When visiting Cairns a Great Barrier Reef experience is an absolute must. This natural wonder is a remarkable attraction and Cairns is the gateway to it all.
Cairns is the most popular departure point for Great Barrier Reef day tours due to its close proximity to spectacular coral reef sites, beautiful coral cays & idyllic tropical islands. There are a variety of reef tours on offer from Cairns. From half-day tours to full-day multi-adventures, amazing diving experiences to relaxed island getaways, swimmers/non-swimmers, young and old, there are opportunities for everyone to marvel at the magnificence of the Great Barrier Reef.
Whether you're a seasoned diver or a first-time snorkeler, there's something for everyone to enjoy. You'll be amazed at the diverse range of marine life that calls the reef home, from vibrant coral to tropical fish and even sea turtles. And with tours departing from Cairns daily, it's never been easier to explore this incredible natural wonder.
Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal is Located in Cairns City right next to the Swimming Lagoon is the departure point for the majority of the Great Barrier Reef tours in Cairns
The Reef Fleet Terminal is an airport style terminal where visitors check in before departing on their Great Barrier Reef Adventure. The Terminal was completed in 2004 and offers a cafe and some retail shops for last minute breakfast & sun screen purchases.
On the Marlin Jetty you will find the vessels for some of the smaller tour operators who do not have a desk at the Reef Fleet Terminal. The vessels are well signed and the staff will check you in before you board.
Cairns is the perfect gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and with a fast catamarans travel time averaging just 90 minutes to the most northern outer edge, you can maximise your day and spend more time snorkelling and diving in the crystal-clear waters. Most outer reef tour operators visit two or more reef locations, giving you the chance to to maximise your day with more time for snorkelling and diving.
When you travel on a fast cat to the reef all water activities take place directly from the boat, either snorkelling or scuba diving, and reef locations are selected on the day according to weather conditions to ensure the upmost comfort and best experiences. All equipment and lunch are provided, and to learn more about the marine life around you, make sure to join a guided snorkel tour. Your marine interpreter will guide you over shallow coral gardens, pointing out fish and marine life, corals, and areas of interest along the way.
Most operators have access to a number of reef sites, enabling the skipper to moor the vessel at the best sites based on the conditions, water clarity, and marine life available on your day of travel. Passenger numbers on these trips can range from 60-80 passengers max depending on the reef operator, with most vessels holding much more seating. However, operators choose to cap the passenger numbers to ensure a more personalized experience.
Most fast cats are specially designed, dedicated dive boats offering state-of-the-art navigation and communication equipment, on-board compressors, spacious back deck areas, and transoms that open onto water level platforms for easy entries and exits. Comfortable interiors and outdoor deck areas offer plenty of seating to ensure a comfortable and memorable day, and the specially designed dive deck area allows snorkellers and divers to interact without either activity interrupting the other.
Experience the Great Barrier Reef on a pontoon-based tour. A pontoon is a large stable platform situated at the reef, where a whole multitude of reef activities and adventures take place. Pontoon-based reef trips are ideal for swimmers and non-swimmers & families with young children. They offer comfort and stability for all weather and wind conditions, making them an excellent choice for everyone.
There are many activites for young and old including semi submersible tours, glass bottom boat tours, introductory diving, sea walker helmet diving, helicopter flights and more. All pontoons feature an underwater observatory built into the structure, which is a little like being in an aquarium but seeing the fish and coral in their natural habitat. Younger children will love the kids swim area which is fully enclosed and safe. Snorkel platforms provide easy entry into the water, and with fish and corals located directly below, you don't need to swim too far to experience the Great Barrier Reef. All equipment is supplied including lifevests and floatation devices, there are also snorkel rest stations so you can hold on, rest and enjoy the magic of the underwater world.
Take life at a slower pace on a luxury sailing cruise. Reef sailing cruises allow for plenty of in water activities as well as time for relaxation. Passenger numbers range from 20 up to 150 depending on the trip you choose. Generally the inner reefs and islands are visited on the day cruises that make for a calm and comfortable experience. Strong winds mean exciting performance and less travelling time, calm winds mean a spacious comfortable platform to soak up the sun. Many trips limit their daily guests to ensure a personalised and unforgettable Great Barrier Reef experience, with maximum comfort and space.
