets bigger and bigger until the whole windscreen of the plane is filled with it. Then you bank left and come in between the hills and land on the rolling tarmac.

Once you deplane you make your way down to the beach where the tenders from Spirit Of Freedom then collect you and whisk you away to the boat with a pause for some photo opportunities along the way. Once on board the crew show you around the vessel and get you settled in with welcome briefings, lunch and a dive procedures briefing before your first dives of the trip.

For the Coral Sea trip starting on the 23rd of February 2017 our first dives were completed at Coral Princess Bommie. White tip reef sharks, glass fish, pipe fish, nudibranchs and trigger fish were all in abundance on our checkout dives. After the last dive was finished for the day we sat down for dinner before departing for Osprey Reef at 830 pm.

We had a wee look at the tides and decided that the first dive at Osprey would be Blue Marlin Wall at North Horn. There was a slight current running and it was a perfect way to wake up after an overnight steam from the Ribbons. Plenty of Sharks were on hand to welcome everyone to Osprey and the visibility wasn't too shabby either.

We departed North Horn and made our way over to Silver City in search of the elusive Silver Tips the site is named after. Elusive is their MO and they were sticking to it for today. It is a stunning wall however and a few of the overhangs are draped with fans and whip corals that add in some terrific color.

Third dive of the day was The Gap. A little current had picked up and the White Tip Reef Sharks were having a nap right below the boat. A wonderful 40+ meters visibility and a couple of swim throughs added to the already stunning topography and conditions of the dive.

To round out the day we headed over to Admiralty Anchor. The holes and tunnels of Admiralty were a big hit with everyone. A few people were surprised by just how much of the reef is in fact hollow and able to be swam through. Plenty of sharks were buzzing about the back of the boat for a nice finish to the night dive.

Day 2 at Osprey started out with a slow drift at Around The Bend were we again had a few sharks and a nice school of trevally milling around the place. The current was a little slow so some kicking was required but the visibility was perfect and the coral stunning.

The shark feed is always one for plenty of action and this weeks action came in the form of one of our rather large Potato Cod giving me a little love bite on my bottom. Nothing too menacing but it certainly got my attention and had me maneuvering for some space. We have some great tug o war action over the tuna heads and plenty of ripping and tearing going on. A really fun dive for everyone.

Drifting down soft coral wall started slow and gradually sped up and at one point it felt like a free fall from a plane we were moving that quick. Stunning Corals down this wall with hundreds of Trevally guarding over them and the odd shark patrolling for a snack.

To finish up with Castles was a perfect way to finish two days at Osprey with plenty of swim throughs and great Gorgonian Fans to be found as well. A turtle came by for a bit and a shy Octopus was also found hiding in a hole.

Overnight back to the ribbon reefs and starting Sunday with Crack-A-Jack. The entire pinnacle is covered in glass fish at the moment and there are pelagics circling waiting for a chance to grab one that ventures too far. There are some very stunning fan corals down on the bottom at 40 meters and cleaning stations all over the pinnacle as well as up on top where there are lots of shrimp hanging out waiting for something to come past for a service.

3 Octopus, 3 Turtles, 2 types of Scorpion Fish, Stone Fish, White Tip Reef Shark, Trevally, Nudibranchs and that was just all on one dive. 2nd dive throw in a couple of Grey Reef Sharks cruising together, two Wobbygong sharks and a couple more Octopus plus a Ribbon Eel and you have Steve's Bommie at it's absolute best for todays 2 dives.

Last dive of the trip was Joanie's Joy where a space ship of a Thorny Ray was parked on the sand. As one diver put it "gobsmacking".

Well that is it from Spirit Of Freedom for this week, I am off to crack a beer and chat with some new friends.

Until next time,

Angus Rowe
Trip Director.

 

 

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Mon 20th February 2017 - Thu 23rd February 2017 - ( 14) images

10 knot winds were the order of the day when we left Cairns in a sunbaked state on Monday morning. The weather gods were in a great mood and the sea gods were in agreement that a nice flat calm marine life filled trip was going to be the order of business. We left Cairns with a full boat of 26 and headed out to Saxon Reef.

The first two dives of the trip were spent at Turtle Bommie where we encountered the international rule in dive site naming (name a site after an animal, never see the animal on the site). Everyone was happy to get in the water and wake up with quit a few rather jet lagged people cradling coffee cups during the welcome briefing.

We departed Saxon and headed north towards Ribbon Reef number 3 and Steve's Bommie for our Tuesday kick off. Stone fish were certainly on show with 8 different ones being found as well as a couple of white tip reef sharks venturing about. A nice mid sized green turtle has been calling Steve's home lately and was in her usual spot this morning. She sat for some photo's before swimming up for some air and showing us how graceful she can move in the water.

We headed to Crack-A-Jack for dive 2 and after a bit of underwater magic we were ready to dive. It pays to be ready first sometimes and for Richard and Francesco it really paid off when they were the only ones to see a Manta Ray gliding past. Not only did they see it, but got the photo's to prove it.

After the excitement of the morning we had a long lunch while we traveled north to Wonderwall for a nice and relaxed dive observing the new coral growth that is coming onto this site and the changes that it has gone through over the past few years. It is a spot to watch as it is great evidence that the Great Barrier Reef is indeed alive and well and in Full recovery mode from the last few years of natural events.

Challenger Bay for an afternoon and night dive with exceptional shark action and lots of hunting from the local Moray Eeels. Upto 10 different sharks were spotted during the night dive with plenty of close encounters and lots of smiles and stories after.

