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I am planning to go for a conference in Cairns in June this year, and I am hoping to do a 3-4 day live-aboard scuba diving trip afterward. There are numerous companies organizing these kind of trips from Cairns directly, but I was wondering if it may be better (either cheaper overall or the diving would be in more interesting locations) if I started the trip from some other location?

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Besides Cairns, you should also look into Airlie Beach which is the jumping off point for the Whitsunday Islands. I seem to recall that Cairns is actually a bit further north than where the reef ends but I could be wrong about that. –  hippietrail Feb 10 '12 at 1:39
    
Airlie Beach is somewhat difficult to get to from Cairns (we had to take a $100 overnight greyhound bus), and I don't recall there being nearly as many diving trips offered. Everyone there is selling packages to sail around the Whitsundays for 2-3 days (mostly on 20-30 person boats) and do some snorkeling near Whitehaven Beach and elsewhere in the area. There are diving trips sold in Port Douglas, but I got the feeling they were more or less the same as those offered in Cairns. –  gmich Feb 10 '12 at 18:10
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There is significant tourism infrastructure in Cairns. This includes the international airport and a booking agency on every corner. There is good competition amongst operators. I do not think you will find better value for money in other locations up or down the coast.

If you are looking to get away from the tourist areas, you could consider staying on an island (e.g. Heron Island) and doing multiple day scuba trips.

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