Whether you’re up for snorkelling, diving or perhaps witnessing a mass coral spawning event, these Far North Queensland tours of the Great Barrier Reef will put you at the heart of the action in sustainable style.
Spend a day onboard Quicksilver’s wave-piercing catamaran to dive or snorkel the underwater wonderland of the Agincourt ribbon reef. Prefer to stay dry? With Quicksilver’s underwater observatory and semi-submersible coral reef viewing tour – during which you’ll experience a diver’s view of the reef in air-conditioned comfort – you can do just that without missing a beat. For an extra-exhilarating day out, climb aboard Quicksilver’s Silversonic for five hours on the reef across three different environments; if you’re in Cairns, you can hop on the super-speedy Silverswift.
Snorkelling specialist Wavelength offers a leisurely day on the outer reef with small groups (maximum 34 people) and a high level of interpretation: its experienced marine biologists provide guided snorkel tours and reef talks for a genuine debrief on the Great Barrier Reef and the environmental threat it faces.
Leading eco-tourism operator Sailaway also offers snorkelling tours with marine biologists on hand as well as relaxing sailing tours, which – running mostly on wind power – offer the most sustainable way to experience the Great Barrier Reef. Plus $20 from every ticket sold goes towards local sustainable reforestation and carbon-offsetting. Enjoy exclusive access to dreamy Mackay and Undine cays, with their vast areas of coral gardens perfect for snorkelling and witnessing giant clams, turtles and fish life up close.
Calypso Reef Cruises
A great pick for families, Calypso Reef Cruises offers a range of trips to the Great Barrier Reef suitable for all ages. Choose to snorkel, scuba dive (children over 12 only) or spend a half-day cruising to the picturesque Low Isles – just 15 kilometres off the coast from of Port Douglas, and made up of two small coral cay islands surrounded by 22 hectares of reef – where you can snorkel or view the reef from a glass-bottom boat.
Divers Den offers a range of Great Barrier Reef tours to snorkellers, first-time divers and certified divers, but for something truly different mark your calendar for just after the full moon in spring or early summer. Divers Den offers the unique chance to witness the Great Barrier Reef’s annual mass coral spawning (which, by the way, has been described as the biggest sexual event on the planet).
These special night trips departing from Cairns get divers and snorkellers up close as all the corals on the reef reproduce at once. It’s a dazzling and otherworldly display that looks like millions of champagne bubbles forming a massive pink slick on the ocean’s surface, and unlike anything you’ll experience anywhere else.
Passions of Paradise
With its small-group tours aboard a 25-metre sailing catamaran and a passion for reef education and protection at its core, Passions of Paradise is at the forefront of sustainable reef tourism. Journey from Cairns to unique outer reef locations to dive and snorkel with turtles, colourful fish and see a variety of corals. Opt for a full-day tour, with its chance to meet with an eco-accredited marine naturalist onboard, a family tour or an eco tour, designed for environmentally minded certified divers who want to take part in citizen science and contribute to ongoing reef conservation projects.
Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel
You’ll see three flags flying above the Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel vessel: Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait, which reflect the heritage mix of its Indigenous ranger staff. This is the first Great Barrier Reef snorkel and dive experience to combine Indigenous cultural interpretation, delivering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the largest living structure on Earth.
You’ll visit Milln, Flynn and Thetford reefs in Gunggandji Sea Country and throughout the day receive an Indigenous welcome and acknowledgment, learn about the Great Barrier Reef creation story, taste bush foods and tuck into a native-ingredient laced lunch spread.
Board the Wavedancer, Quicksilver Cruises’ 30-metre luxury sailing catamaran, and sail for an hour from Port Douglas to an unspoiled tropical paradise called the Low Isles. Spend the day alternating between the shade of a palm-thatched umbrella on silky white sand and swimming and snorkelling around coral gardens, home to clownfish and turtles and more, in this clear and calm Great Barrier Reef lagoon.
Combine boat and beach time on a chilled day out from Cairns with Ocean Spirit Cruises. A two-hour motorised sail onboard a 32-metre sailing catamaran will land you at Michaelmas Cay, a small sand cay encircled by a spectacular fringing reef.
It’s also a protected sanctuary for migratory seabirds. Once here, opt for a snorkel in the cay’s shallow waters, try an introductory scuba dive, cruise the semi-submarine for a diver’s perspective on the reef, watch a fish-feeding presentation, observe the bird life or simply relax in your own little slice of paradise. This is both an eco- and family-friendly option.
For a day out on a rainforest-clad coral cay, head for Green Island National Park. Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises whisks you there from Cairns to snorkel, dive and swim in its bath-like warm waters; to see the reef from a semi-submarine or a glass-bottom boat; or to spend time exploring the island, which holds traditional and contemporary cultural significance for the Guru-Gulu Gungandji people. While here, you can also take the opportunity to visit the unique Marineland, a crocodile sanctuary, aquarium and Melanesian museum combined.
Start the day with a rainforest river cruise before a quick skip – the shortest open water crossing of any day tour from Cairns – to Normanby Island in Frankland Islands National Park, which places you right on the Great Barrier Reef with its vibrant fringing reefs teeming with all manner of marine life including turtles, octopuses and anemone clownfish, aka Nemos. Explore this natural paradise above and below water over four hours, with only 50 people permitted to visit these pristine, uninhabited islands per day.
Ideally located between Cairns and the outer Great Barrier Reef, a stay at Fitzroy Island Resort rewards with serious reef proximity. While here, you can enjoy a day out on Moore Reef Pontoon with Sunlover Reef Cruises. Spend four hours reef-side with inclusions such as snorkelling, glass-bottom boat rides, an underwater observatory and a marine life touch tank, topped off by a tropical buffet lunch.
With its vibrant marine life and reef just steps off the beach, exclusive hideaway Lizard Island provides some of the best snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. Join a reef tour onboard a luxury yacht – if you can manage to peel yourself away from the sybaritic temptations of the world-class resort – to explore world-famous dive sites such as the Cod Hole, only 45 minutes from shore.
Or join a guided snorkel tour around the island, which take you through the Clam Gardens – complete with countless species of clams – and have you snorkelling with the island’s resident green turtles. Or, for the ultimate Great Barrier Reef excursion, Lizard Island can tee you up with your own private charter.
For more travel tips and itineraries read our Ultimate guide to visiting the Great Barrier Reef.