Snorkelling The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef was at the top of our list of things to do in Australia. We’ve been slowly working our way up the East coast from Melbourne and having finally arrived in Cairns we got straight onto researching the best way to visit the Reef.
Choosing a Great Barrier Reef Tour
There are lots of tours to see the The Great Barrier Reef available in Cairns. We did some research and took advice from our Helpx hosts who have lived here all their lives before deciding on who to go with. In the end we narrowed it down to two choices:
Sea Star run a small boat (maximum 35 people) and visit Michaelmas Cay (which is also a bird sanctuary) and the Hastings Reef. This trip was recommended to us by our hosts who have been out to the reef with them 5 times and never had a bad experience. We liked the fact that they visit 2 locations which are quite different and go to the outer reef for one of them which was a must for us. They are also reasonably priced at $195 including fees etc.
Pros – Small Boat, visits an outer reef location, recommended by locals and Trip Advisor, under $200.
Cons – Only one outer reef location visited.
Silverswift offer a larger boat (60 – 70 people) and will visit 3 different outer reef locations from a choice of 16. In theory this sounds great but it does mean you aren’t sure exactly which reefs you’ll see. They have great reviews on Trip Advisor. The cost for the snorkelling tour is $210.
Pros – Visit 3 outer reef locations, great reviews.
Cons – More people on board, not sure which reefs you will visit.
I’m sure either of these would’ve led to a great day but in the end we decided to go with Sea Star Cruises. We were not disappointed!
Our Great Barrier Reef Adventure
Our day started at 7:30am, it actually felt a bit chilly this early in the morning (not sure how we’re going to hack it when we get back to the UK!) but the sun was shining and it looked like a great day for our trip. We were greeted by the crew as we boarded and given a complimentary hot drink and a muffin. Once on board we picked a seat and were fitted for flippers, a mask and a stinger suit. I wore contact lenses but prescription masks are available free of charge. The crew were friendly and enthusiastic, helping out with any questions and regularly checking to make sure everyone was happy.
The ride was a bit choppy but from what we’ve heard this is par for the course for most reef trips! Moving downstairs on the boat will help out a lot and motion sickness tablets are available on board. Lisa took two just as a precaution but we didn’t have any problems. We had looked into buying tablets at the local pharmacy costing $12 for 10 and decided that was too expensive. On the boat you can buy them two at a time for $3. You should only need two per trip.
We arrived at the our first destination around 9:30am. On the way we were given a helpful brief about snorkelling and safety on the reef which was great for novices like us. They shared with us tips for clearing your mask and emptying your snorkel without removing them. We had a separate glass-bottom boat transfer us to Michaelmas Cay where we kitted up, posed for a photo and waddled into the water. As soon as we were in the water Lisa had a lady trying to swim over her head, it’s hard to see with the masks and flippers on and bumping into people was definitely a bit of a problem. We were really glad we’d gone for the smaller boat as it could’ve been much worse with double or triple the number of people in the water.
The water was beautifully clear and our snorkel guide was great at explaining what we were seeing and where to look. It was sometimes tricky to keep up and hear everything she was saying but I think this would be the case on any snorkel tour. After only a few minutes our guide signalled that she had spotted a turtle! I wasn’t sure if Lisa had noticed but soon spotted her homing in on our first turtle on the reef. We spent well over an hour exploring the reef and really enjoyed it. We’d heard mixed reports on Michaelmas Cay but we enjoyed it as part of our trip. It was easy to snorkel and we saw plenty of sea life including turtles and Clown fish which were two of our favourites.
At 11:30am we were served a buffet lunch. This was fine if a bit unexciting, there was plenty to go around though and we were full before we headed off to our next destination on the Hastings Reef.
The Hastings Reef
The trip here took around 20 minutes and on the way we were given a brief talk about some of the marine life we might encounter out on the outer reef. This was a very relaxed, informal talk but it was good to see some of the reef life we might spot and what to look out for. As the crew reiterated throughout the day they are not marine biologists so don’t expect too much from the talk.
Once we arrived it was back on with our (rather cold and wet) stinger suits and back into the water. It was much warmer in the water than out of it! The first thing we noticed here was how much deeper we were and how much more reef was around us. We really felt like we were on the Great Barrier Reef. The deeper water did mean quite strong currents in the water though, sometimes it was hard work keeping yourself on course and making sure you didn’t touch the reef. Lisa spent most of the time at this location trying to stop herself being pulled into the coral. Although she can breast stroke Lisa isn’t the strongest swimmer so found the swell a challenge. By chance she decided to take a noodle out at this location and it helped her enjoy the reef. We’d recommend this if you’re not a particularly strong swimmer.
We had another snorkel tour here but it was harder to follow than our first one because of the strong currents. I spotted a reef shark, a stone cod, a leopard sea cucumber and few other things we hadn’t spotted before. There were lots of colourful parrotfish around and our friend Christina even got up close to another turtle. The scenery was lovely here and it’s a good choice of reef to visit if you’re wondering where to go.
Once we’d finished snorkelling we had a chance to do a short tour on the glass-bottom boat which was interesting. We saw more turtles and several different types of coral.
At the end of the day the crew thanked us all as we departed and put up some fantastic pictures of our day on their Facebook page which was a great bonus. We thought we might need to pay to see these but they are totally free!
We really enjoyed our day snorkelling The Great Barrier Reef and is a must-do if you’re in Queensland. It’s a real ‘once in a lifetime’ trip that you won’t forget! Sea Star Cruises did a great job of making sure everyone on the trip was well looked-after and we loved having a smaller boat with less people when we were exploring the reef. If you come to Queensland make sure this is top of your itinerary!
Have you been to The Great Barrier Reef? We’d love to hear your stories and recommendations in the comments below