Lighthouse Bommie is where we started things on Wednesday. A little current flowing through brought a lot of fish action. There were 2 types of sharks with a white tip and a grey reef shark cruising about. The highlight was the ultra friendly turtle gliding past everyone and of course the olive sea snakes were tough to find but we did track them down for all to see.

Cod hole for a pre and post lunch dive with a really fat lazy cod showing up and practically laying on the bottom with it's mouth open and not moving. My kind of meal really, just lay there and let someone else put the food in your mouth. Amanda and Daniel managed to find a sneaky Manta Ray coming past as well and were very delighted to be the only ones to have seen it.

Snake Pit for the last dive of the trip and it was clear like a glass of water. A bit of a reverse current as the top was running a full 180 degrees to what it was doing on the bottom. Made for some interesting dive planning but everyone managed very well. A giant of a Moray Eel was certainly the highlight and watching it sit still while the cleaner wrasse went about a thorough grooming job.

It has been a fantastic trip out here on the Ribbon Reefs with some of the most stunning sunrises of the year so far. After seeing some sunrise photo's many of the customers got up a little earlier just to see what was happening at 5.30am. Of course the crew were already at work however there were drones flying getting sunrise footage. Cameras set up for time-lapse shots and people cuddled up with coffee in hand and enjoying the scenery.

Dinner is ready and I can hear roars of laughter coming from the dinning saloon.

Until next time.

Angus Rowe.
Trip Director.

 

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Thu 16th February 2017 - Mon 20th February 2017 - ( 14) images

Full report coming, stay tuned....

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Thu 9th February 2017 - Mon 13th February 2017 - ( 15) images

When the weather man starts talking about areas of vorticity in the vicinity where you are planning to go diving you can be assured for the need to be flexible with the conditions. Thursday morning at Lizard Island this is exactly what the weather gods were saying and they even mentioned a thing called a confused sea. So with all of that information we headed out to the Great Barrier Reef to start our Coral Sea Adventure for the week.

We did our first dive at Coral Princess Bommie where a couple of reef sharks came in for a look at some of our divers. With the welcome to the reef orientation dives complete we headed for Challenger Bay for an afternoon and night dive.

A cuttlefish, turtle, shark and banana nudibranchs were the highlights of the first dive at challenger. The second dive been the night dive had all the action that we are accustomed to at this spectacular site. Lots of sharks and Trevally hunting action as well as the odd surprise attack from a Moray Eel. Everyone came up with stories of awesomeness about the action.

We headed out to Osprey on Thursday night and arrived to the ever changing conditions of Friday. The wind blew in five different directions for the day and at one stage the swells were traveling North and South at the same time making for a "confused" sea. In amongst all of this we put our divers in for four dives during the day which the thoroughly loved.

The first dive was a live drop and nice slow meander at Around The Bend with plenty of sleeping sharks hanging in the blue for everyone to get a good look at. A Tender pickup at the end of the dive and a quick ride back to Spirit and everyone was hanging for the bacon and eggs they could smell through the boat.

The sharks were on point for the shark feed and again we live dropped everyone in and made our way down to the feed zone for the ravenous grey guys to join us. The feed was a blast with lots of sharks ripping into the tuna heads and playing multi way tog o war.

We did a little bit of a weather tap dance and found ourselves at Castles for the third dive of the day where the dramatic topography of swimthroughs and deep walls proved to be very popular with everyone. Again we live dropped here and used the tenders for a ride back to spirit.

The last dive of the day was at Admiralty Anchor where we found a chilled Moray Eel getting cleaned by a cleaner wrasse as well as a couple of sleepy white tip reef sharks. The Anchor in the bottom of the swimthrough is certainly in a unique spot, I always wonder who dropped it there and what was going though their minds when they realized it went straight into the hole.

With the weather being completely fluid and the squalls looking more and more ominous we left Osprey and Headed back to Ribbon Reef number 10 and started Saturday with a nice fish filled dive at Pixie's Pinnacle. Lots of Great Barracuda and a couple of lionfish were out for a hunt.

We moved over to lighthouse Bommie for a couple of dives over lunch. We were on the hunt for some elusive sea snakes however were very satisfied with a well disguised wobbygong shark and a couple of turtles chewing on some jellyfish.

An incoming tide that eddied around the reef and ran like an outgoing tide is what met us at pixies wall. At depth the current was running as an incoming and closer to the wall and shallower it was running as an outgoing. Everyone did a great job to adjust to the conditions and a large eagle ray came swooping by to have a look at us.

Sunday Morning and we did a couple of dives at Steve's Bommie with plenty of action but the highlight was certainly the friendly Octopus that posed for pics with everyone. A full moon tide started to kick the current off for the second dive and the fish all became very active in the flow. Lots of action and lots of pelagic fish hunting about the place for everyone to enjoy.

A lazy hour dive at Joanie's Joy and we were gliding over the reef with the sweetlips all hanging about the coral heads and letting the current flow over their gills. We found a lump of coral about the size of a basketball that had being converted into the house of shrimp with holes everywhere in this coral and a shrimp parked in each one.

Flair point for the final dive and a couple of sharks came up and wished everyone a farewell from the Great Barrier Reef. The conditions were perfect and flat and the sky was blue for the last dive of the trip. Some sun deck jumping to warm up for the dive and then everyone was in and cruising around for the last dive. Some snorkeling was going on, a search and recovery dive to finish an advanced course for Donna and everyone else just chilling as the afternoon past by.

