To the east of the Great Barrier Reef is more of the Coral Sea and its submerged reefs, uninhabited islands, deep-sea mountains and sand cays that spread across 1.8 million square miles. The majority of this vast ecosystem remains inaccessible by the general public and thus relatively unscathed by man's influence.
Blue gin-clear water is but one signature of Coral Sea diving. Its topography is another. Expect drop-offs plummeting to 3,000 feet, pinnacles the size of office blocks, countless caves, gorgonians and soft corals. These reefs are the tips of ancient mountains, long ago covered by rising seas. Some form large lagoon basins, others are towering columns of coral.
Lying 100 miles northeast of Lizard Island, the North Horn and Osprey Reef form the region most visited by live-aboards departing from Cairns. In part because of the two-day passage to this destination, many live-aboard devotees choose the Spirit of Freedom for its added comforts, such as electronic stabilizers, which create a smooth ride, ample living space, including a lounge area, dining saloon and shaded top deck, plus five meals per day prepared by the first-rate chef.
The journey is worth it: North Horn and Osprey Reef display some of the largest and most-spectacularly colored soft corals in the world at depths of around 100 feet; this is a sight not found at the Great Barrier Reef. This area is also renowned for a thriving shark population particularly at North Horn, a reef shelf dropping to 40 to 80 feet that attracts legions of gray reef sharks. In deeper water, silvertip sharks are often found among coral outcrops and, if you're lucky, oceanic whitetips, great hammerheads, threshers and the odd lone tiger sharks pass by. North Horn is also the site where staff from the Spirit of Freedom conduct shark feeds. However, even without the free handout, the shark interaction is already exceptional. Guests have spotted up to 80 sharks during a single dive; the average number is 50. In winter and spring, large schools of hammerheads predictably are seen off the wall. In addition to the sharks, the shelf is also home to potato cod, schools of trevally, barracuda, and eagle and manta rays.
The Spirit of Freedom offers four- and seven-day itineraries. This 120-foot deluxe vessel caters up to 24 divers, offering cabins from ocean-view deluxe to stateroom and quad share, with full underwater imaging and nitrox support. Diving standard and service offers fine wine with dinner and wireless Internet service from your own laptop. Yes, you can upload images to Facebook or chat on Skype between dives!