Destinations visited include Michaelmas and Upolu Cay, Green Island and other inner reef areas. Ocean Free is Cairns' only sailing tour to offer a reef and island destination in a day, visiting their exclusive reef mooring at Green Island. Reef Daytripper is the smallest sailing operator taking just 20 passengers, which would normally only be available on a privately owned yacht. Meanwhile Ocean Spirit Cruises and Passions of Paradise offer trips to Michaelmas Cay, an exclusive reef location. The cay is a protected seabird sanctuary and plays host to over 20,000 migratory seabirds - one of the most important nesting sites in the Southern Hemisphere.
Island day trips provide a one-stop tropical experience. With the convenience of being just a shot 45 minute ferry journey, you can spend the day snorkelling the fringing coral reefs, strolling through National Park rainforest walking tracks, sea kayaking, scuba diving or simply just relaxing on a sandy beach.
Green Island | 45 Mins from Cairns
Green Island is an easy day trip from Cairns and offers the flexibility of frequent ferry transfers, perfect for visitors with limited time. Once on the island the day is yours to do as much or as little as you please. With a range of optional activities, you can tailor the day to suit your own requirements.
Fitzroy Island | 45 Mins from Cairns
In comparison Fitzroy Island National Park features a rugged, diverse landscape of granite outcrops, open woodlands, rainforest, mangroves and coral beaches. 97 percent of the four square kilometre continental island is National Park, covered in tropical rainforest. Laid back and low key, Fitzroy Island is loved by the locals and visitors alike. It is a destination to enjoy in relaxed simplicity.
Glass Bottom Boat tours are perfect for those who want to experience the reef without getting wet. Ideal for non-swimmers, families with young children and those who would like to see the reef from another perspective. It does provide a similar experience to snorkelling as you hover over beautiful coral gardens, giant clams, and schools of colourful reef fish. Glass bottom boat tours are fully guided to give you the best reef experience. Common things you’ll see are sea turtles, star fish, giant clams, hard and soft varieties of coral, small reef sharks, and all manner of strange and exotic creatures.
Semi Submersible Tours allow you to get close to the action without getting wet. They are ideal for the non-swimmer. Semi submersible tours cruise slowly through the colourful coral gardens giving passengers, seated just one metre underwater, the opportunity to experience a snorkellers-eye view of the marine life without getting wet. Through large viewing windows you are able to view the spectacular coral formations and the masses of brilliantly coloured fish. The semi-sub experience takes approximately 25 minutes and generally includes an informed commentary on the marine life observed during the journey by a marine naturalist, and an overview of the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef.
To really get a complete grasp of the sheer magnitude of the Great Barrier Reef, there's only one way to see it and that’s by helicopter. Excursions include anything from a 10 minute scenic flight from an outer reef pontoon, to a 30 minute or 60 minute reef and rainforest spectacular. You can even combine a heli flight with an outer reef cruise and view the reef from above and below in a day!
A ten minute heli flight whilst at the Great Barrier Reef is exciting, you will find yourself immediately immersed in the wonderful sights that appear in every direction as soon as you take off and climb up and away.
Visiting the reef for the day is an exciting excursion for kids, and in turn very rewarding for parents to watch their children interact and gain knowledge of this truly educational experience. Pontoon based reef trips are ideal for families with young children, there are many activities to choose from to keep the kids amused for hours.
Families with older children however will love the Outer Reef as the snorkelling is fantastic and the variety of marine life is unsurpassed. You can also expect all islands and cays to have ample facilities for children, lots of sand to play with and in some cases an abundance of extra activities and attractions. Green Island is an easy day trip from Cairns and offers the flexibility of frequent ferry transfers. Once on the island the day is yours to do as much or as little as you please.
Having a limited mobility does not restrict access or experiences of the Great Barrier Reef. There are many cruises that can cater for people with limited mobility. The best option is to take a pontoon trip. Generally the catamarans that travel to an outer reef pontoon are larger with wider aisles, have a designated seating area, ramp facilities from vessel to platform, and a wheelchair access toilet. Access to the water, coral viewing vessels, underwater observatory and sundeck may require stairs to be negotiated and a carer to be present.