The end of another trip and new friends to say farewell to.

Angus Rowe,
Trip Director.

 

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Mon 6th February 2017 - Thu 9th February 2017 - ( 14) images

It was a little choppy heading from Cairns to Norman Reef on Monday the 6th of Feb but once we arrived and got tucked in behind the reef everything calmed down nicely. A couple of dives at Turtle Bommie to kick the trip off with and we could tell we were in for a fun few days with plenty of friendly banter been tossed around the dive deck. Turtles and a couple of sharks, Unicorn fish and Snapper of different varieties made up the underwater welcoming committee.

We headed north with the sun setting off to our port side and traveled our way through the night before arriving at Steve's Bommie at 1am. Waking up and prepping for the first dive the crew all stopped for a moment and watched the sunrise. It can be argued that we see sunrises in Cairns but out here on the water we all appreciate them so much more.

White tip reef shark, Grey reef shark, stone fish, Scorpion fish and everything else from the fish and critters books on board the boat. Where else could we be but Steve's Bommie! Oh and a turtle, can't forget to mention the turtle.

Coral Princess Bommie has some fantastic hard corals growing on the backside of it. However today that wasn't the highlight of the dive. It was in fact a five foot long Queensland Grouper that hang out with Lara and Tess for a bit just to say g'day to the girls from WA.

A long lunch followed by a dive on Crack-A-Jack. I always like asking people what they think of the dive sites we take them to and when I asked about this one universal applause erupted on the boat. I is certainly a site that has been making a regular appearance With Glass fish everywhere and a pose of hunting pelagics smashing everything that ventures a little far from safety it is certainly a site for action. Team Argentina even managed to find a bunch of shrimp on a cleaning station and were all smiles when they came up.

Clam gardens for some Moray Eel actions with a few of them poking there heads out of various holes in the reef. A nice big green turtle came wondering by for a bit and we even found a Lacey Scorpion fish not far from the mooring block. It is pretty amazing to watch a group of divers who are roaming the reef all converge on one thing and stop. This was one of the giant clams that reside at Clam Gardens. Everyone stopped and looked at this clam wide eyed and all motioning how big it is.

The night dive at clam gardens was the first night dive for many. It is one of the best parts about been a dive instructor is been part of the moment in someone's life that is the first time they do something. It is very rewarding to see the nerves disappear and the smile spread wide across the faces.

Cod hole for two dives to start Wednesday off and it was a great start. Sharks and Cod everywhere with 3 laid back easy going Cod joining us for the Cod Feed. We enjoyed their company and photogenic personalities for the Morning before moving off to Cormorant Caves.

The Caves were nice with plenty of holes to swim in and explore and for many of our divers they had never experienced the thrill of swim throughs before and all enjoyed them immensely.

The last dive and the best drift we could possibly hope to end a trip on. We hit Dynamite pass and barreled down the wall at a ripping pace. The Manta Rays were pretty stoked with the conditions and two of them came by to check out what all the fuss was about. The lucky few in tender one even managed to practically land on one when they rolled into the water. A great dive to end a great trip with great customers whose smiles have not stopped since coming aboard on Monday morning.

Until next time,

Angus Rowe,

Trip Director.

 

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Thu 2nd February 2017 - Mon 6th February 2017 - ( 18) images

Trip report coming soon...

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Mon 30th January 2017 - Thu 2nd February 2017 - ( 15) images

Trip Report coming soon....

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Thu 26th January 2017 - Mon 30th January 2017 - ( 15) images

The Coral Sea Trifecta is becoming so common lately that I don't remember the last time we did a trip that didn't involve Osprey, Bougainville and Holmes Reefs. So this trip would keep with the norm of late and head out for trifecta once again.

Sunshine, Blue Sky and calm waves are always a welcome site and this trip has started off with some of the most spectacular weather North Queensland has on offer. The flight from Cairns to Lizard Island showing some spectacular panoramic views.

Thursday and we did a three dive day starting at Coral Princess Bommie where se got all of our checkout dives done and everyone up to speed on boat life.
We switched sites and set up at Challenger Bay for an afternoon and night dive. The sharks must have got the memo and they were out in force with over a dozen sharks cruising with the dive groups during the night dive. There was plenty above water action too with fish landing all over the dive platform on the back of Spirit keeping the deck crew busy throwing them back in only for the red bass and trevally to engulf them.

Overnight crossing to Osprey and Soft Coral wall was awaiting out arrival to start off the coral sea diving bonanza. Huge schools of Trevally and even bigger smiles for all of the divers when they got out of the water. For many they had never experienced the kind of visibility that we get in the Coral Sea and there were more than a few comments about not being able to go home and dive in various lakes and quarries again.

The shark feed was up next and Sola was the Ninja chosen to let the food loose and the sharks were mighty obliging and let him do it without too much special attention. Then the action was on with tuna heads been torn to shreds as multiple sharks played tug of war. Souvenir hunting for shark teeth after the action is over always produces a few stories about who found the largest tooth.

We left North Horn and traveled to castles for an after lunch dive. A little siesta between lunch and diving to recharge the batteries and away we went again. Lots of holes and swim throughs to explore and classic winding topography to keep the adventurous spirits excited.

