The outer barrier reef is a myriad of submerged reefs and barely visible sand cays, with the jury still out on whether it’s better to depart from Cairns or Port Douglas.
For an easy introductory reef trip, one of the powerful cats that moor at a pontoon might be best. For something a little more intimate, a smaller sail or motor yacht might float your boat. Hardcore divers would be best among their own kind on a dedicated dive vessel. The Low Isles is an appealing option for those who don’t want to travel far but still want terrific snorkelling. But if boats really aren’t your thing, perhaps a seaplane or helicopter is the go.
DAYTRIPS FROM CAIRNS
Permanently moored pontoons at Moore and Norman Reef are equipped with semi submersible boats, underwater observatories and helipads. Reef Magic 2 (www.reefmagiccruises.com) is a 28m power cat cruising to the Marineworld Pontoon at Moore Reef.
Great Adventures (www.greatadventures.com.au) take guests to their pontoon at Norman Reef on either of three vessels between 22m and 35m for up to 350 guests.
Fast cat Silverswift (www.silverseries.com.au) visits three dive sites at Thetford, Milln and Flynn Reefs.
Ocean Spirit Cruises (www.oceanspirit.com.au) operate lavish sailing cats for between 80 and 150 passengers to Oyster and Upolu Reefs or Michaelmas Cay.
LIVEABOARDS FROM CAIRNS
Pro Dive (www.prodive-cairns.com.au) operates three 23m dive boats, while Taka is a 30m vessel equipped for seriously comfortable outer reef dive expeditions.
Akin to a private yacht, the 37m luxurious Spirit of Freedom (www.spiritoffreedom.com.au) accommodates 26 guests while Rum Runner (www.rumrunnercairns.com.au) is a 20m sailing schooner that squeezes in 16 adventurous guests for cruising and diving.
DAY TRIPS FROM PORT DOUGLAS
Sailing cat Wavedancer (www.quicksilvergroup.com.au) sails to Low Isles, the 29m fast cat Silversonic (www.silverseries.com.au) powers out to Agincourt Reefs, or the 37m wave-piercing cat Quicksilver 5 travels to Agincourt Reef pontoon. One of the few wheelchair accessible options, the pontoon has all the usual toys including helipad.
Somewhat slower and far more laidback is the Chinese Junk Shaolin (www.shaolinportdouglas.com), sailing 23 guests to the Low Isles.
LIVEABOARD FROM PORT DOUGLAS
The ultimate outer reef experience for big spenders, the 26m Galaxy (www.galaxycharters.com) accommodates six overnight guests, or 12 on a day trip, in indulgent elegance with the entire yacht at your disposal. In keeping with Captain Nick Atkinson’s motto of “yes we can”, just ask Nick about his favourite secret dive spot and he’ll take you there.