Mention Australia and images of wide open spaces, seemingly endless, empty sun kissed beaches, Hugh Jackman, and wildlife that’s determined to kill you, is what generally comes to mind.
If you're thinking of getting your Scuba Open Waters Diver (OWD) certificate, why not make a holiday of it and take advantage of the warm tropical waters of Northern Australia.
Some people may think with all that wildlife, you’d be crazy to visit. Well hey, they’re just not adventurous souls like you and me. As with all great adventures, planning is key to making it a memorable holiday for all the right reasons.
Get more Bang for your Buck and I don’t just mean in Dollars
If you really want an adventure holiday without some of the worry of some overseas destinations, then Australia is it.
I’m not going to deny it, money exchange rates are better in many of the Asian countries to the north of Australia. Even given this, the exchange rate for the Australian dollar is providing international visitors with great bang for their hard earned buck.
Adventure is good but not at the expense of safety and your health. Ok, mention the words ‘health and safety’ and half the room instantly nod off.
Choosing Australia as your next holiday destination may feel like you're taking the easier, slightly more traveled path. But this is the path where health and safety regulations apply across the board. This will give you better peace of mind, especially if you're traveling with children. Let's face it, you don’t want to be coming down with a ‘funny tummy’ during your much-anticipated dream scuba holiday if you can avoid it.
This also takes some of the worries out of vehicle hire, accommodation regulations, dive boat operators, etc. There are still shonky deals and rubbish meals, as no place is immune to shysters or the odd bad chef, but your chances are lessened, especially if you do a bit of research beforehand.
These safety standards also apply to your Scuba training. It ensures you're getting quality training, and it will show later when you're diving with others who went with the cheaper options available in some other countries.
25 Million People Can’t Be Wrong
One thing that’s often missed in the travel brochures is that size-wise, Australia is very similar to the United States when it comes to land mass. Strangely though, it has a very small population of just over 25 million.
To put this into perspective, it equates to 2 people every square mile in Australia, compared with 84 people every square mile in the United States, or 650 per square mile in the United Kingdom. Wow! Now you understand why those sun-kissed beaches are so empty.
Most of the locals are based on the southern and eastern coasts of the country and around 80% of everyone lives within a half an hour’s drive of the coast. These guys really love their beaches.
Given that Australia's land mass is roughly the size of the United States, it takes an awfully long time to drive between places. You’re not going to see everything in one visit, and you may also find you’ll be doing a few short hops in airplanes. Work out your top priorities when it comes to activities and sight-seeing, and plan it out.
If getting your PADI Open Waters Certificate in Australia is high on the list (which of course it is because you’re reading this article), then pick a region, work out how many days you need, and make that your starting point.
Where to get PADI Open Waters Diver Certified in Australia?
I'm going to recommend you go to Cairns in the great Australian State of Queensland to get certified. Why? Because Cairns is situated in the tropical northeast of Australia, so it has good year-round diving. Due to its strict safety regulations, Queensland is one of the safest places in the world to dive.
Cairns is a great kicking off point for diving on the Great Barrier Reef. Its airport is one of the biggest regional airports and it also boasts an International terminal connecting it directly with many overseas destinations.
As the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is what Cairns is famous for, it's what they do best. Local dive operators have honed scuba training and visits to the reef down to a fine art. Cairns is warm and the ocean has good visibility, even on its less than perfect days.
There are two distinct seasons in Cairns. The Wet Season ranges from November to March and is rainy and humid. The Dry Season which is sunny and cooler in temperature ranges from May to September. The months of April and October can be a bit of both.
Water temperatures will be around 73°F (23° Celcius) from June through to August, and up to 84°F (29° Celcius) during the wet season. The wet season is rainy, but it's warm rain.
Conditions will vary significantly on a seasonal and even on a daily basis. Conditions can become windy during the Dry Season so if you're prone to seasickness, make sure you come prepared. The rocking of the boat should mostly be limited to the trip out to the reef and back. Once out the reef, good operators will know the best places to moor that will provide protection from the wind.
How long does it take to learn to scuba dive?
