Reef Encounter Dive Review: 2 Days / 1 Night

Cairns Dive Adventures Trip Review

Reef Encounter is a boutique floating hotel on Cairns’ Great Barrier Reef. Certified divers can take up to six (6) certified dives on an overnight trip, with plenty of time to snorkel and enjoy the amenities on Reef Encounter, which includes the spa and air-conditioned lounge with TV and library. This trip is suitable for...

Reef Encounter Dive Review: 2 Days / 1 Night

Trip Review By: Richard

Reef Encounter provides liveaboard trips from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkelers and divers of all experience levels.? Stays start at just one night and can push out to long as you like.? A family owned and operated company, Reef Encounter is promoted as a ‘boutique floating hotel’ and compared to their competition, which also provide liveaboard trips on Cairns’ outer reefs, this is pretty accurate. The boat is spacious and comfortable with plenty of air-conditioned interior and exterior deck space, including a spa on the front deck.? The rooms are large, comfortable and well-appointed, all with ensuite facilities.

Certified divers can enjoy up to six (6) dives on a 2 day / 1 night trip, including a night dive and early morning dive.? The boats visit different reef sites during your stay and there’s plenty of time to dive, snorkel and just relax on the boat.? This review is from the viewpoint of a certified diver, travelling on their own.

DAY 1.

There are daily departures for Reef Encounter, thanks to their day boat operation, Reef Experience.? This makes for a very itinerary friendly trip.? Check-in is directly at Reef Experience from 7.30am.? The boat is moored at A-Finger on Cairns’ Marlin Marina, directly adjacent to the Reef Fleet Terminal.? As a passenger which is transferring to the liveaboard boat, you are directed to the upstairs air-conditioned saloon for all welcomes, briefings and paperwork.? Complimentary tea and coffee is served downstairs.

The day I departed Cairns, 31 December 2013, it was hot and bright, so I appreciated the air-conditioning.? Reef Experience pulled out of the harbour at 8.15am to begin the 90-minute transfer to the outer Great Barrier Reef.? The crew brought up some complimentary bacon and egg rolls for breakfast and you could eat these inside, or outside on the sundeck which had lots of comfortable seating.

Conditions are pretty perfect today with calm seas and it was a comfortable journey to Reef Encounter. Pulling alongside the liveaboard boat around 9.50am, the crew prepared for our departure transferring all bags over to Reef Encounter.? Guests walked across on a gangplank between the two boats.

Reef Encounter is a big boat with three levels of deck.? New guests were directed to the downstairs saloon for a welcome and briefing on the boat.? Here we met Dive Instructor Macca and Purser Tori.? They ran through the ‘rules of the boat’, which included keeping the dry areas dry and assorted safety instructions / information.? All passengers were then shown to their cabins.? Single travellers have a choice of twin share or tri share (of course you can book a double room for yourself too).

All of Reef Encounter’s cabins have their own ensuite facilities and linen is provided (ocean towels and shower towels).? The entire interior of Reef Encounter is air-conditioned.? It’s a set temperature throughout the boat, keeping it comfortably cool; additional blankets and/or fans are available for individual cabins, should you feel too cold or warm.

The boat has 21 cabins, a combination of double, twin and tri-share, and accommodates up to 42 guests per night.? The combined lounge / dining / bar area is spacious, comfortable and nicely appointed.? The rear dive deck is the same.? All passengers are issued with their snorkel / dive equipment from the top sun deck and are issued with a storage basket on the second level to place fin, masks etc? These are yours for the duration of your stay and you are responsible for storing your own gear after a water session.

Other features of Reef Encounter include a top sun deck, forward sun deck with spa and a dedicated smoking area on the rear second level.? The boat has three levels and plenty of room for everyone.? It also creates its own freshwater supply, with desalination equipment on board, this means you can enjoy long hot showers at the end of the day. The boat caters to snorkelers and scuba divers.

For new guests, the first water session of the day is at 10.30am. ? It’s a snorkel only session (the first dive of the day is at 1.30pm).

Once I’d checked out the cabin, I was drawn to the back deck to admire the view.? Today, Reef Encounter is moored at Hastings Reef and you can see the bottom of the ocean from the back of the boat. The coral bommie was easily visible and I was itching to get into the water.? Grabbing the mask, snorkel and fins I headed down to the ocean.

