Great Barrier Reef Day Trips Snorkeling & Diving Information
One of the last and final frontiers for seeing wild pristine coral reef systems is the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The Great Barrier Reef is still the largest coral reef system in World. On this page your will learn about the best times of the year to travel, tide information, the best months to avoid the strong winds and the high tourist seasons.
Great Barrier Reef Tours are the only way to visit the Great Barrier Reef from either Cairns or Port Douglas. This is due to the distance the reef is situated offshore. Thousands of tourist travel to Cairns and Port Douglas each year with the anticipation of snorkeling or diving on the reef.
The Inner Reef Explained
The closest part of the reef is located 26klm offshore from Cairns. It is commonly known as the inner reef, it’s worth a visit for families with small children or if your not too keen on swimming. The most accessible Island is called Green Island. With all the facilities of the mainland on the Island, Green Island is a great place to start your adventures exploring the Great Barrier Reef.
The Outer Reef Explained
If you want to see the real deal then you should really travel much further offshore to the outer reef systems. These are called the outer barrier reefs. These reef systems are located just over 65klm offshore from Cairns. Because of this distance offshore, they are called the outer reefs.
The outer barrier reef are bright colorful reefs. The offshore location away from the mainland of Australia and their existance so very close to the continental shelf of Australia is what makes these reefs magnificent. Generally brighter colored corals and really beautiful marine life.
Try Snorkeling or Scuba Diving
There are around 28 Great Barrier Reef tour companies operating snorkeling and scuba diving tours from both Cairns & Port Douglas in Australia. Some Cairns reef tours can include introductory scuba diving, very popular for people who wish to get up close and personal with The Great Barrier Reef, a very good way to explore the marine life and coral species. The idea of the introductory diving is to introduce you to the sport of scuba diving. No experience is necessary, you just have to be medically fit with no asthma. You will have to fill out a medical waiver form on arrival to make sure you pass the requirements to be allowed to dive.
Snorkeling is for everyone and is really easy to do. Even if you cannot swim all reef tour operators will give you a life jacket and pool noodle to help keep you afloat. Snorkeling provides a relaxing way to float on top of the water and observe the Great Barrier Reef thru you Mask and Snorkel.
Certified scuba divers are spoilt for choice when you come to Cairns or Port Douglas. With many dive boats departing to the reef on a daily basis and many with different reef permits. Diving from Cairns is actually a divers dream. In general, all dive boat operators provide full dive gear including wetsuit, fins, mask, snorkel BCD, wetsuit and dive computers.
What are the Best Tide Times to Visit the Great Barrier Reef?
Visibility on the reef can be affected by the Oceans tides, large currents and water volume coming in from the Coral Sea. Even with regular tidal movements the waters can be stirred up and reduce visibility on the reefs. Many other factors like the rainy season can also affect visibility on the Great Barrier Reef. In general, the best time of the year to visit the Great Barrier Reef where you can expect to find excellent visibility with lots of blue skies are The Winter Months of June, July, August, September, and October.
The Winter months in Cairns are generally the dryer months with no rain. With very low volumes of freshwater descending down the river systems and out onto the reefs. This keeps the water very clear. The water temperature is also a little bit colder than in Summer it sits at around 24 degrees celsius. This slightly cooler water has a calming effect and generally helps to keep the water clear.
If you are a little confused by all the snorkeling and diving tours. Read our article on how to choose the Best Snorkeling tour in Cairns and what to look out for.
What’s the Best time of the Year to Visit the Great Barrier Reef?
The Winter months are generally the best time of the year to visit Cairns. Also known as the Cairns tourism season, Why? These are the main school holiday periods in Australia, North America, Europe and the UK. Also if you prefer warm, tropical waters, Cairns is always sunny with blue skies and great ocean conditions, especially during the Winter months.
Summer also provides ideal conditions for visiting the reef but, it also is known as the rainy season, so visiting Cairns in the Summer months means you could have rainy days. There is an advantage of visiting the reef in Summer and that is Coral Spawning. Around November and December every year the Great Barrier Reef goes into a sexual reproductive cycle called Coral Spawning. It is at this time of the year Corals will release billions of eggs and sperm to create the next generation of life on the reef.
Summer can also off spectacular diving conditions, the visibility is not always great but the Ocean conditions offer magical days of 0 to 5 knots of wind and what the locals call glass out conditions.
Unfortunately, at this same time of the year, there is the presence of marine stingers. But do not worry to much, it can be said that generally marine stingers are not out on the outer reefs, they are found on the coastal beaches & estuary systems near the mainland.
Great Barrier Reef tours, Should You try Scuba Diving or Just Snorkeling?
