Best Place to Snorkel Great Barrier Reef


Best Place to Snorkel Great Barrier Reef


How to find the Best Place to Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef!


If you are planning a holiday to Australia and want to experience the Great Barrier Reef at its best. Then you should travel to Cairns in Tropical North Queensland.


The main reason we suggest this is The Great Barrier Reef is at it’s closest point to Cairns than any other part of The Great Barrier Reef along the entire East Coast of Australia.


There is lots of talk and hype coming from the major Australian and Queensland Tourism marketing bodies about where to snorkel and dive on the reef. But the truth is you should look at Google Maps and actually see for yourself where the reef is located.


There are two major areas that are touted as the best place to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. Cairns and the Whitsundays.


If you want to see the reef from the Whitsundays then you really need to travel a long way offshore to find the Great Barrier Reef. The inside edge of the reef is more than 65klm offshore from the Whitsundays. That means a really long day traveling just to get to the inside edge of the reef.


Better to fly to Cairns, take a 15min Taxi to your Cairns hotel. Take a 5 min walk to the Reef Fleet Terminal to check in for a high-speed outer reef boat that takes less than 1 hour 15 min to arrive on the pristine Outer Barrier Reef Systems. It is on these Outer Barrier Reef systems you will find the best places to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef.


See the Google Map below that shows the contour of the Great Barrier Reef as it travels further and further away from Australia the further South you travel from Cairns!



The other factor to include is snorkeling from an Island or from the back of an Outer Reef Boat. Now snorkeling from an Island sounds like a great idea. But in general you will always have low visibility around the Islands. Why?


You have large volumes of water coming in on high tide and going out on low tide. All this water is washing around the Island and shallow sandy beaches stirring up the visibility. An Island is usually also built up of over thousands of years where the Ocean is constantly dumping sand in that area making it very shallow.


So the Idea of walking off the beach to snorkel will give you a little taster of what the reef will look like. It is not the best option for snorkeling on the reef.


You are much better jumping on a day boat that travels as far as possible offshore away from the mainland and close to the continental shelf of Australia.


Number – 01: You are a long way away from Human impacts like farming, Cities, Rivers and any other issues that these bring.


Number-02: You are near the 1000m wall of the continental shelf. This brings Nutrient rich waters from the deep coral sea flushing up onto the Outer Reef Systems. In turn providing very clear healthy water allowing sunlight to penetrate and assist in the growth of corals growing and feeding.


When you arrive at the Outer Reef all day boats will Moore at the permanent mooring lines. This is to save boats dropping anchors and wiping out parts of the reefs. You will also find the crew on all the day reef boats super helpful and informative.


The number one rule is never touch anything. In general, most things on the Great Barrier Reef won’t hurt you. But there are a few little critters than can spike, jab and burn you. So in general don’t touch anything it shouldn’t touch you.


This rule also serves in helping to save the reef from human impact.


Once in the water put on your snorkel, fins and mask. Do a little practice breathing while hanging around at the back of the boat. Make sure your mask is not leaking. Clear all the hair on your head away and if you are a man it is always advised to shave your top lip to keep a good seal on your mask.


Nearly all companies will off some mask cleaner to put on the inside glass of your mask. This will help stop your mask fogging up.


Now once in the water, mask is cleared and not leaking, you are feeling nice relaxed and comfortable its time to swim and kick over to the reef. Generally, only a 3 or 4 minutes swim and you will be on amazing bright colorful reefs. Thousands of fish and thousands of species of corals.




Nearly all Cairns reef tour companies will provide what’s called a lycra suit. These are a thin 1mm lycra suit that prevents against sunburn as you are snorkeling. But also serves to protect you against jelly fish during the Summer months of November, December, January, February, March and April.


Jelly fish do move around when they are present so talk to your dive boat captain on the day of travel to find the latest information regarding jelly fish.


With the Great Barrier Reef home to thousands of species of fish, crustations, mammals and other marine organisms it does pay to talk to you dive boat crew. Often they will take you on a small private guided tour and explain some of marine species you are looking at.


If you have a little bit of time in Cairns before you visit the reef you should go and educate yourself at Reef Teach Cairns. Reef teach is a Great Barrier Reef education session aimed at teaching you about the basic species of fish and corals that you can expect to find while you are out on the reef. Well worth the visit.




At the end of the day, the more time you can spend out on the reef weather it be the Whitsundays or Cairns you can only see so much in one day.


We recommend to visit the reef on several different occasions over different times in your life and at different parts thru out the year. The Reef is over 2300klm long and is made up of thousands of individual reef systems. You really need a lifetime to really see it all.


Have a look at our selection of Cairns Snorkel Tours , have fun and enjoy yourself in our little slice of paradise, Cairns The Great Barrier Reef Australia!


Comments are welcome please ask your questions below:

Clint Carroll

Clint Carroll - Chief Travel writer and Scuba Diving enthusiast at Cairns Tour Info. Follow him on Twitter.

Do you need help choosing?

Can't decide? We have personally been on every Cairns reef and diving trip. We can help you choose the best tour, to suit your experience and budget.


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