Water entry – for divers and snorkelers – is easy with a duck board lowered into the water at the back of the boat.? Divers giant stride entry straight off the deck into the waters.? Snorkelers can walk down the stairs into the water. The water was a warm 29 degrees and snorkelling was a great introduction to the trip ahead.

Lunch was served at 12pm: a delicious and nutritious burrito buffet.? Everyone was given a plate with soft flour burritos and they could choose between beef and lamb filling with a selection of sour cream, cheddar cheese, guacamole and salads.? There were also hot chips.

Cool water is complimentary and available on the tables at all meal times.? Guests can choose to purchase soft drinks from the on-board bar and alcohol is also available, but cannot be consumed before diving.

After lunch, certified divers were given a briefing on the back deck.? Everyone was asked their certification level, number of dives and date of last dive.? Anyone without a buddy was paired up with one.? You could go unguided or guided, which cost $10 per person, per dive.

The Dive Instructor covered a lot of diving information, including equipment, safe diving procedures, dive profiles (no reverse profiles) and dive duration (each dive should not last longer than 40-minutes).? All of the tanks are filled to 200 bar and you must be back at the boat with no less than 50 bar.

During the briefing, Reef Encounter moved from Hastings to Norman Reef. The first dive of the day was at 1.30pm.


For my first dive, I was buddied up with one of the Dive Crew. We were at a new site and conditions were amazing.? The water was blue and clear with about 15m visibility.? The water temperature was 29 degrees Celsius.? During the dive I saw Pink Anemonefish, large schools of Half and Half Puller, Blue-green Chromis, Jewel Damsels and Yellow Damsels.? Scissor-tail Sergeants darted about the hard and soft corals, as did the very colourful Six-bar Wrasse. A highlight was seeing a Feather Star swimming free around the reef, something I’ve never seen before!

The next dive was not scheduled until 3.30pm, so there was plenty of time to take a freshwater shower on the middle back deck and just relax on the sunlounge upstairs. During this time, I got to know a few of the other passengers a little better and arranged to buddy up with a lovely couple on board.


The second dive was at the same site, which was fine, as there was a lot to see here.? Highlights for me were seeing a large school of glassies: they seem to only be around in December / January and are really cool.? I also saw lots of Headband Humbugs, hanging around in the safety of the staghorn corals, Pink Anemonefish, Moon Wrasse, Moorish Idols, a large Flowery Cod and much more.? We ended the dive hanging out with a very friendly Maori Wrasse at around 5m.

Back on Reef Encounter, there was time for a shower and relax before dinner was served at 6pm.? There’s table service provided and dinner was a delicious filo pastry with bacon, pumpkin, sweet potato and more accompanied by a fresh garden salad with pine nuts and shaved parmesan.? I enjoyed dinner and then prepared for the night dive and my final dive for 2013.


It was basically twilight when we entered the water: we could not see the reef sharks from the back deck, but we knew they were there.? The sun completed it’s descent during the dive and the warm ocean went an inky black.? Armed with super powerful torches (provided on board) we explored the site and saw sleeping parrotfish and turtles.? As we returned to the boat, we encountered several friendly reef sharks.

Back on board Reef Encounter, there was time for a shower and change before a delicious dessert of chocolate / caramel slice served with vanilla cream came out of the kitchen at 8pm.? The on-board bar was open and I grabbed a beer and headed up to the top deck.? At night the sun lounges become the perfect place to star gaze and tonight was stunning!

I had planned to stay up till midnight to see in the New Year’s properly, but a day on the water will take it out of you.? Retired to the cabin at 9.30pm to make sure I was well rested for the early morning dive.


Tori provides a 6am wake-up call, but I beat her to it and went up to the top deck to watch the sunrise over the ocean for the first time in 2014.? Tea and coffee was available downstairs and this, combined with the view, was just the heart-started I needed for the day (dare I say year) ahead!


Morning conditions were perfect.? Golden light and calm blue waters: what a way to start the New Year! Splashing down with two dive buddies, the friendly Maori Wrasse was waiting to say hello.? After hanging out with the big blue fish for a little bit, the trio headed over to check out the pressure point of the site, hoping to find some reef sharks. They weren’t disappointed.? Other highlights included seeing two Green Turtles and huge schools of glass fish.

