I almost forgot to mention that you should definitely either rent an underwater camera or bring one with you to the reef. It would be a real shame to come home without any pictures of the beautiful underwater scenery. And if you're not a diver, don't worry. Neary everyone on our boat (including myself) simply snorkeled around the area. The water is shallow enough that you can see almost everything without strapping on an air tank and diving all the way down. In fact, you can reach the bottom in a lot of places simply by taking a deep breath.
The Quicksilver boat docks at a floating platform anchored near the ege of the Outer Great Barrier Reef. From there you can see where the reef ends and the vast open expanse of the Pacific Ocean begins. Just beyond the reef, where you can see all the breakers crashing against the coral, is the greatest concentration of great white sharks in the entire world. Fortunately for us, the reef keeps most of those nasty fellows out.
You can sign up for one of many daily cruises to the Great Barrier Reef for a day of snorkelling and scuba diving. The water is so clear and the clarity so god, that it feels like you're snorkelling in a pool. The colurful reefs are not very deep, so you can see the reef life clearly from the surface. Of course, if you prefer a closer encounter, you can opt for scuba diving.
My 2nd reef outing was with CDC Cairns Dive Centre on board the "Sun-kiss". This is a much larger operation that the "Noah's Ark Too", so the group is larger and certainly less personal.
The "Sun-kiss" is a much larger and newer boat though it did little to withstand the 25 knots wind toying with the boat that day. The winds were rocking the boat from one side to another out in the open sea and quite a number of folks were turning blue. The team of enthuiastic young minders were pretty strict, refusing to let anyone stand up. The good thing about a more powerful machine is that we reached the calmer waters of Moore Reef a lot more faster (at about 1.5-2 hours).
Same safety wetsuits and safety vests requirements. (I guess that was the standard) No buffet lunch but cups of hot tea/coffee instead. (Then again, it is a torture snorkeling with a full stomach!)
I got to snorkel at different parts of Moore Reef..but in slightly deeper waters. The corals are more colourful here as well.
Again, emphasis was placed on the divers...then again, they paid more (grin)
Like the "Noah's Ark Too", the boat leaves from Marlin Jetty at about 8.30-9.00am and you'll be back in Cairns at around 5-5.30pm.
Was charged A$70 for the 1-day session (circa June 2003).
The main reason for most people to visit Cairns is to go out to the Great Barrier Reef. There's a big choice of operators offering all kinds of trips. It's not really cheap, expect to pay around 100 AU$ for a snorkelling trip. When booking a trip, make sure the quoted price does include the reef tax and fuel levy.
If you want to learn scuba diving, quite a few schools are based here and offer all kinds of courses.
Take a trip to the Great Barrier Reef - one of the natural wonders of the world. We took a boat ride out to Green Island on the reef where we spent the day enjoying the water and the sun as well as observing the reef creatures through the underwater observatory and the glass-bottomed boat tour. Photo of Green Island dock as our boat approached.
Tour package with Quicksilver group. I highly recommend them -- their bus picks you up from your hotel for about $15 additional, if you are in the Cairns area (probably not so much if you are in Pt. Douglas). Catamaran takes you out to a far outer reef area, so you get the benefit of not being amongst more spoiled area. Morning tea is served before the catamaran leaves (you can have coffee or tea, along with cookies). The catamaran goes out to a huge station where a very nice buffet lunch is served for about 2 hours. Also served afternoon tea just before the catamaran set sale for land -- crackers and cheese with the tea this time.
I was there during stinger season, so stinger suits were pushed and recommended. They weren't "rented", but a "cleaning fee" of $5 is required, which is quite reasonable.
I had brought a waterproof camera, but they rented digital cameras for $66, with a capacity of about 250 pictures, and you got the card out of the camera -- kinda wish I had done that.
Fresh water showers are available on the platform, but not many. Just a few changing rooms. I made the most of my time in the water, but was very lucky in my time jumping in the shower and changing room. They are not kidding when the talk about heading back to shore.
They have feeding times at one of the platforms, and I swear there are fish that are pets -- is quite something to see. One fish was GY-NORMOUS, but couldn't get a picture of him.
There are tables all about the platform to set your belongings out on, but no place "secure", although it did not seem to be a major problem.
Cost per person was U.S. $148 for everything (stinger suit the $5 additional).
Go out and see the great barrier reef! The reef, one of the natural wonders of the world, is easily accessible by coach to Port Douglas (about 1.5 hours away from Cairns). Most companies have their own shuttle services.
We chose to snorkel with quicksilver. I was hesitant after reading some reviews about going with very large companies, but I decided that the large boat was probably better because I get sea sick. We had a great experience with them!
First, they pick you up from aroudn Cairns (or wherever you are) and shuttle everyone to the pier at Port Douglas. If you did not prepay, you will have to go inside and get your boarding passes before getting on the boat. The boat was a large and spacious boat with plenty of room for everyone! There were outdoor and indoor areas. Inside you could order drinks/snacks.
We went out to the far section of the reef, right off the continental shelf. It took about 1.5 hours to get there by boat. Once there, they served lunch almost right away. There was plenty of snorkel gear (enough for everyone). When we started snorkelling, they had some fish feeding near the platform -- it was really interesting to see some of the fish fight and devour the food!