Finishing off the Osprey day we headed for Admiralty Anchor where we were swooped by Eagle Rays and watched sleeping whit tip reef sharks lazing on the bottom. An Osprey sunset for world class photos and then it was time to sleep the night away as we traveled south to Bougainville Reef.

We woke up to a nice 15 knot breeze and half meter seas as we approached Bougainville the wreck of the Atlas made the skyline unique as the sun rose behind it. We had a Barracuda spectacular to kick things off at Corner Shop. Everyone came up commenting about the smiling torpedoes they had seen.

Dungeons and Dragons with the Cathedral of swim-through's to suppress the appetite of any cave and tunnel diving rat. Spectacular Vis and everyone was absolutely ecstatic to do two dives here.
We left Bougainville at 6 pm and travelled south with the setting sun off in the distance. It had been a big day for everyone and by 8pm there were no open eyes left on the boat. They all knew we had another very special day planned for them.

Holmes Reef and Amazing to kick things off. It is always nice to chat with the crew and find out their secret little bits of the reef and add those to the dive site maps. I did this with Instructor Matty and we came up with a lot of pieces of Amazing that we had discovered over the last few trips to add to the map. The dive is always great, sharks, rays, caves, blue water vis that only stops because it hits the reef. Truly a fantastic site and still more of it to discover when we come back next time.

Cathedrals was our second dive of the day and it was stunning. The vertical Nature of the wall here combined with the clear vis had Skipper Jago coming up excited by the conditions. Swim through's and large soft corals make up the diversity of this site combining stunning topography with delicate beauty.

We do a few Safety drills here on Spirit Of Freedom every week. This week we did Abandon ship and had all of our customers up on the sun deck with lifejackets on in no time. We don't actually make them jump overboard but it is nice to see how fast the crew can react in an emergency.

Nonkies is where we like to finish things off at Holmes reef. We like it for a few reasons. Firstly it is a Pinnacle making the navigation very easy and secondly the marine life is spectacular. For divers who are not sure about going off without a guide to navigate for them this is a great way to end the trip as a lot of the time they are happy to jump in as buddy pairs and do their first none guided dives. It's a great confidence builder for them and their diving in the future. Marine life wise who can ever say no to perfect fan corals with schools of Trevally and Great Barracuda hovering over the site.

We are currently sitting at Anchor about to enjoy a BBQ dinner and then start the ten hour steam back to cairns chasing the sunset for a bit before arriving with it rising off to our port side. We have had a fantastic Coral Sea Trifecta and now it is time to sit with new friends and swap dive stories over a cold one.

Angus Rowe,
Trip Director.

 

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Mon 23rd January 2017 - Thu 26th January 2017 - ( 18) images

10 - 15 knot southeasterly winds. Music to my ears when it comes to doing a Cod Hole and Ribbon Reefs trip here on Spirit Of Freedom. For this time of the year is means it is a bit cooler and we can use all of our dive sites with no weather restriction making it perfect.

We started things out on Normal Reef at Playgrounds where an eagle ray was waiting to greet us. A couple of small turtles and a few Barracuda were hanging around flashing their fancy white teeth at anyone who wanted to look.

Tuesday would be a day for the Pinnacle lovers of the dive world. We hit the line up of sites in a way to maximize our marine life sightings. Steve's Bommie was first up with Nudibranchs, Stone Fish, Scorpion Fish, Antheas, Fuseliers, Clown Fish. A sleeping Green sea turtle, white tip reef shark and a grey reef shark were the highlights of the larger animals.

Christmas Tree Bommie, well it is not often that we go looking for a patch of reef that is ten meters wide and comes to eight meters from the surface but when we have the time and know where to look then we will do just that. After a bit of tender towing snorkel action we found what we were looking for and dropped everyone in on this little know gem of a spot. Smiles and wows were the reactions when everyone came up all saying that we should keep this spot as secret as possible. No worries with that we like to keep these sites up our sleeves for the perfect kind of days.

Crack A Jack was the third of the Pinnacle trifecta for Tuesday. We had plenty of time and gave everyone a chance to dive it in the smallest groups possible by staggering entry times most divers were able to experience this site with only a couple of people with them.

Clam Gardens to round up the afternoon and for a night dive as well. Sleeping turtle, slipper lobster and of course the hunting red bass and trevally were out for the evening as well. All in all a fantastic days diving with everyone extremely thrilled with what they experienced for the day.

Drift dives are the type of dive that suits me, no kicking, gliding along, letting the reef go past you like a sushi train of delights. Of course the also require current. In the case of drifting from Vertical Gardens to Pixie's Wall we were looking good with a nice strong current when we did the current check. Now with all rules in diving the first one is never expect the ocean to stay the same for very long. By the time we kitted up and dropped in from the tenders we were dropping into a none current and finding ourselves swimming along instead. As for the dive its self, well when the crew get out of the water and can't stop smiling and talking about how great the coral and topography were, then you know you are on a winner of a site. So Wednesday was off to a great start and the Cod Hole was waiting patiently for our arrival after breakfast.

Cod hole and Potato Cod that are bigger than your average chocolate spotted fish. Not many people realize that we have names for the cod. These names include Spud, Mash, Chip and so on based on things you can do with potatoes. The feed was fun with Instructor Matty getting his first chance at feeding the cod as a birthday present from the crew. He did a great job and from all accounts only 4 red bass managed to nibble on him during the process.

Snake pit and great visibility, not words I use often. In fact the vis was that good that it had First Mate Elliot grabbing dive gear and heading in for a splash to check it out. Lots of schooling fish and amazing vis and then the current changed and had everyone working rather hard to get the dive complete. The current gods have sure being having a good laugh at me today.