Back on board Reef Encounter there was time for a quick shower and change before heading down to the dining room for a hot breakfast.? Clearly the Reef Encounter chef had been busy, preparing a delicious hot and cold buffet breakfast of fruit salad and yoghurt, cereals, toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, grilled mushrooms and hashbrowns. This was served from 7.30am with complimentary orange juice and cool water. While I ate, Reef Encounter moved to a new reef site.

After breakfast it was time to pack up the room and move my bags downstairs to the transfer room, in preparation for departure later in the day.? By vacating the cabins now, it gives the crew time to clean the rooms for new passengers coming aboard later in the day.


Dive time! Descending into the blue waters, we headed out to explore the site and soon stumbled across more schools of glass fish.? These guys are like little silver bullets, darting through the water in the early morning light.? It was a leisurely dive, as we poked around the bommies and peered under table corals to see what was about.? Highlights included seeing Dotted Sweetlips, a juvenile Rockmover Wrasse (I’ve never seen before!), several large Coral Trout, Pink Anemonefish and Blue-green Chromis.

The next dive was scheduled for 10.30am.? In the interim we could relax inside or outside, or take the opportunity to settle up an outstanding dive and bar accounts.


Splashing down we headed out to explore the site.? Twin Peaks has lots to offer divers with loads of interesting bommies, massive boulder corals and swim throughs. We spent some time watching the fishes dart in and out of the staghorn corals, before being distracted by some Clark’s Anemonefish. Making our way back to the boat and up the reef, we came across a large school of sweetlips and then saw a cuttlefish. Mindful of the time, we stopped for a quick picture with Nemo before getting back on the boat.

Don’t know why you get so hungry on a dive boat, but you do.? Fortunately the chef had been busy again and there was a feast waiting for me in the dining room: satay chicken wings with hot pasta salad with bacon, chorizo and cheese.

After lunch, Tori provided departing guests with a final briefing about the rest of the trip.? While she chatted, Reef Experience pulled up alongside and the crew transferred all of the bags back to the day boat.? Passengers soon followed and headed straight into the air-conditioned cabin on the top deck.

At around 1.30pm Reef Experience pulled away from Reef Encounter and moved to a new site on Saxon Reef.? There was time for more snorkelling here (no diving for liveaboard guests) or the option of a glass bottom boat tour.? Most Reef Encounter guests chose to just hang out in the air-conditioning, grabbing some beers from the bar and chatting about what they had seen and done.

The boat packed up around 2.45pm and after a final headcount, began its return journey to Cairns.? During this time there was a complimentary glass of wine and cheese and crackers platter.? Additional drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) could be purchased from the bar.? Reef Experience pulled into Cairns’ Marlin Marina around 4.15pm.? The crew helped to unload luggage and provided a friendly farewell on the jetty.

VERDICT: Reef Encounter is a boutique floating hotel on Cairns’ Great Barrier Reef. Certified divers can take up to six (6) certified dives on an overnight trip, with plenty of time to snorkel and enjoy the amenities on Reef Encounter, which includes the spa and air-conditioned lounge with TV and library.? This trip is suitable for scuba divers and snorkelers with seven water sessions during the trip.? Floatation devices are supplied if necessary.? The friendly crew will go out of their way to make you feel welcome and ensure you have the very best stay and experience on the Great Barrier Reef. Daily departures from Cairns.

Reef Encounter Dive Boat

Reef Encounter – Liveaboard Dive Trips

Reef Encounter offers 2-3-4 day trips from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef. Suitable for snorkelers and divers: options for all budgets and itineraries.

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Cairns Underwater Camera Hire Service

Spend over $550.00 AUD on your Great Barrier Reef tour with us and receive the latest Digital Underwater Camera Hire. Take amazing High-Resolution images and 1080 HD Video. Only when you book online thru our website. 

Not available for any tours to the Islands as fine white sand damages the seals on the cameras and makes them leak!

You need to come into our shop located on the Cairns Esplanade the day before departure to pick up the camera before 5:30 pm. You also need to supply your own SD Camera Card and drop the camera off back at our shop before 5:30pm.


Please Remember there is no other way to collect our cameras! All passengers must come into our shop the day before departure day before 5:30 pm.