There's a lot of flexibility in how you can complete the PADI Open Waters Diver course, but generally, it takes 2 days of theory and practice in a swimming pool, followed by 2 to 3 days of open water diving. Certification requires either 4 or 5 successful dives in open waters. You'll need to allow 5 full days to complete the course.
Combining the PADI Open Water Scuba Diving Course with an overnight trip to dive the Great Barrier Reef is the most popular way to learn to dive in Cairns.
If you don't have a great deal of vacation time, PADI courses can be split into two parts and started before you leave home. You do the theory and swimming pool section of the course locally. After completing this, you're given a Referral. When booking with your Dive School, let them know you've started the course and give them your Referral when you arrive. The Dive School will take you through the final open waters diving only.
Local dive schools and boat operators
Let's get the safety aspect out of the way first. All dive boat operators are required by law to adhere to the Queensland Code of Practice for diving and snorkeling. This means that safety standards are world class, all dive gear and boats are well maintained and serviced regularly.
Comparing local dive schools and packages can feel a bit like comparing apples and oranges. Prices can vary greatly between operators so make sure you're comparing like with like. Check the small print for what is included and excluded from the price of each package.
Some packages may look like a better deal to start with but once you add on the exclusions, you may find they're not such a bargain after all.
Depending on which package you're looking at, some potential extras on top of the advertised price may include reef tax (collected on behalf of Marine Parks), a fuel levy, dive gear and lycra (stinger) suit hire, morning tea and snacks, photos taken by the operators onboard, and hotel pickups and drop-offs.
Also, some Dive Schools have lower costs because they don't use their own boats. This can greatly reduce the overall cost. It means you're probably going to be sharing the boat trip out to the reef with a greater number of people. It also means travel time each day out to the reef.
Dive boats that stay out for a night or two are called live-aboards. Compare staying on a liveaboard on the reef for a night or two could be balanced against the cost of a hotel room, and the time it takes to travel out to the reef and back each day. Visibility is likely to be improved also on the outer reefs. If you're considering a liveaboard for part of your dive, really take advantage of this and check which operators visit the outer reefs.
How deep can you dive with Open Water Divers certification?
The Open Waters Diver certification (OWD) will give you the basic knowledge of theory, skills, and equipment to be able to dive to a depth of around 60 feet (18 meters).
If you want to continue on to your Advanced Open Waters Diver certification (AOWD), this course will refine your skills giving you the knowledge and training to be able to dive to a maximum depth of 100 feet (30 meters).
How old do you have to be to learn to scuba dive?
In Australia, children between the ages of 10 to 15 years old can get their PADI Junior Open Waters Diver certificate. Before introducing your children to scuba diving, make sure they're comfortable in the water and have the reading level and maturity required to understand the theory side of the training.
After completing their Junior OW Divers Certificate, children are restricted to diving to a maximum depth of 40 feet (12 meters) and must always be accompanied by a certified diver.
What are 'No Fly' times and why are they important?
If you're yet to become scuba certified, you may not realize that after scuba diving, you need to give your body time to naturally disperse nitrogen that will have built up in your tissues during the dive.
There is no need to be alarmed or worry as long as you stick to some basic rules. One rule is that you shouldn't change your altitude for a given period of time after scuba diving. This is called a 'No Fly' time.
If you jump on a plane (or drive up a mountain) too soon after your last scuba dive, you could come down with symptoms of Decompression Sickness. There's no getting around this one, I'm afraid.
The recommended time between your last dive and a change in altitude is between 12 and 24 hours, depending on the depth of the dive.
If your last dive was at 4 pm, then play it safe and don't schedule a flight for 7 am the following morning. Plan an extra day into your itinerary and enjoy some local sight-seeing.
Speaking Australian - Similar but Different
You think you’re coming to a nice civilized English speaking country, and you would mostly be correct. The official language is English.
Australian's tend to abbreviate most words and there's a lot of slang. For example, they call themselves Aussies (pronounced Ozz-zees). To further complicate matters, after abbreviating a word, they then throw an ‘o’ or an 'ee' sound on the end. I know this sounds confusing, and at times you'll be wondering if everyone is still speaking English. But isn’t that what we love about the Australians? Their cute accent and quirky colloquialisms?
