Australia Photography Queensland scuba travel

Working and Diving on the Great Barrier Reef

This was our home for 7 days and 6 nights. The floating hotel known as Reef Encounter. It holds a maximum of 42 passengers and approximately 16 staff at any one time.

In mid August we were fortunate enough to be able to return to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef to spend a week on the live aboard “Reef Encounter” The company has an awesome program where once you have been a paying customer on the vessel you can either stay on, or return later to work as a “Hostie”. It is a mutually beneficial program where you do menial labour such as housekeeping, setting and clearing tables, minor cleaning and in exchange you get food, lodging and a couple of dives a day.

We were not permitted to touch the machines, however they did provide us with the never ending activity of folding laundry when our other chores were complete.
Three times a day the tables had to be set for meals and we assisted in the serving and clearing up of all meals.
The only chore performed in the kitchen was dishes. There were lots of dishes. It was phenomenal the gourmet quality meals the lone chef produced from this humble room.

Our days started at 5:30am and typically wrapped up around 9:30pm. It certainly reminded me why I enjoy retirement. We did work hard, but I can honestly say it was fun. Our supervisors were a motivated, hard working fun group and kept the environment upbeat. One day while folding laundry in the wheelhouse (best view imaginable for such a task) some whales were spotted a short distance from the boat. We knew life was going to be ok aboard when all work came to a halt for an impromptu whale watching break for the next 20 minutes.

The view from in front of the wheel house. A great place to fold laundry and occasionally watch whales.
The ship had 4 decks plus a helipad on the roof. This was the corridor on deck 3 looking toward the rear of the ship.

It was an interesting experience working on board. On the first couple of days there were some minor waves which kept life interesting. For me the greatest success was day 2 when I was able to stop taking medication for motion sickness. The waves were large enough that standing barefoot in a wet shower stall trying to clean it was tantamount to an audition with Cirque du Soleil.

There are up to 4 hosties on board at any time and we were all kept busy. There was no end to the tasks that need doing, however we still managed 2 or 3, 30 – 45 minute breaks a day plus our 2 dive sessions at 6:30am and 3:30pm. On some of the longer breaks it was nice to just dive in and go for a snorkel over the Reef for 20 – 30 minutes.

Sunrise from our room. The staff quarters were certainly different from the passengers. But then again you only slept there. The rooms were in the bowels of the ship right by the generator room. The hosties shared one small room with two bunk beds and shared a washroom with two regular staff who were in the other room in that corner of the boat.
A regular visitor later in the day was the Grey Whaler Sharks which joined the other fish circling the boat. Beautifully graceful animals.

Did I mention the reason for all this work was the two dives a day. It was awesome. Though if you do this program I would recommend having your own dive computer. As a hostie you get whatever equipment is available, so you cannot use the integrated dive computer in the BCD to manage your multiply dives, you must use tables. This is not a big deal, but you certainly have more worry free time below the waves when you are using a computer that is tracking your time.

Without a doubt the best way to start a day. We got up at 5:30, set the dining room/saloon for breakfast and would be in the water before 6:30, just as the sun was rising. Magical.

In the week we were out there we visited less than half a dozen dive sites, which was perfect. It allowed one to get familiar with an area and be happy to descend and just doddle around with your dive buddy soaking in the beauty. The Dive Master kept close tabs on everyone’s times and depths, but as a hostie you were free to explore the area to whatever degree you were comfortable with.

We found this metre long grouper still sleeping as we descended on a morning dive.
At times it was overwhelming the variety of life around us. Between clams, dead and alive, coral, fish and starfish, the view was endless.
As the Rio Summer Olympics were on at the time we had to make sure we flew the flag in honour of all the Canadian athletes competing.
The dive deck on the stern of the ship made entering and exiting the water relatively easy and simple for both snorkelers and divers.
The view of the dive deck as you ascend at the end of your dive. There were always fish of varying sizes enjoying the shade under the boat.
My most enjoyable time below the surface was spent just hovering over the coral observing the incredible variety of fish and other creatures interacting. The diversity simply left me in awe.
The photographer from the boat capturing images of the beautiful schools of fish swooping by.
Waiting on the back of the boat for the sun to show its face so we can start our dive. A pretty incredible way to start any day.

I have to say this has been some of the most relaxing diving I have done. Because we were out for several days and knew there was no rush to see everything, the sense of urgency that sometimes makes its presence known was not there. The time between dives was occupied by simple but necessary tasks and helped pass the time quickly and enjoyably. The time in the water, whether diving or snorkelling was inspiring. A great reminder to stop and soak in what is around you. The world is a pretty amazing place and our week on the Reef helped to remind me of just that. As our friends in Costa Rica would say          “Pura Vida!”

I want to say a big “Thank You” to all the crew aboard Reef Encounter, but especially to Rachel, Sophie, and Jenny for being patient with our learning curve. We were always made to feel welcome and helpful, even when we didn’t get the folds on the beds quite right.

Welcome to our travel blog. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to say, "I'm out of here?" Well we did, and in 2013 we made it a reality. We sold or gave away all of our possessions other than what fit in our luggage and we set off on an endless adventure. Part of our goal is to share our experiences with others and hopefully provide some information, motivation, or just a moments escape. The general idea was to look for a place that would be ideal to settle down in. However in the meantime it is about experiencing life in different countries amongst different cultures and learning how to understand and appreciate each other. A large part of our time is spent housesitting which provides an excellent opportunity to experience more of the "normal" neighbourhoods as opposed to the tourist locales. Though we make sure to enjoy those as well. So through plenty of photographs and a running commentary come and share with us our life on the road.

2 comments on “Working and Diving on the Great Barrier Reef

  1. Jenn Pecksen

    Love the post. Great photos and well written. Dad would be proud❤️

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Fantastic Peter !
    Loved the morning picture with Karen, as well that grouper was cool how it blended in.
    Cheers guys
    Kp and Karin

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