Normally I am not one for finding one animal eating another to be entertaining or interesting however seeing a large shark snacking on a turtle as we were travelling between sites today sure did have a few people talking and wondering about just what does live out here on the GBR.

Another trip and another farewell to all of our new friends, until next time guys.

Angus Rowe,

Trip Director.

 

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Thu 19th January 2017 - Mon 23rd January 2017 - ( 15) images

On Thursday morning our guests flew into Lizard Island and joined us on Spirit Of Freedom for our Coral Sea expedition. We started our trip off with 3 dives on the lower part of Ribbon Reef No. 10, two in the afternoon and one night dive at Challenger Bay with the reef sharks, Giant Morays and other pelagic species. After our dive with the nocturnal predators we dropped the lines and made way to Osprey Reef.

We where woken at Osprey Reef and greeted by some perfect weather, clear blue skies and a welcoming light breeze. We kicked off the days diving with a drift dive at the North Horn, as we were gently moved along the reef wall a large school of Bumphead Parrot greeted us as they swam past us towards their breakfast patch of coral and also welcomed by some intrigued sharks (only the small ones this time ). Our second splash of the day was the shark attraction dive, which of course was a huge crowd pleaser; more than 20 reef sharks and two very large Potato Cod joined us as well. After hanging our with our finned friends for nearly an hour it was time too move onto our next dive site which was the False Entrance at Osprey Reef.

With crystal clear water and the sun overhead it was a mesmerizing experience at False Entrance where a resident Eagle Ray glided amongst the divers making the dive ever more magical and memorable. Soon after everyone was back on board we moved sites again to Admiralty Anchor. This site is a bit of a playground with a maze of bommies and also a nice swim through where an anchor lays hence the name. Right next to the entrance of the crevasse is a protective mother White Tip Reef Shark and with a little patience you can find her pups tucked up in the reef! This was our final dive at Osprey so after a delicious dinner prepared by our amazing chef Terry, we set sail for Bougainville Reef.

After a peaceful nights sleep helped by a flat crossing we arrived at Bougainville Reef before sunrise which was just magical as the sun rose over the Coral Sea which looked like glass. Our day started with off with a fabulous dive at the Corner Shop, as the bright eyed and bushy tailed did their giant stride into the flat seas the visibility was as far as the eye could see. We slowly drifted along the reef where large schools of Barracuda created hypnotic vortex around the divers while some beautiful Butterfly Fish danced amongst the corals. Next up was a labyrinth of a site called Dungeons & Dragons, full of caves, swim throughs and crevasses created by larva flow many moons ago. After an informative briefing and the vast knowledge of the crew, everybody made it back to the mooring and back on board before we set off to our final destination of the day. In the afternoon we did two dives on the Antonia Terrobocchia wreck, both being drift dives timed perfectly by our captain Ross so that in between the two dives the current changed direction there for allowing us to explore even more of the reef and wreck. Once everyone was back onboard it was mixed emotions as many wanted to stay at Bougainville Reef but we all agreed that we wanted to see Holmes Reef, which isn't often visited so this was going to be a special treat for all. We made our way south towards Holmes as Terry served another belt busting meal up followed by a mouth-watering dessert.

After another spectacular sunrise we were all geared up and ready to rock at Holmes Reef. After a quick current check we knew we were in for an exciting dive at Amazing Cave, which has a large swim through and with the morning sun it made it a captivating experience. The current had a little push to it, which brought in plenty of clean water and lots of food for the enormous patch of Speckled Garden Eels. While everyone enjoyed some eggs benedict for brekkie we moved sights to Tuna Towers, which is a bunch of elongated bommies along the edge of Holmes. These ridges are covered in gigantic soft corals, Gorgonian fans and littered with Crinoids full of tiny Squat Lobsters and Cling Fish.

Over lunch we moved again to a very popular spot called Nonkies. This pinnacle is situated just of Homles but receives plenty of nutrient rich water making it a bit of an oasis. Many found a variety of nudibranchs and all sorts of crustaceans, while large schools of jacks and other large pelagic fish roamed the outskirts of the pinnacle including the resident Silver Tip Reef Shark. As this lovely site has so much too offer we double dived the pinnacle, which is just the perfect way to end the diving for the trip. Even though the diving was done it didn't mean the fun had to end, we enjoyed a delicious BBQ on the sundeck as the sunset over the Great Barrier Reef with some refreshing drinks as we all got to know one another even a little bit more. All in all it was a fantastic trip with good weather and great people!

Ellis Spurrier
Trip Director

 

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Mon 16th January 2017 - Thu 19th January 2017 - ( 15) images

Spirit of Freedom departed Cairns on Monday afternoon in beautiful sunshine and headed out to Norman Reef for the afternoon. We set up the dive gear and jumped into the flat warm water to explore what the Great Barrier Reef had to offer. Leafy Scorpion Fish, Batfish, Turtles and White Tip Reef Sharks were a few of the wonderful marine creatures spotted as our divers refreshed their skills and honed their dive skills with our dive team of AJ, James, Reina, Gretta, Ellis and Nick. After the second dive was finished we watched the sunset over the ocean and relaxed on the sundeck as Captain Tony headed north to the southern Ribbon Reefs.