There are some great YouTube videos on How to speak Australian that show this concept. Australian's have no idea they’re doing it, but as long as you say ‘pardon?’, they're happy to repeat themselves until you understand.
Just for the record, Emu is pronounced EEEM-YOU, not E-Moo. You’ll be laughed at very loudly if you say E-Moo. No worries mate, you’re welcome.
The Australian Heat may ‘Knock you for a Six’
There’s something different about the sunlight in Australia. It’s bright and intense, just like the heat.
Now that we’ve touched on their strange use of the English language, here’s one you’ll hear from time to time. Being ‘knocked for a six’ is a local expression that stems from a term used in the game of cricket. Being knocked for a six means something surprises or upsets you.
Due to their history as a member of the Commonwealth, Australian’s love their cricket. Australians tend to love sport in general. You’ll see some national games played that you never knew existed and won’t be able to fathom the rules. Australian Rules Football is a good example.
Another example of being 'totally knocked for a six' will be the heat in the tropical north. You'll need to come prepared as the heat in Australia is something that will surprise you. It’s intense and quite often humid, especially in the north. The southern cities are cooler and tend to shiver when it gets below 50ºF.
Of course being in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are reversed. Summer in Australia is December to February, although March is also generally quite warm. Winter is June through to August.
It won’t just be the weather that you’ll find strange, you may experience unexpected and mild forms of culture shock when you arrive. Australia - similar but different.
The Flies, and other really helpful Tips
These won't sound like REALLY helpful tips while you're sitting at home 10,000 miles away. Sometimes it's the little things that can make the difference between a good holiday, and a great one.
Soon after you arrive, I suggest you go to the nearest supermarket and buy some insect repellent. Lots of it. Repellent with DEET is the best if you can find it.
Sunscreen is relatively cheap in Australia. 30+ and 50+ UV protection is very common. Make sure you pick some up at the supermarket and slap it on. Your skin will start to burn within 15 minutes of being in the sun. Being sun burnt will dehydrate you and take some of the shine off the holiday.
Speaking of dehydration, keep your water intake up. Don't forget you're going to a warm climate and you'll be sweating a lot more than usual. That’s something that even the locals can forget. It makes a huge difference to your comfort if you keep a water bottle on hand. Dehydration doesn't mix with scuba diving. It will make you feel fatigued after a dive. Water in Australia is safe to drink straight from the faucet so get a BPA free water bottle and top it up as you go.
Make sure you bring your breathable cotton clothes with you if you're traveling into the Southern Summer. You’ll suffer from heat rash if you wear polyester in the tropical regions. Take if from someone who now knows. Cotton, all the way!
Seasickness tablets are your friend.
When away from the cities and in country areas, always keep your mouth shut when not talking. The flies! I’m not saying any more, I’m just leaving that there.
If you MUST see Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock)
Just a word of warning on the planning side of things. Ayers Rock (now known as Uluru) is near enough to dead center of the country. It’s also either an hour’s flight or 6 hours drive to reach it from the nearest town, which is Alice Springs.
If Uluru (pronounced Ool-lar-roo) is on your Must Do Wish List, then you’ll need 2 or 3 days to get there and back to any semblance of civilization. I’m letting you know now so there aren’t tears later.
Jump online and check out flight costs and times from different city centers to Alice Springs, and Uluru. There’s also a bit of a monopoly on accommodation at Uluru so expect some big costs when it comes to hotels and even campsites.
If you’re driving there's really only small gasoline stops along the way so you need to plan ahead. Check road conditions, make sure you’re carrying enough water, food, etc. By Australia’s standards, this is a more well-traveled route, but you really need to prepare if you plan on going anywhere off-road. There’s no cell phone service in the Outback.
Come on, you know you want to...
Getting your Scuba Open Waters Divers certificate in Australia is a great start to your scuba adventure. Australia is a spectacular place of natural beauty, with high safety standards and warm waters.
How many more reasons do you need to visit the great southern land down under?