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The Tour Specialists Tour Blog

Mar 13

Top 5 things to do on the Great Barrier Reef

Posted on March 13, 2019 by

Photo Courtesy Of Mike Ball Dive Expeditions

As a returned Cairns local with a long history working in the tourism industry, I have lost track of the number of times I have been out on a tour to the Great Barrier Reef.

So, after so many trips and so much time underwater, one might think that I have seen and done it all and have no interest in going back… Not at all! Never!

The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is one of the most diverse and dynamic environments on earth and what you can see in that beautiful watery world will change every single day.

As I have heard many a tour guide say, it’s a safari, not a zoo; and that’s what makes every visit unique and memorable, which of course means that your trip to the Great Barrier Reef will not be like anyone else’s.

So, with all of this underwater variety and so many choices of tours and activities, how can anyone possibly choose what to do?

Well, the good news is you can’t really get it wrong but, just in case you can’t really make a decision either, here are my top 5 recommendations, in no particular order, for some amazing experiences on the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef in Australia.


Photo Courtesy of Silverswift – Flynn Reef

Even if you’re not a certified scuba diver you can experience breathing underwater and swimming alongside the fish – and even a turtle if you’re lucky – for approximately 30 minutes whilst doing an introductory scuba dive.

And where better to try scuba diving than on the Great Barrier Reef? Your instructor will take care of all the technical stuff so all you’ll have to do is breathe, equalise and breathe some more.

Once you’ve got your head around the fact that you are actually breathing underwater, take some time to enjoy the sensation of floating through the ocean, several metres below the surface, while you and your dive instructor explore the coral gardens that are home to the amazing array of marine life on the reef.

Time permitting, there is also the option to take the next step and do a 4 or 5 day PADI dive course to acquire this new found skill and freedom.

What’s more, once you’re full certified as a scuba diver, you can even do a night dive. Which leads me to my next recommendation.


Photo Courtesy of Sunlover Cruises – Sleep On The Reef

Want to sleep on the reef, wake up on the reef and jump in the water in the early morning to watch the shift change as the bigger predator fish go to bed and the smaller fish come out for the day?

A liveaboard trip is the perfect way to experience ‘reef time’. Every marine creature has its own routine and being able to access the reef from early morning to late at night will give you the opportunity to see things the day-trippers won’t.

One of the highlights of my most recent liveaboard reef trip was coming across a school of huge humphead parrotfish suspended above a coral bommie, snoozing peacefully.

I also watched a turtle having breakfast. If seeing the reef in all of its incarnations appeals, there are options to suit every holiday style and budget: One night to 7 nights, packages for snorkellers, intro divers and certified divers, sailing boats, dive boats and even boats that are more like floating hotels.

And we have a really unique sleep on the reef tour right here in Cairns!

Just choose your trip and pack your swimwear. The reef awaits!


Photo Courtesy Of Great Adventures Green Island

Doesn’t a sundrenched sandy beach, fringed by palm trees and surrounded by crystal clear seas sound like paradise? We have that right here, just a short boat trip from Cairns. Green Island and Fitzroy Island are two stunning locations where you can pass your day snorkelling, taking a glass bottom boat or semi-submarine tour, walking on the beach and through the rainforest and having a relaxed lunch in one of the onsite restaurants. Not adventurous enough for you? Depending on which island you visit, you can add on a scuba dive, helmet dive, a sea kayaking tour or even a scenic helicopter flight. Do nothing or do everything. The choice is yours.


Photo Courtesy Of Quicksilver Crusies – Semi-Submersible Submarine

As a child I wanted to be a mermaid when I grew up and becoming a certified scuba diver was a huge step towards achieving this goal (and, being realistic, probably the closest I’ll ever get!).

Despite the fact that I am in what I call my ‘happy place’ when I am underwater swimming with the fish, I do understand that snorkelling and diving is not for everyone.

That’s where glass bottom boats, semi-submersible submarines and underwater observatories come in.

Even non-swimmers can enjoy a trip to one of the islands or to the outer reef on a tour that offers one or all of the above options.

I would particularly recommend the semi-submersible submarine as it gives you the opportunity to descend below the waterline and get eye to eye with the fish.

Non-swimmers could also consider doing a helmet dive. You will be underwater and you will get wet but there is no swimming required.

Just breath normally, walk slowly and take in the amazing view!


Photo Courtesy Of Mike Ball Dive Expeditions

As if the Cairns section of the Great Barrier Reef isn’t remarkable enough, between May and September we get some very special, very big, visitors.

At this time, humpback whales make their annual migration from the Antarctic to the warmer waters in the north and can often be seen from both day tour and liveaboard reef boats.

Dwarf minke whales join the humpbacks a few weeks later, with most sightings occurring in June and July.

Dwarf minkes grow up to eight metres in length, weigh several tonnes and are very inquisitive so, if you want the chance of an even closer encounter with these amazing creatures, join one of the reef day tours that have exclusive permits to swim with the minke whales.

Of course, there are no guarantees that you will see minke whales or that they will approach your boat on the day but you’ll still have a great time on the reef finding nemo and his friends.

However, if swimming with whales is a must do for you, reserve your place on one of the Minke Whale liveaboard expeditions that will take you up north to the magnificent Ribbon Reefs, and give you a much better chance of interacting with these playful and inquisitive creatures.

The dive sites on this part of the reef are spectacular but the good news for non-divers is that most interactions with minkes occur while snorkelling as these whales tend to stay away from scuba divers and are much more likely to approach snorkellers instead.

Floating about in the middle of the ocean, holding onto a surface rope and watching something so majestic, graceful and surprisingly curious approach you from the deep is a truly moving and unforgettable experience.

Yes, it is possible to cry whilst wearing a mask and snorkel…

This is of course just a sample of what’s on offer on our magnificent Great Barrier Reef but these tours and activities can be mixed and matched, with optional extras added, to make a truly unique and unforgettable experience.

Whatever you do, you will be on the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system, and that’s not just great; that’s amazing!

Author: Romi Hood – Tour Specialist

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