Our second day was spent diving at Ribbon Reef 3 and 5 north and east of Cooktown. Diving at Steve's Bommie is always an incredible way to start your day with the immense schools of fish surrounding the bommie and all the amazing macro critters hiding in the crevices of the reef structure. Schools of glassfish adorned the tower at Ribbon 5 with huge soft corals and fans covering the deeper sections while Fusiliers schooled over the top, shimmering blue and gold in the sunlight. The afternoon dive at Clam Gardens allowed the divers to explore the dive site and find the huge giant clams that live in the shallow sections of the reef using sunlight to boost their food source in the similar manner to the coral polyps that build the reef itself. After dinner it was time to prepare the torches and get out the Ultra Violet lights to see what the reef looks like under the cover of darkness. Crustaceans and tiny critters appeared from the gaps between the corals and the predators emerged, chasing down any fish that had not found a good hiding place as torchbeams illuminated them. White Tip Reef Sharks patrolled the shallows, circling around in the darkness as the divers stared at the glowing green sections of the reef that fluoresced under the UV light.

The final day was spent diving in the northern Ribbon Reefs, around Ribbon Reef 10. Lighthouse Bommie was definitely the favourite of the day as most people saw a large Manta Ray circling and feeding on the blooms in the water. Miia was completing her 100th dive and the Manta Ray certainly made it a dive to remember! Tanya completed her Nitrox course with Instructor James and spent the day enjoying the benefits of using Enriched Air Nitrox on her dives. The Cod Hole features the ability to dive with the giant and very friendly Potato Cod that are resident there and Ellis took down a bucket of fish to feed them right in front of the divers masks. Cameras flashed, GoPro's beeped and everyone got to spend a little bit of time with the docile giants after the feed was finished. Andrew also completed his 100th dive and, after an awesome BBQ prepared by the majority of the SOF Crew, everyone raised a glass to celebrate the end of a great 3 days of diving.

Our sad farewells came as our divers boarded the charter plane on Lizard Island after enjoying a beautiful morning walk and breakfast on the beach. Congratulations to Emily and Brad who were on their honeymoon and spent it with us underwater!

Nick Leigh
Trip Director

 

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Thu 12th January 2017 - Mon 16th January 2017 - ( 18) images

When there is rain a drizzle at Lizard island and the cloud cover is 100% with the humidity right up on the top of the charts it is a sight for sore eyes. After 6 years without a wet season we are finally getting one and the trees a lush and green. The grass is healthy and fresh and the birds are happily showering off. Of course for us that means we break out the ponchos as we transfer everyone from the airport over to Spirit before heading out to start the Coral Sea Trifecta for the week. As everyone settles in for the welcome aboard talks, Lunch and Safety Briefing Lizard island disappears into the distance to be replaced by a pod of spinner dolphins riding in our wake.

We arrived at Coral Princess Bommie with a squall out in the distance and sunshine and blue sky basking over us. We stayed for one dive to get everyone oriented with diving on Spirit and had a couple of turtles and a cuttlefish come up and say hello.

Having looked at the tides we were concerned that there would be a pretty strong current at Admiralty on Friday night so we opted to go to Challenger Bay for an afternoon and night dive. Of course as a night dive site no one could pass up the chance to jump in at Challenger with plenty of sharks and hunting action all over the reef. When five foot grey reef sharks swim at top speed the move through the water like a bullet, it get very interesting when the bullet goes straight between your legs as happened on a few occasions on this night.

We left the Ribbon Reefs at 9pm and started the overnight steam out to Osprey Reef. The gentle rocking of the boat and the days activities had everyone in bed nice and early sleeping away. Waking up at Around The Bend for what would prove to be our first none current drift/swim for the trip.

The Coral Sea is a fickle place at times, we can do a dive with the same tide, same wind, same everything one week and the current will be doing one thing. The next week the current will be doing something completely different. Even when we do current checks it can change within 30 minutes. This week I am sure the current controllers at Osprey were having a great chuckle turning it on and off on a whim and leaving us scratching our heads.

This of course happened for the shark feed where we did the check and by the time everyone jumped in the current had gone from comfortable to crazy. Everyone did a great job getting down to the Shark a dome for the feed where they were tucked away nice and comfortably.

We then decided to make the most of it with a drift down Soft Coral Wall. Of course the current stopped the moment we jumped in and ended up enjoying the beautiful soft coral by swimming gently past them. A huge school of Trevally were cruising the wall and coming very close to everyone making for some great pictures. The sharks were also in a posing mood for a picture that Nicole and Neil will never forget.

We left the sharks of North Horn and headed to the swim throughs of Admiralty Anchor. Big Bump Headed Parrot fish and a Massive Napoleon Wrasse were all cruising the ally's of Admiralty. Everyone enjoyed going through the tunnels and the den full of sleeping white tip reef sharks.

We planned for a night dive at Admiralty however our fears of a ripping current on the full moon proved to be accurate so we decided that after our current checker came up puffing and panting that the conditions were too adverse and we stepped back from doing the dive. We left for Bougainville reef and spent the night cruising through he black of the Coral Sea.

Corner Shop is our preferred dive for the first one at Bougainville and we were tied up at 6am hanging out and looking at the crystal clear waters. The current was none existent so we did a static dive onto the corner cleaning station. Lots of resting sharks and a nice big turtle were the highlights.

A couple of dives a Dungeons and Dragons were the order of business for the middle part of the day. Everyone loved the tunnels and overhangs and had a really nice time exploring the area.