Snorkeling with a Great Barrier Reef tour operator:
Snorkeling is fun and easy, and generally, you don’t need any experience. Most Cairns reef tours will supply all the snorkeling equipment like, Mask, Snorkel, Fins and Flippers. Almost all Cairns reef tour companies give lessons on how to use the equipment in a safe and responsible manner. Snorkeling in Cairns and on the Great Barrier Reef is a once in a life time privilege for many people, so all Cairns reef tour operators will go to great lengths to help you understand and protect the reef.
After all the Great Barrier Reef is here for all humans to enjoy so preserving and protecting the reef is one of the main concerns for all Cairns Reef Tours.
Scuba Diving with a Great Barrier Reef tour operator:
Diving really is the ultimate way to see The Great Barrier Reef, scuba diving allows you to dive deep down into the water and get very close with all the coral and marine animals.
Diving is a global sport that practiced in a safe and secure environment is very safe. If you have never dived before most Cairns Reef Tours offer what is known as an introductory scuba dive. This is a first-time dive experience that allows you to try diving with a professional instructor for the very first time in your life.
The freedom that scuba diving gives you underwater allows you to get up close and personal with all the marine animals like Turtles, Sting Rays, Nemo, Maori Wrasse and large schools of reef fish.
To try introductory first-time scuba diving, you must be medically fit with No ASTHMA.
Protecting yourself from the Sun while enjoying a Great Barrier Reef Tour!
Sunburn is one of the biggest danger factors facing people when they come to Cairns to visit the Reef on a Cairns reef tour. It’s understandable you will be excited about spending the day visiting the Great Barrier Reef, but you must remember to exercise caution regarding sun protection.
The North Queensland sun will burn you in about 8 minutes flat, that means if you are snorkeling or diving in your bikini or board shorts, your back is generally exposed to the harsh North Queensland sun. Most people visiting from Europe the UK and US will not be used to the intensity of the sun here so it is highly recommend to hire a stinger suit or bring your own rash shirt. These are a lightweight swim costume only 1mm thick that offer excellent UV protection while out snorkeling and diving on The Great Barrier Reef.
As the lycra suit is a full body suit covering the arms, legs torso, head and shoulders this is the preferred swimwear option offering all body protection against the sun. The lycra suit also offer protection against marine stingers that frequent the coastal waters during the summer months of December, January, February, March and sometimes April.
Great Barrier Reef Overnight Live Aboard Snorkel & Diving Trips!
If you are looking for a slightly different Great Barrier Reef tour experience,maybe joining an overnight Cairns Live Aboard Dive trip might be the thing just for you.
Overnight reef trip operators are actually called Liveaboards. Cairns has 4 main liveaboard dive vessels. You can go out and just snorkel, or you can go out as a certified diver.
For a fist time overnight reef experience, in a multi-share room (Max 3 people), including snorkeling and all meals, we recommend you take a look at Reef Encounter Cairns. Reef Encounter have a fantastic local reputation and cater to both snorkelers, first-time intro divers all the way thru to the certified scuba diver. They have a day boat called Reef Experience that will take you out to the mother ship and also bring you back to shore on the second day.
Overnight Live Aboard Dive Trips from Cairns:
Reef Encounter is also a professional liveaboard dive vessel. Their main goal is catering to the Certified Diver. A family owned and operated Cairns LiveAboard Dive Boat, Reef Encounter visit a minimum of 2 outer reef locations every day.
Included in the price they offer full dive gear, and all of their dives are unguided. So for those of you that are certified, this is fantastic for exploring the reefs by yourself in your own buddy pairs. Especially if you have an underwater camera and like to take photos.
If you haven’t dived in a while or perhaps don’t feel so confident, you can get a dive guide for just $15 per dive, just organize this on the boat when your out there.
Another option for certified divers, you should look at either Pro-Dive Cairns for their 3-day/2-night liveaboard. Pro-dive visit Flynn, Milln and Pellowe Reefs and are the only liveaboard that operates in this area.
If you are an experienced diver either open water, advanced, rescue or dive master and really want to see the best of The Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. We recommend you take a look at Spirit Of Freedom Cairns. Spirit Of Freedom run a 4-day liveaboard dive trip that departs on Thursday’s and returns to Cairns on Monday’s. This is called The Coral Sea Shark Dive Expedition.
Day Tours Snorkeling or Diving The Great Barrier Reef:
Many Great Barrier Reef tour operators departing from Cairns offer full day outer reef trips. Most operators depart from the Reef Fleet Terminal located at end of Spence Street, Marlin Marina Cairns. Day boats will depart between 8:00am and 9:00am in the morning and generally return to Cairns between 4:00pm and 5:30pm.