The reef itself was really shallow where we were - in fact parts of it were above water! This was great because all the coral was shallow and it was really easy to see the coral and the fish and the different colors. Just remember not to touch or harm the coral!
In addition to snorkelling, we were able to take a submarine like vessel (free) to get a tour of the coral up close. This was fantastic because it was guided by a marine biologist and is perfect if there are any non swimmers in the group. They also have helicopter rides, scuba diving and sea walking if you want.
All the companies charge about the same. I highly recommend quicksilver.
We had to show up early in the morning, because the Compass was leaving from the Marlin Marina at 8 am. First we had to fill a form with a kind of a health check (don’t understand why they don’t do this when booking your cruise !!). The Compass is one of the smaller boats and not too modern, but it has its own charm.
On the way to the reefs we first had to do some ‘ridiculous’ gymnastic exercises. Later on we got instructions about our snorkelling adventure, specially the safety procedures and there was a video about the sea and reef life.
We made a first stop at Hastings Reef, but to be honest snorkelling was not as easy as it seemed at the instruction on board. We were happy with a trip by a glass bottom with a very nice and patient staff member. He explained a lot about the reefs and the fishes we saw in this wonderful world.
After lunch on board of the Compass we sailed to Breaking Patches, another reef. First I and my wife did some swimming together in the Coral Sea (just fun to do), before I tried again to do some snorkelling and the second attempt was much better.
It was really amazing , overwhelming and breathtaking; the colours, the different kinds of coral, the fishes sometimes in schools together, the clear water.
On the way back to Cairns we enjoyed the sun and the wind (don’t forget your sunscreen), a fruit buffet, cheese and a glass of wine. Fore the youngsters the Compass offered ‘boom netting’. There was also a possibility to buy pictures, which had been made during the day, but asking AUD 15,- for just one photo is a kind of a tourist trap.
It was 6 pm when we arrived in Cairns after a wonderful day, which really was ‘a once in a lifetime experience’.
Great Barrier Reef Dive & Snorkel Adventures (or Compass Cruises).:
Full day Outer Reef: AUD 60,- , including lunch, coffee, tea, fruit and cheese, wine, snorkel equipment, boom netting. Not included: wet suit, bus transfers, reef tax, port charge, fuel levy and management levy.
You can't go to Cairns without going to the Great Barrier Reef. I have been to the reef on 3 different vessels, but nothing compares to the live-onboard vessel called Reef Encounter. Try their night dive if you are into diving.
Of course you have to see one the seven wonders of the world when to opportunity arrives. You can take boat rides every morning from the habour.
It's possible to either snorkle or dive, diving is prefered, since you can get closer to the reef sharks when diving. Don't worry they aren't dangerous, they're not bigger than you are.
‘Of course’ everybody who comes to Cairns wants to visit the Great Barrier Reef. But do we really know what we want to do, or book we just one of these cruises without knowing what they are offering exactly ??
Do you want to go just to a tropical island (with or without snorkelling), diving , snorkelling, sailing ??
Are you looking for a big boat with lots of tourists, which brings you to a pontoon to spend the whole day ??
How many staff members are on a boat and available for divers or snorkellers ??
Do you want to see the reefs with a ‘submarine’ or glass bottom boat and how long are such trips ??
Questions which you should ask yourself and afterwards your travel agent in Cairns to be sure you get what you wanted !!
first time snorkeller
Tell you the story of our visit to the reef. We never had been snorkelling before, but intended to do it on the Great Barrier Reef. We had a recommendation of a friend to take Great Barrier Reef Dive & Snorkel Adventures (also called Compass Cruises).
- we got some almost unintelligible – noise and Australian accent – instructions;
- the staff was more interested in divers than snorkellers;
- there was just ONE staff member for first timers !!
- my wife didn’t dare to snorkel at all under these circumstances and I (and others) had to practice myself.
I would NOT recommend other ‘first time snorkellers’ to make the cruise to the Great Barrier Reef with Compass Cruises !!
An absolute must! Book one of the very popular and also completely touristy daytrips to the reef. But the beauty of Gret Barrier Reef is all the touristy crap worthwhile. They get you out on their plattform at the Outer Reef by boat. There you spend an entire day with different activities: snorkelling, glass bottom boat, semi sub (well you sit in some kind of underwater glass tank and they drive you around great barrier reef where you can enjoy the beauty of world's largest reef. And if you care: you don't even get wet), large BBQ. Everything is included in the price for the trip. If you choose other activities like scuba diving, helmet diving or a helicopter triper over great barrier reef, you have to pay extra. But you don't need to do those extra things. Your day is fully packed, at least if you like to snorkel as we did.
The amount of underwater life way out here so close to the edge of the reef and the open ocean beyond is astounding. Everywhere you look you'll find coral formations surrounded by fish and other creatures of all kinds.
I thought l had died and gone to heaven snorkling in the Great Barrier Reef. I went out with a well know company, who were informative, and helpful. A marine biologist was on hand to answer questions and if you wanted to do a dive, beginners especailly welcome you had the option. Lunch was also served on board.