Anchors Away to top off the Bougainville experience. The highlight was certainly the massive ships anchor that is wedged into a crack at this site. It is over 10 feet tall and is an impressive souvenir the reef has claimed.

An overnight steam to Holmes reef, we arrived at midnight and dropped the anchor. A nice quite few hours after that for everyone to get some well earned sleep. Amazing was how we started the Holmes experience. In fact Amazing was so Amazing that we did it twice. The cave, the clownfish, the Thorny Rays and of course the sharks were a highlight.

Holmes Pinnacle for some fantastic fans and a swim through that we actually only look at the gloriousness of but don't go through it. Essentially it is so packed with fans that we can't go through without damaging anything so we only look on with envy at the awesomeness of this reef.

Nonkies to finish the whole thing off, I am not sure what everyone was more excited about. The dive site or the game of UNO happening before the dive! The dive site proved to be the more exciting thing hands down. Plenty of huge smiles as everyone got out of the water a cracked open an end of trip beer.

A great trip with an amazingly hard working crew and fabulous passengers. Looking forward to getting out here again soon.

Angus Rowe
Trip Director.

 

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Mon 9th January 2017 - Thu 12th January 2017 - ( 16) images

Watching Cairns disappear into the distance on a flat calm ocean and a Monday that was designed for postcards was a classic way to start a trip to the Cod Hole and Ribbon Reefs. It is always a flurry of activity on the boat on Mondays. People getting settled into boat life, finding their way about and getting through all the briefings and information about the diving and the plan for the next few days.

The best part of Monday is when everyone comes up from their first dive. They all have that look of "wow" and the realization that the dive trip they have been planning and looking forward to for a very long time has now really started. For many it is the first dive they will have on the Great Barrier Reef. Something they have thought about for years and have traveled halfway around the world to experience. For some of our divers on Monday they literally had being off the plane for 30 minutes before arriving at the boat. Flying from Dallas to Sydney then on to Cairns and diving the same day as arriving in the Country. That is surely one solution for jet lag.

The great part for this Monday was that we were able to stand on the sun deck of Spirit Of Freedom and look at the sharks circling just below. We had turtles on the dives as well as Giant Trevally and a Moray Eel hanging out showing hi big green head and mouth full of white needle teeth.

We travelled through dinner with a gentle rocking of the boat as everyone sat down to a beautiful meal and got to know their shipmates for the next few days. Early to bed for most and by 10pm there was only the sound of the water passing by the hull and the engines propelling us North into the night.

We woke up at Steve's Bommie for a Turtle of a dive. 6 big turtles all hanging around feeding on the Jellyfish the were bobbing past in the current. A big school of Trevally and a Great Barracuda watched proceedings without a care in the world.

Onto dive two for the day and Joanie's Joy was the pick of the spots. Most divers chose to venture off as Buddy pairs and check the place out for them selves. Everyone came up saying they had a great dive and really enjoyed the easy navigation and clear waters.

George's Wall was up next. We try and find a mix of sites that suit what everyone enjoys and with most of the boat happy to dive in buddy's the wall sites make it easy for them to have plenty of space and also Navigate as well. Georges was at the lull of the tide and as such the fish were all taking a chill time so there wasn't much happening.

The tide started to run again by the time we arrived at Clam Gardens for the 4th dive of the day. With the water movement the fish started to get more active and we had plenty to see with Trevally and Barracuda cruising around waiting for an easy meal. A couple of nice Nudibranchs and a school of spotted sweet lip to round out the dive.

Clam Gardens for the night dive and things really started to kick off. Sharks and fish hunting and all the prey cowering away. The current started to pick up during the dive and by the end of it everyone did a very good job hanging onto the lines and getting back up on the boat.

Lighthouse Bommie to kick of Wednesday. With sea snakes and Pelagic fish everywhere, clown fish popping out of Anemone's and a big Green Turtle the dive proved to be a favorite for many.

The Cod at Cod Hole were up to their usual tricks of telling each other who is boss. It is always amazing to see what happens when one of them decides to flare up at another. They spend a great deal of energy getting away from the angry Cod and in the case of today even crash into the reef at full speed in an attempt to escape. Of course feeding a Cod that has just chased away one of his bigger family members is pretty interesting. You can tell the fish is still pretty wild and angry and want food from your hand without too many manners involved. It always takes a while to get them to settle down and relax to make the feeding easier.

We did a second dive at Cod Hole and found five white tip reef sharks hanging about the place chilling out. A large turtle and a Moray eel rounded out the underwater sites.

We finished off the trip at snake pit. We knew there would be some current there and planned to dive it at the slackest part of the tide for this reason. With the current came an Eagle Ray drifting about and gliding along. A Grey Reef shark also came by to say hi.

It has been a great few days here on Spirit Of Freedom with a lot of chatter currently going on in the forward lounge. So many dive stories going on at once, music to my ears.

Until next time.

Angus Rowe
Trip Director.

 

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Thu 5th January 2017 - Mon 9th January 2017 - ( 1) images

What an strangely different start to the trip, 10-15 ktns of North Westerly winds bringing angry skys, rain and wind squals to start the 4 days. We quickly managed a schedule that would keep everyone happy.. As our keen divers geared up for their first dive of the trip Spirit of Freedom made her way to the Pixie Reefs. We kicked off the diving for a double dive at Pixie Gardens. Fusiliers, Giant Trevally, Grey reef Sharks, Nudibranchs, Disco Clams and Macro Life were all at home for us to see.
After heading back to Lizard for shelter and a good nights sleep Rodrigo made his signature lamb shanks dinner.