All Cairns Reef Tours offer lunch, generally a buffet lunch with mixed foods, cold meats, salads, desserts tea and coffee. They almost always offer morning and afternoon tea which consists of biscuits, cakes, foccacia, cheese’s and bread. Some trips offer a glass of wine with cheese and crackers on the return journey. This can be a lovely way to finish your day visiting The Great Barrier Reef.
Day tours to the reef are perfect for a single day trip, generally, they give around 5 hours in water time on the reefs, plenty of time to explore the Great Barrier Reef in all its glory.
Overnight live aboard trips are a great way to see the reef and experience the reef and marine life in all the different phases of the day. Early morning sunrise snorkeling shows the reef just waking up.
Many of the day spices will already be awake going about their day to day life on the reef in search of food, cleaning each other like the cleaner wrasse, a tiny blue and white fish that set up a cleaning station for other fish to come in and park themselves to be cleaned of small crustations and algae growth.
Throughout the day different marine species will become more or less active depending on the tide and current conditions and what time of the year you are visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Generally the reef comes alive every year in November and December for Coral spawning, the coral polyps will exchange seaman and eggs to help re-produce the next generation of corals.
Protecting The Great Barrier Reef, What is the Reef Tax?
Scuba diving & snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef can be enjoyed year round and with this activity allows people to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the reef. Along with this luxury comes the responsibility of looking after and protecting the largest living coral system in the world.
Knowledge is critical and this is one of the main driving factors Cairns reef tour operators take the responsibility of educating guests on their presence on the reefs, the dangers and protection needed to help maintain a healthy reef system.
For example, cleaning up after yourself, not throwing rubbish overboard, not touching the reef, keeping sunscreen to a minimum to stop oily residues residing over the reefs. Common sense in the end always prevails but Cairns Reef Tour operators will explain a bunch of safety factors that help to preserve this amazing natural beauty.
Scenic Flights over The Great Barrier Reef:
The Great Barrier Reef can be enjoyed by snorkelers & scuba divers throughout the year and although this is the main Cairns Reef Tour activity, another way that many people like to appreciate the reef is by the air. Two of the most popular Cairns Reef Tours by air to try is a helicopter or fixed wing aircraft.
Helicopters have the ability to be very agile and are highly maneuverable, allowing you to turn and swoop down low to see any marines species that maybe visible by the air. Whales, turtles, giant manta rays, and sometimes tiger sharks can be seen from a scenic helicopter flight over the Great Barrier Reef.
The other popular way to see the reef from the air is by fixed wing aircraft like a Cessna 172. These small fixed wing aircraft are much cheaper to run than helicopters so consequently the price to fly in one is also allot cheaper. Also being small and lightweight a Cessna 172 is also another fantastic way to fly around at 600/800ft above the reef and spot many marine species and the vast coral systems of The Great Barrier Reef.
Aboriginal Culture and its existence with The Great Barrier Reef:
The aboriginal people of Cairns and Port Douglas have lived in harmony with The Great Barrier Reef for thousands of years. There strong bond and relationship with the natural Earth has allowed them to use the reef and marine species to help them survive.
Aboriginal peoples have maintained a healthy relationship with the natural coastal areas of The Great Barrier Reef. Hunting for fish, crabs and sting rays on low tide with handmade spears has allowed them to collect and consume seafood. An aboriginal delicacy is turtle, the culture is to use the whole turtle, nothing is wasted and the shell will be used as a canvas for painting or storing seeds and other foods.
Two famous local tribes are the Kuku Yalanji Tribe located in and around Port Douglas and North into Cape Tribulation National Park. Also the more local Cairns Irukandji people have a strong association with the coastal areas of The Great Barrier Reef.
Aboriginal arts depicting the Great Barrier Reef, corals, reef fish and many marine species can be found in many aboriginal art galleries in both Cairns and Port Douglas. make sure to visit these galleries while you are here and take home a unique souvenir for family and friends.
Great Barrier Reef Tours in Conclusion:
Cairns Reef Tours offer a wide variety of options to get you to The Great Barrier Reef. To summarize, in general, every Great Barrier Reef tour operator will offer fantastic service. All offer snorkeling, some offer introductory scuba diving and certified scuba diving. Some outer reef pontoon operators offer helmet diving and underwater semi-submarines and glass bottom boats.
Whatever skill level you have, spending time in or out of the water. There is something for everybody to help you enjoy visiting the largest living coral system in the world, The Great Barrier Reef.
If you have any questions regarding a Great Barrier Reef tour either snorkeling or scuba diving from Cairns. Contact us for more advice and assistance. FREECALL: 1800 833 304. Or send us an email – [email protected]