Great Barrier Reef
Seeing the entire Great Barrier Reef could take weeks, but the most important scuba diving and snorkeling spots include the Saxon, Hastings, and Norman reefs in the outer Great Barrier Reef. Join one of the area’s many snorkeling and scuba dive–centric cruises or day trips, or turn your trip into an educational opportunity by getting your PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certificate.
Alternatively, explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site from above with a cruise in a catamaran or a glass-bottom boat. Scenic helicopter flights offer an overview and will give you a sense of the immensity of this remarkable ecosystem.
Recent reviews from experiences in Cairns & the Tropical North
Things to Know Before You Go
The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia's most iconic and must-see attractions for all visitors.
Keep in mind that strenuous water activities are not recommended for people with medical conditions affecting the heart or lungs.
If you experience motion sickness, take preventative medication at least 30 minutes prior to boarding the boat.
A stinger suit to protect you from jellyfish is recommended to swim in the waters off Green and Fitzroy Islands or the Frankland Islands.
How to Get There
The Great Barrier Reef runs 1,426 miles (2,300 kilometers) from Bundaberg to Australia’s northernmost tip, coming closest to the continent right around Queensland. Scuba diving excursions, snorkeling trips, and reef cruises depart from Cairns, Cape Tribulation, Port Douglas, and Townsville. The boat ride from Cairns can take 45–90 minutes, depending where you’re headed.
When to Get There
The water is at its clearest from April to October, but the reef can be enjoyed all year round. From December to March (summertime in the Southern Hemisphere), the water temperature is around 86℉ (30℃). From May to August whales migrate to the reef, and in the spring the coral spawns.
A popular way to experience the Great Barrier Reef, Reefworld consists of two giant pontoons floating over Hardy Reef, one of the site’s smaller reefs. Here, you can snorkel, scuba dive, explore in semi-submersibles, or stay dry in an underwater viewing chamber. Tours to Reefworld depart from Port of Airlie, near Airlie Beach.
- Things to Do in Cairns with Kids
- Romantic Things to Do in Cairns and the Tropical North
- How to Spend 2 Days in Cairns
- Things to Do in Cairns This Summer
- Don't Miss These Must-Do Activities in Cairns and the Tropical North
- How to Spend 3 Days in Cairns & the Tropical North
- Things to Do in Cairns This Winter