How to see the Great Barrier Reef for free

It has over 900 islands stretching for over 2,600 kilometres and can be seen from Space, but you’ll need a boat to get to the Great Barrier Reef – and that costs.

Everyone wants to snorkel or scuba dive here so unsurprisingly the activity will set you back around $200 a go – minimum… and as certified divers, there was no way we were missing out…

We ended up helping out on the boat in exchange for free dives – here’s how you can too:

Where to get hostie work?

Of the many companies taking tourist out to the reef in Cairns and Port Douglas, we could only find two which offer hostie positions.

Diver Centres to enquire at:
Diver’s Den (which also operates Tusa)

We ended up working for Diver’s Den over three days, and fourth day with Tusa.

What do hosties do?

Our daily duties looked something like this:

  • Meet caterers arriving at the boat with lunch in the morning.
  • Prep lunch for serving later.
  • Prep rolls for staff lunch.
  • Offer customers tea and coffee/answer general queries.
  • Check water jugs/ tea and coffee / bathrooms regularly.
  • Collect dirty dishes and cups from lunch and wash.
  • Help tidy boat at end of day.

What do you get in exchange?

In exchange we had two free dives a day on the Great Barrier Reef and all our drinks/food free.

If you’re a certified diver, you will buddy up with the other hostie and be left to dive together without a guide.

If you’re not certified, you have the time to snorkel instead.

We hosted for four days in total, bagging ourselves eight free dives each… it wasn’t a bad deal at all.

Which company is better?

Of the two companies we worked with, I would recommend Tusa over Diver’s Den for both customers and hosties.

I found the team warmer and the customer service/standard of food better, though that said, both were excellent companies to see the reef with.

Fact: Thirty species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises have been recorded in the Great Barrier Reef.

Fact: Six species of sea turtles come to the reef to breed.

Fact: 215 species of birds (including 22 species of seabirds and 32 species of shorebirds) visit the reef or nest or roost on the islands.

Is it worth it?

This obviously comes down to the individual and the experience you are after.

First things first, hosting gave us eight FREE dives, saving us around $1,200 each!

Cleaning a few dishes while looking out at the ocean was pretty soothing in itself, but when we got under water we saw a white tip reef shark, clown fish (Nemo), a turtle, parrot fish, a migrating humpback whale, huge groupers and tons of other schools of fish… that’s way better than a pay cheque?

If you just want one day on the reef and have the budget then you could consider just paying. If you want to log loads of dives and widen your chances of seeing different marine life and dive sites, hosting is a great way to do this and save money.

Secondly, if you want to soak up the views, the sunshine, be catered for and relax between your dives, hostie work is probably not for you.

Another thing to consider is how experienced you are as a diver. While we have out open water certification, we are not experienced divers. This meant our first dive was a little rusty so we were grateful not to be paying out and for the chance to keep diving for free, to brush up and really take in all the Barrier Reef has to offer.

Also, if you have dived in many parts of the world, you may have certain expectations of the GBR and the tours…

I certainly wasn’t prepared for the commercial side of diving here. Obviously the reef is a huge tourist attraction with hundreds of people wanting to go out each day.

This means boats are large and busy. A far cry from the gnarly, chilled diving community I have experienced elsewhere. For me, this was a negative and took away from my experience – so again, I prefer to have been a crew member diving for free, than a paying customer.

It is also important to consider the impact this trade an is having on the reef, which has already lost half of its coral in the past two years through environmental issues.

While the reef was insane with by far the most varied marine life I have ever dived with before, but it is clearly struggling to survive. I wanted to see it before things get worse, but I’m sure I would have been disappointed if I paid for dives to witness this disintegration.

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