Everything you need to know about taking a Great Barrier reef tour

When Pad and I were in Australia, one of our major highlights was the snorkelling trip we took from Cairns, to The Great Barrier Reef.

Beforehand though, whilst planning the trip, I had so many questions I needed answers to.

– Which company should we sail with?

– Which town is best for taking tours from?

– What should we wear?

– Is there anything the tour won’t provide that I should take with me?

– How long does it take? 

I literally knew nothing about all these things and had to do so much research to figure all this stuff out. Hopefully this blog post will answer all those questions for you, and then some.

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Which town / city should you use as your Barrier Reef base? 

Pad and I took our tour from Cairns – but to be honest if we were to do it again, I’d stop in a different town and take a tour from somewhere a bit nicer – like Noosa or the Whitsundays. Cairns isn’t overly great, so if you can choose a town that you can actually enjoy during the following days when you’ve finished the tour.

The following places all have Great Barrier Reef tours going out of them (either by boat, or for the further afield towns, like Noosa, by seaplane):

Cairns, Townsville, Airlie Beach (and Whitsunday Island, Hamilton island, etc), Mackay and Noosa.

My personal recommendation would be to stop on Hamilton or Hayman Island (expensive – but holy crap, so gorgeous) and then do a reef trip from there, you could even fly to the reef via seaplane. When we head back to Oz on our honeymoon next year, this will be our plan. 

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Which company should I go with? 

We sailed with Tusa Dive, and it was fantastic, they were seriously great. Our trip was on a stormy (very windy and rocky) day and they really took care of us, and made sure everyone was comfortable. I’m a very confident swimmer, but for the less confident swimmers out there I imagine the weather and roughness of the water would’ve been a bit daunting. But they made sure everyone got in, and totally enjoyed the experience.

A few other companies worth looking at are;

Diving Cairns

Quick Silver Cruises

Green Island Reef Cruises

Reef Experience, Australia

Cruise Whitsundays

Sea Star Cruises

Down Under Cruise and Dive

In terms of price, you should be looking at around $100 – $200 (Australian Dollars) for an all day snorkelling tour. If you’re diving the price will go up steeply.

Here is us looking all happy and reefy….

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What is included in a tour? 

This will vary depending on which company you opt for, but if you’re going on an all day snorkelling or diving tour, you’ll usually get the following things included…

– Snorkel mask

– Flippers

– Wetsuit or stingray suit (you will usually always have to wear these, just to protect you from getting stung by sting rays or jelly fish)

– Any floatation devices if needed

– Lunch, snacks and drinks

– Instruction if necessary

It’s always worth checking on the company website though – as they’ll be able to tell you exactly what’s included and what to expect.

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A few extra things I’d recommend taking with you;

– Seasickness tablets (and take one with your breakfast before you set off too) 

– An under-water camera (you can buy cheap ones from Amazon for like £30 now, or alternatively, you can rent an expensive one or GoPro from most tour companies) 

– A few extra towels (because one is never enough!)

– Something to read, there is a lot of waiting around at times, so this is crucial

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  • I did this on my trip in Australia, I don’t really like getting in the sea but I faced my fear and it was an unbelievable sight to see!
    Lots of love,
    Angie
    SilverSpoon London

    • ellerosetweets

      So glad you did it Angie! It’s so beautiful! x

  • My husband and I visited NZ & Australia in October 2013 and also went snorkeling out of Cairns. We had the same feeling about Cairns…we wish we would have chosen a different town. We did the tour through Quicksilver and while the crew and overall experience was great, the coral was a bit disappointing. Not very colorful at all. Maybe it was just the area we went to because the pictures you have of coral are much brighter!

    • ellerosetweets

      Hi Megan, I felt the same about the coral – although I think we got lucky by the sounds of it, if yours wasn’t as colourful. Maybe I had pictured Finding Nemo in my head! 🙂

      I found when I was down there though my attention was more on the fish than the coral – so I didn’t mind so much really. x

  • Francesca Beckett

    I love your blog Ellie – but you can’t do reef trips from Noosa the reef ends way before that part of the coast. Also Diving Cairns is a travel agent company not an actual reef trip… I work as a travel agent in Cairns so I should know!

    • ellerosetweets

      Hey Francesca 🙂 The reef trips from Noosa are definitely possible – they aren’t by boat though, they’re by seaplane – so you can do it, it just costs a bit more money. The plane then drops you with a dive company raft out on the reef for the day. Lovely way to see the reef if you can afford it! 🙂

      And thanks for the heads up about Diving Cairns, I wasn’t trying to specifically list reef tours, more companies that might be helpful for anyone looking – hopefully they would be! 🙂 x

      • Oh gosh how angry does my first comment sound now I’ve read it back!!! Noosa for me still isn’t a good point to leave from, you have to travel such a long way north to get to Lady Elliot and it’s juuuuuust on the very bottom of the reef.

        The further north you go the less coral is affected by runoff from farmers and it comes closer to land meaning less travel time and more reef time, so if you wanted a ‘nicer’ place than Cairns as a base Port Douglas might suit better. Then you can visit the Daintree too!

        You did a good job choosing Tusa though, they’re one of my favourites and it’s how I initially found your blog when they posted your write up on their facebook page x