We woke the next morning to the boat heading towards the world famous Cod Hole for a double dive. Each guests was estatic about being able to get up close and personal with the potato cod. After the cod feed in the shallows with 2 energetic cods all divers went and got their depth up the front of the boat where they managed to spot a big Black Devil ray glide past them. TD Timi had the feed bucket with him all dive so that the cods hung around the boat and guests for as much time as possible.The second dive didn't disappoint with 2 huge oceanic Manta rays showing themselves to Gretls Guided group. Both Mantas where show boating doing belly roles teasing the divers.
Pixie Pinnacle was next on the schedule showing all the divers what to expect from a Pinnacle/Bommie. Big Schools of Neon Fuziliers covered the reef with clown fish, lion fish, Pipe Fish and Nudibrachs uo the walls.
Challenger Bay was next for a double dive to end the day.
As usual the Night dive at Challenger bay never disappoints. Sharks, Giant Trevally, Red Bass, Moray Eels and sting rays all hunting for their dinner meal. Soon all divers surfaced with big smiles on their face talking throughout the night about the bait fish that didn't make it and how close the sharks and GTs got to them.

We where finally there at the coral sea (bouganville) after the all clear by the Skipper Ross. The morning we woke to the same slight Northerly winds and swell which made it difficult to find dive sites but we managed to drift dive South Park wall in the morning with beautiful corals, amazing visibility, sharks, schooling pelagics and minimal fuss. After a delisious second breakfast it was time to dive the Antonio Terrabochia wreck that is scattered all over the reef wall. Once again the visibility was world class giving divers an easy 50m visibility. The coral gardens surrounding the wreck where bright and healthy with small schools of juvenile fish surrounding the area. After Lunch we decided to stay at the same reef wall and do tender drops in opposite directions for the next 2 dives due to the weather. Luckily it didn't disappoint with Manta Rays, sharks and turtles being spotted by all divers.

Waking up Sunday morning on the ribbons to stormy weather hadn't discouraged divers who where looking forward to a double dive on Steves Bommie. Due to a strong current not all divers made it to the dive site and had to be rescued by the tender. The Divers who did manage to get to the bommie where amazed by the abundance of fish life of the dive site. Manta Madness struck again with divers spotting a Manta on Steves with a duo of turtles, stonefish, Leafy scorpion fish, and lion fish.

After Rdorigos signature Pizza Lunch, Joanies Joy was the next shallow reef to explore. Divers and converted Snorkelers jumped in to spot the white tip reef sharks, oriental sweetlips, schools of juvenile fish, and turtles.
The Last Dive of the trip finished with a nice easy cruisy dive at century bay where big rays where once again spotted, cuttlefish, shooling sharks, juvenile fishes and beautiful coral gardens. After Gear breakdown it was time to watch the sunset up the top deck with complimentary drinks before a traditional Aussie BBQ to finish the night and trip. Cairns was awaiting for us the next morning when everyone awoke.

 

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Mon 2nd January 2017 - Thu 5th January 2017 - ( 2) images

Excited passengers departed Cairns on a beautiful Monday to morning. Cruising out to the Great Barrier Reef to do a couple check out dives. First reef to stop at was Jorgies Patches.. Underneath the boat was beautiful visibility with hundreds of fuziliers dancing for the divers. Shortly after the first dive the weather turned monsoonal raining buckets all over the reef. After a rainy twilight dive with torches it was time for Rodrigo's signature salmon noodle dinner.

Steves bommie was the first site to be explored on the Ribbon Reefs. It was a brilliant first dive showcasing all that it has to offer. Turtles, Shooling pelagics, stone fish, new leafy scorpion fish, sharks and clown fish with 30m visibility.

Joanies Joy is a beautiful coral garden site that has flowing coral structures. Most significant is the stag horn coral that grows here. The colonies are large and cover the seafloor. Just before getting in the water the current picked up so we quickly had to change to a drift dive.
Soon it was time to introduce a NEW site to the schedule called Crack A Jack. First dived by Timi and Gretl on an older boat it was time that they shared this new amazing site to the spirit team and passengers.

Afternoon and night dive lead us to another awesome spot. Clam Gardens. Here the coral and fish life are just as bountiful as one another. As an old Clam farming reef the shallow section of sand hosts massive coral growth which in turn houses thousands of fish life.

At night Clam Gardens really came alive. Damsils and fusiliers were spawning right in front of divers. Other fish mouth brooding releasing their young into the water column. Small blue spotted lagoon rays could be seen zipping along the sand and hiding under coral where parrot fish and moray eels where sleeping.

We started the last day of diving on the Wideside of the reef at Vertical Gardens.

Each diver was treated to beautiful soft coral walls, hard coral structures and schooling yellow tripped snapper, fusiliers and a family of eagle rays.

Light house bommie was next and had plenty to see. Large schools of trevally and barracuda. Stingrays on the sand and large grey reef sharks swimming up the bommie buzzing divers

The worlds famous cod hole! Divers here got to swam with some of the largest Groupers on the GBR. Potato cod, a duo turned up to be fed by TD Timi. All divers and snorkelers where amazed at the curiosity of the cods.

Last but not least is Snake pit! The name says it all. Here olive sea snakes are found along with massive Green Sea turtle shooting to the surface surprised to see divers! Some divers also had a treat of spotting a large eagle ray and even a Manta.

 

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