AquaQuest Dive Review

When it’s a glass out kind of day, it’s always going to be dive time on the Great Barrier Reef for us! We’re so lucky to live here, so we make the most of it when we can and this Cairns dive trip on AquaQuest ticked a lot of boxes. Time with a turtle, tick, clownfish, reef sharks and maori wrasse – tick, tick, tick – big blue sky above and clear blue water below – tick – days don’t get much better than this (mind you, diving on a rainy day is epic too). AquaQuest provides daily snorkel and dive trips from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef. They visit 2 different reef sites, spending up to 5 hours at the reef, and providing you with the opportunity to do 3 scuba dives (Certified or Introductory) with unlimited snorkelling.  For scuba divers, you can choose to go guided or unguided with excellent site briefings provided by the friendly crew. So good – so let’s dive right into this review.


AquaQuest Dive Review. An absolute highlight of this day was spending some quality time with a hawksbill turtle. We’re pretty sure we’ve dived with this dude before, around 10 years ago. Same reef location, same dive site. Now that blows my mind.

AquaQuest Cairns Dive Review on the Great Barrier Reef

AquaQuest is the Cairns reef day tour boat run by Divers Den. It provides snorkel and dive trips to and from Cairns’ Marlin Marina and the Great Barrier Reef and operates 7 days a week. This company has access to various mooring sites across Saxon, Hastings, Michaelmas and Norman Reefs, which are all part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Where they go each day varies, with the skipper able to pick the best destinations to maximise passenger experience, on the day of travel. The day we went – Friday 15 March 2024 – we visited a dive site called Coral Gardens on Saxon Reef and Breaking Patches on Michaelmas Reef. The AquaQuest boat itself is licensed to carry 125 passengers and the dive deck can certainly get busy during the day. Water entry for snorkelers is via a submerged platform at the back of the boat, with ladders to get back on to the boat. This is the same for introductory divers. Certified divers have the option of giant stride entry off the side of the boat, or via the lowered platform at the back. When not in the water, guests can spread out across the 2 levels of air conditioned interior and 3 sundecks. Your ticket price includes all of the equipment for the booked activities, morning and afternoon tea, a hot and cold buffet lunch, tea, coffee and drinking water.

“This was an awesome day at the reef. The conditions were perfect and best of all, we were lucky enough to spend at least 10 minutes diving with a hawksbill turtle. Everyone has their own ‘favourite thing’ to see, mine is definitely turtles and you don’t always see them, so this was bliss for me. AquaQuest gives certified scuba divers the option to go guided or unguided. We always prefer unguided as we always have an underwater camera, so having the freedom to dive at our own pace allows us to focus on things we most want to see. We’re also diving with our son, who as a Junior Open Water Diver can only go to 12m deep. We find it easier to manage this on our own. The dive crew are efficient, professional and friendly. As we were diving unguided, they provided us with a site briefing on the dive deck, showing us the map and highlights of each site before we got in the water. As we were doing 3 dives, dive time was limited to 40 minutes each dive, which was more than enough time.– Julie Johnston

Diving the Great Barrier Reef With AquaQuest from Cairns

Our AquaQuest dive review will cover all the details and information needed to help you decide if this is a tour for you. So, what does a day diving with AquaQuest look like? Let’s dive into the details. Check in for this day tour commences at 8am at the boat, which is moored on B Finger in Cairns Marlin Marina. Everyone is issued with a safety number, which you must remember throughout the day for headcount purposes. AquaQuest departs Cairns at 8.30am and makes its way to the Great Barrier Reef. During the trip the crew provide safety, activity, equipment and reef briefings; divers are allocated their equipment and assigned a space on the dive deck. You arrive at the first reef site around 10am. Our first dive was at Coral Gardens on Saxon Reef, and we stepped into the water at 10.35am. As we descended, Ethan immediately spotted the hawksbill turtle who was happily cruising around the coral gardens. Other highlights of this 45-minute dive include seeing several humphead maori wrasse and large schools of blue and green chromis and yellow tailed fusiliers. It was an awesome dive site, and we were really glad that we had the chance to do 2 dives here. There was a 30-minute surface interval between dive 1 and 2, which we spent on the top sundeck to enjoy the amazing views around us. Dive 2 was before lunch and at the same site. This was another epic dive and highlights included seeing a white tipped reef shark, purple anthias, titan triggerfish, giant clams and pufferfish.