The snorkelling platforms are situated right on the waterline and there are bench seats on the snorkelling platform where you can put on your fins, mask and snorkel before entering the water. For guests confined to a wheelchair, a specially designed water powered lift allows for easy access into the snorkel pool.
Snorkeling offers a unique and unforgettable experience that allows you to witness spectacular shallow coral gardens hiding just under the surface.
The Great Barrier Reef is a must-see destination for any traveler visiting Australia. With its breathtaking beauty and accessibility, the Great Barrier Reef offers an unforgettable experience for anyone seeking adventure, relaxation, or just a chance to connect with nature. Snorkeling is a popular and easy way to explore the wonders of the reef, and with the right equipment and guidance, anyone can enjoy this fantastic activity.
The Great Barrier Reef is renowned for its rich and colorful underwater world, with many sections of the reef rising just a few meters below the surface. The tropical waters and protected reefs provide ideal conditions for snorkeling, making it a great option for people of all ages and swimming abilities. Snorkeling is an enjoyable way to get the whole family involved, and with no special training required, anyone can enjoy the experience.
Snorkeling Gear is Provided on all Reef Tours
All Cairns reef tours provide equipment for snorkeling, including masks, snorkels, and fins. Many also offer full instruction and guided tours to ensure that you can make the most of your experience. You don't have to swim too far to view the coral, as in most cases, the reef is right there as soon as you enter the water. You can even find resting buoys short distances from each other, allowing you to snorkel from float to float and rest when you need to.
Snorkeling for Non Swimmers
For those who may be a little apprehensive, all reef tours from Cairns offer life jackets and 'noodle' floats designed to give you extra buoyancy, making your experience even more comfortable and enjoyable. All you have to do is kick and gaze at the underwater world.
Introductory Scuba Diving is diving for which you require absolutely no previous experience — you don’t even need to know how to swim!!
When you book an intro dive your day begins with a comprehensive dive brief by your experience instructor regarding the equipment, hand signals, diving procedures and answer any questions you may have enroute to the reef.
You will be required to fill out a dive medical questionnaire (supplied on the boat) to ensure that you have no medical problems that are contraindicated to diving. Certain medical conditions may stop you from diving, and if you are uncertain if this will affect you please enquire when you make your reservation.
On arrival at the reef you are put into small introductory diver groups. The maximum group size is four per instructor.
Afterward a couple of skills in the water and once you feel comfortable, your instructor you will take you on a shallow dive around beautiful coral gardens. The dive generally lasts 30 minutes depending on your air to a maximum of 12 metres/40 feet.
Your instructor will be with you the entire time so you can enjoy the whole experience safely.
Although learning to dive requires some application, it is not difficult to learn and it does not require any sort of superhero strength or fitness. In fact one thing you quickly learn is that doing things with the minimum expenditure of energy is what diving is all about. Your diving time is determined by your tank of air and the more gently you do things the longer that air is going to last.
On conclusion of the dive you may get a wall certificate or card as a souvenir of the occasion. To get a recognised qualification you will need to complete a Learn to Dive Course.
Minimum age is generally 12 years for intro dives on the Great Barrier Reef
Certified Divers will be excited by the range of experiences and magnificent Great Barrier Reef locations to choose from, no two dives are ever the same. Drift and wall dives, bommie and pinnacle, coral gardens and swim throughs are just some of the amazing experiences to expect.
The outer reefs are great for beginner divers. The maximum depth is generally 20 metres. Some of the best dives on the Great Barrier Reef are in less then 18 metres of water. This tends to be where the reef is at its most colourful and full of life. Most day trips offer the opportunity to explore up to 3 reef locations in a day, each site offers a new experience, selected for its unique variety of marine life and corals. Certified dives last approximately 40 minutes or more.
For experienced divers a live aboard trip to the Cod Hole and Coral Sea is a must. The Cod Hole lies at the top of the Ribbon Reefs, and is home to a family of resident Potato Cod (Groper). These diver friendly fish will amaze you with their sheer size and seeming eagerness to pose for camera. 120 miles offshore lies isolated reef systems and crystal clear waters of Australia's Coral Sea. Here 3,000 ft walls emerge from the ocean depths and the water is so astoundingly clear that divers appear suspended in air.
Water temperatures range from 22 to 28 degrees celsius, allowing comfortable diving all year round.