Guide to choosing Snorkelling and Great Barrier Reef Trips

There are two main kinds of reef trips available in the tropical North Queensland region around Cairns, a pontoon trip or a variety of vessel based trips. Alternatively, you have the option of a day trip to an Island with a fringing reef.

You will have a great time on all different kinds of reef trips, but some trips are more suitable than others for families, less fit people or non swimmers.

Here is a quick run down on of your options for snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef in Tropical North Queensland.

Pontoon Reef Trips

A Pontoon Reef trip, where the boat takes you out to a permanent pontoon set up at the great Barrier Reef is a great option for many travellers but particularly for the following:

  • Those wanting the freedom to snorkel around unguided in a set area
  • Families with children
  • Less strong swimmers (there are ropes you can hold on to)
  • Unfit or older adults (resting platforms and ropes to hold on to)
  • Groups with Non Swimmers – glass bottom boats & observatories
  • People who get seasick – rest on a secure platform between boat journeys (but do take your sea sick tablets there and back!)

Pontoons can be busier but tend to quieten down in the water after most people have been for their first snorkel. There are so many benefits like being able to get in and out of the water for as many snorkels as you like or staying in the water longer by using ropes and rest stations.

I recently made the mistake as a non-fit person (but usually a strong swimmer but was recovering from being sick) to try a non pontoon trip (to try something new after several pontoon trips). I ended up pretty devastated as I missed out on the second snorkel because it was a rough day and I struggled to keep up with the group – I wouldn’t have had this issue and would have got more time in the water had I chosen a pontoon trip.

Book Pontoon Great Barrier Reef Trips from Cairns

Tours open on Viator (see tours from multiple local companies)

If you would like to do an introductory dive at the Pontoon, get in touch with Sunlover Cruises to book it directly.

Boat based Great Barrier Reef Trips

For fitter people who are strong swimmers a boat based Great Barrier Reef trip is an excellent option to explore different snorkel, dive and moores on the Great Barrier Reef.

  • Great for good swimmers
  • Have flexibility in mooring choices on days with non-ideal conditions
  • A more natural experience without human infrustructure
  • Good choice for certified divers as a variety of different vessel and mooring locations are available
  • Explore different parts of the reef with different companies by booking more than one day trip

Book vessel based Great Barrier Reef Trips from Cairns

Tours open on Get Your Guide (see tours from multiple local companies)

Day trip to Island Snorkelling

An Island day trip can be a great option if you’re looking for a shorter journey time, prefer snorkelling off the beach and would like other options of things to do like a bar or bushwalks.

Keep in mind the reef around some of these islands are higher use zones (they are trying to rejuvenate the reef in some spots) – I have literally watched a cairns local chuck their anchor down on a coral bommie at an island off the coast of cairns while I was snorkelling (though this is the exception not the rule). The snorkelling still offers great chances to see fish and some coral and sea turtles are commonly spotted snorkelling near the islands.

Benefits of an island snorkelling trip:

  • Have the option to return to dry land
  • Go for as many snorkels as you like
  • May have other activities available

The two main Islands off the coast of Cairns that are easy to visit are Fitzroy Island (great trip to bushwalk, snorkel and try and spot turtles then finish with a cocktail or beer at the bar) or Green Island. Both of these are relaxed island resorts not some uber luxury 6 star mega resort so go expecting barefoot island vibes.

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