The lunch on AquaQuest is a hot and cold buffet, with a large selection of salads and meats, chicken wings and vegetarian options. We grabbed a plate and went up to the top sundeck to eat and relax, while AquaQuest moved to its second reef site of the day – which was Breaking Patches at Michaelmas Reef – looking down in the water, it was hard not to get excited about the dive to come, because you could see the reef clearly through the water from the boat. This was another great dive and we saw lots of anemones, anemonefish, anemone shrimp, sea ships, sea fans and giant clams. Our third dive ended at 2.24pm and we got changed as the crew packed up the boat in time for the 3pm departure. It was smooth ride back to Cairns and we arrived back in on time, around 4.30pm.

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Aqua Quest - Divers Den

Dive Review of Saxon and Michaelmas Reef The Great Barrier Reef

Saxon Reef is around 55km northeast of Cairns and is considered an outer reef, which usually has excellent visibility. We dived on the Coral Gardens site, which has lots of small bommies, coral lagoons and walls. We did 2 dives here on our AquaQuest dive review trip, and Coral Gardens delivered the goods for us, with a turtle, a shark, lots of anemones, chromis, sea fans, fusiliers, feather stars and glass fish. Obviously, what you might see at any given dive site on any given day may vary, but we’ve dived here many times over the years and 9/10 we have seen turtles. You do not need to dive deep to enjoy Coral Gardens at Saxon Reef, and in fact because our son is a Junior Open Water Diver, we never go lower than 12m. The marine life is diverse and abundant.

The Breaking Patches dive site is on Michaelmas Reef, which is adjacent to Michaelmas Cay. Its proximity to the sand cay does generally mean that the visibility here is not as good as some of the other outer reefs, like Saxon Reef which we had just visited, but the dive site itself still offers an abundance of coral gardens and marine life. Its best to take your time and get close to the reef, keeping your eyes peeled for macro life and look under table corals and coral edges for larger fish which might be ‘hiding’, such as bat fish, coral trout and sweetlips.

Here Are Ethan’s Thoughts On AquaQuest

I had a good time diving with AquaQuest. They let us go unguided diving as a three person buddy team and I really enjoy that, because you can take your time looking at things and not be rushed. On our first dive, I saw a really cool turtle floating around, and spent some time hanging out with it. On the second dive I saw lots of cool orange coloured sea fans and even a white tipped reef shark – which is amazing to see when you are diving. In fact turtles, sharks and clownfish are my favourite things to see, so two were ticked off the list already and we still had a dive to go. Then we had lunch, while the boat moved to the next site. During the last dive we saw all types of things, including clownfish – so that made it 3 out of 3 for me. It was a steady ride back to Cairns and all in all, this was a great day.


Questions About AquaQuest Cairns Dive Tours

Is AquaQuest worth it?

Yes – AquaQuest is worth it. This is a great Cairns dive tour that gives you up to 5 hours at the reef, visiting 2 different reef sites, with the chance for 3 dives and unlimited snorkeling. It caters to snorkelers and divers – both certified and introductory (no experience necessary) – and certified divers have the option to go guided or unguided (lots of boats do not give you the choice to dive unguided). The crew are friendly and the equipment is well maintained.

Where does AquaQuest go?

AquaQuest goes from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef. They have access to a range of reef sites on Saxon, Hastings, Norman and Michaelmas Reefs, and will choose the best sites to maximise your experience on your day of travel. The visibility at Saxon, Hastings and Norman Reefs is usually very good, as they are outer reef sites, while Michaelmas Reef is usually a little less, due to its proximity to Michaelmas Sand Cay.

Is the diving on AquaQuest Cairns any good?

Yes, the diving on AquaQuest is good. This company has access to some amazing Great Barrier Reef dive sites. We have been out on this boat – and the Divers Den liveaboard boat – many times over the years. We rate their dive sites for coral cover and abundance, underwater visibility and the diversity of marine life you will see.

How long does it take to get to the reef with AquaQuest?

The travel time to and from Cairns to the reef on AquaQuest, is around 90 minutes each way. The boat provides a smooth and comfortable ride in most conditions.

Is AquaQuest suitable for snorkelers?

Yes – AquaQuest is suitable for snorkelers and there have been plenty of them on the boat, every time we have gone out. The reef sites they visit are suitable for scuba divers and snorkelers, with the reef coming up to within metres of the surface.

What will I see diving with AquaQuest Cairns?

Coral for sure! You are guaranteed to see a wide range of hard and soft corals and a diverse array of marine life, including giant clams and sea fans. In terms of fish, you will definitely see chromis, angelfish, butterfly fish, anemonefish, trout, sweetlips and wrasse. Other creatures you might see include turtles and sharks, but this is not guaranteed.

How many dives can I do on AquaQuest?

You can do up to 3 scuba dives on an AquaQuest Cairns Reef day tour.

Can I dive unguided with AquaQuest in Cairns?

Yes – you can dive unguided with AquaQuest in Cairns – and it is one of the few boats to allow this. You can also choose to dive guided if you prefer, the dive guide is an additional cost.

Can I try an introductory dive with AquaQuest?

Yes – AquaQuest provides the opportunity for people to try scuba diving for the first time on an introductory dive. There is no previous experience necessary. The minimum age to participate in an introductory dive is 12 years old. Certain conditions will preclude you from diving, this includes heart conditions, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, pregnancy and more.

Does AquaQuest allow Junior Open Water Divers?

Yes – our son is a Junior Open Water Diver – and he has dived with AquaQuest twice. Please note, if you are travelling with a Junior Open Water Diver it is always a good idea to mention that when booking, just so the boat is aware and can arrange a smaller tank and BCD.

Is AquaQuest a family friendly boat?

Yes, AquaQuest is a family friendly boat and there were lots of families – diving and snorkeling – on the day we went out. They have equipment in most sizes, to accommodate most children. Please note though, AquaQuest only visits outer reef sites, they do not have a pontoon or glass bottom boat, so if your children are very young and/or not comfortable at swimming in the open ocean, which might have currents, then perhaps choose a different Cairns reef day tour which goes to an island or pontoon.

Will I get seasick on AquaQuest?

Seasickness is usually related to the person and the conditions, rather than the boat. If you usually suffer from motion sickness or seasickness, then it’s likely you will here too. If you are worried that might happen, then just make sure you take some preventative medicine to ensure seasickness does not ruin your day. Side note – Julie suffers from seasickness, but takes Kwells before we go to the reef, works every time.

What is the food like on AquaQuest?

The food on AquaQuest is pretty good. To be honest, most reef boats have very similar offerings when it comes to lunch. A hot and cold buffet with a range of salads, meats and breads. Most have vegetarian options and can accommodate other dietary requirements with advance notice.

Is Saxon Reef good for diving?

Yes – Saxon Reef on the Great Barrier Reef is excellent for diving. It has several dive sites, which are suitable for scuba divers of all experience levels.

Is the diving better off Cairns or Port Douglas?

Interesting question, easy answer. The diving off Cairns and Port Douglas is all good. There is no ‘better’ place to go diving – so you should choose the location where you are staying. If you are staying in Cairns, go diving from Cairns. Same for Port Douglas. If you are travelling with a family and/or non diving companions, then maybe consider a pontoon or island reef trip.

What is diving in Cairns, in March like?

Diving Cairns’ Great Barrier Reef is great at any time of the year and March is no exception. The day we went out – Friday 15 March 2024 – was glass out day with 15m underwater visibility and a water temperature of around 29 degrees Celsius. There was abundant and diverse marine life.

AquaQuest Cairns What You Need To Know

AquaQuest is the Cairns reef day tour boat for Divers Den. It provides dive and snorkel tours to the Great Barrier Reef, every single day. You have up to 5 hours at the reef with unlimited snorkelling. Scuba divers can book up to 3 dives, which can be guided or unguided. If you have never dived before and are aged over 12 years old, then you can try an introductory dive with no experience necessary. AquaQuest does not have a glass bottom boat or semi-submersible. All of its reef sites are located on the outer Great Barrier Reef, as such you should be comfortable and confident about swimming in the open ocean, where they may be currents present. Check in starts at 8am on the boat, which departs at 8.30am and returns to Cairns around 4.30pm.

  • 2 Reef Sites
  • 5 Hours At The Reef
  • Up to 3 Scuba Dives
  • Dive equipment provided
  • Dives Can Be Guided or Unguided
  • Introductory Dives
  • Certified Dives
  • Unlimited Snorkeling
  • Daily Departures from Cairns
  • Lunch and Snacks Included
  • Wear sunscreen and sunsmart clothes

About the Author

Richard's early years were spent in Southern Africa, where he grew up. During his childhood, he frequently explored game parks and enjoyed caravan adventures. Now residing in Australia, Richard replicates these family experiences with Julie and Ethan. Passionate about outdoor adventures, he eagerly abandons his desk job to either hook up the caravan for a journey or strap on a scuba tank. His explorations are primarily focused on the diverse wonders of North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef.

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