Which Reef or Island is Best for Me?

One of the most frequent questions we’re asked is: “Which individual reef or island in the Great Barrier Reef is best for me?” Given that Australia’s most famed natural wonder spans over 2,300km in length while covering 5 major holiday regions and serving as home to nearly 3,000 individual reefs, it’s a valid question. Here, we provide a detailed breakdown of each of the most popular reefs and islands visited from the major traveller departure points including Cairns, Port Douglas, the Whitsundays and Townsville including who they’re best suited for, snorkelling & diving conditions, companies who can take you to each, and much more.

Agincourt Reef

  • What it offers: Great balance of spectacular Outer Reef with optional convenience of pontoon/activity platform
  • Who goes there: Quicksilver/Poseidon, Silversonic, Calypso Snorkel & Dive
  • Who it’s best for: Those with mixed needs, e.g: one experienced diver and one non-swimmer; families; those looking for the “best of both worlds” of Outer Reef + convenience of facilities
  • Pros: Beautiful Outer Reef coral & marine life; convenient facilities; large range of varied dive sites; highly supervised/safe environment (at pontoon)
  • Cons: Popularity means can be “crowded” for Outer Reef (at pontoon); longer travel times than close locations
  • How to get there: Cruises depart from Port Douglas

A gincourt reef has long been one of the most popular diving locations in the entire Great Barrier Reef. Situated remotely off the coast of Port Douglas, the Agincourt reef is a collection of small “ribbon reefs”. The Agincourt offers numerous potential dive sites with a blend of channels and gardens for marine explorers to navigate. Luckily, this reef is visited by multiple tour operators showcasing the Outer Reef’s beauty.

This convenience comes courtesy of the large pontoon owned by Quicksilver Cruises which is based here; this large “activity platform” serves as a veritable floating town that can accommodate hundreds of visitors while offering all the benefits of modern facilities such as showers, food, and change rooms.

As a result, Agincourt is one of the most balanced choices in terms of the more frequently-visited reefs; beginners and non-swimmers can stick to the areas immediately around the pontoon, or take part in the likes of semi-submersible rides and an underwater viewing platform to view the marine life while staying dry.

More advanced divers, meanwhile, can head to a number of dive sites at the ends and edges of Agincourt for a mixture of wreck, bommie, and coral garden dives.

The flexibility and facilities on the pontoon makes Agincourt a great choice for first-time visitors to the Great Barrier Reef who aren’t looking to compromise with a shorter trip to the sites closer to the mainland. The inherent trade off, however, comes with increased travel time to and from Agincourt Reef (roughly 90 minutes each way), as well as sharing the reef with plenty of other travellers due to its popularity.

In addition, while the Outer Reef is spectacular regardless, the area immediately off the back of the pontoon is more of a showcase of lovely coral than raw fish numbers – you’ll have to visit a different site on Agincourt to see them at their most plentiful.

The peace of mind offered by the supervised and controlled conditions (there’s even a dedicated roped-off area monitored by a lifeguard just off the back of the pontoon) may be worth the compromise for skittish swimmers.

Several other companies also visit Agincourt Reef including Silversonic , Calypso and Poseidon (a Quicksilver affiliate) and have different anchor points while visiting multiple dive sites. They also tend to carry a lower number of visitors. If you’re a more advanced snorkeler or diver, then these alternative itineraries may provide a more welcome mixture of both reef variety, fish species and coral formations than the pontoon itself.

Visibility at Agincourt is one of its strongest selling points due to its close proximity to the continental shelf but the area surrounding the outer reef pontoon can be busy at times in peak holiday periods.

Agincourt Reef’s remote location is one of its strongest selling points due to the reef’s proximity to the continental shelf; its location on the outer edge of the reef near the Coral Sea trench means the reef is surrounded by deeper water and sheerer drops with wonderful walls of coral.

Agincourt is made up of a series of several isolated bommies rather than a single continual strip of reef, and has a superior reef quality compared to the majority of inner island-based locations at each. There are around 21 individual dive sites here in total, with popular spots including the fish-abundant Castle Rock coral walls; Nursery Bommie with its array of pelagic fish such as barracudas, rays, sharks and eels; Harry’s Bommie which provides the chance to see both sharks and Manta rays; and the Three Sisters on the reef’s inner edge.

In all, Agincourt Reef is the best possible compromise between sampling the beauty of the outer portions of the Great Barrier Reef with options for additional “comfort” factors that some of the less-frequented sections can’t match. As a result, if you’ve got a couple or groups with different desires – or you want convenience on – then the Agincourt Reef is an ideal choice.

Browse a range of tours to Agincourt by clicking here.

Fitzroy Island

  • What it offers: Solid array of additional activities in addition to standard snorkel/dive; quality snorkelling just offshore; less crowded with daytrippers than nearby Green Island
  • Who goes there: Raging Thunder, Sunlover Cruises, Fitzroy Island Resort Fast Cat
  • Who it’s best for: Those who want a proper “island” rather than a coral cay; snorkelling enthusiasts; those looking for bushwalking/kayaking/other activities
  • Pros: Lovely island with fewer daily visitors; easily reachable from Cairns for day trips; good range of marine life nearby; plenty of things to do
  • Cons: Coral is solid but unspectacular; there are better “pure dive/snorkel” options available; visibility can be a factor
  • How to get there: Transfers and day trips depart from Cairns

L ong a favoured island destination among locals, Fitzroy Island is easily accessed from Cairns and sits roughly 29km offshore of Tropical North QLD’s famous adventure hub. An actual, granite island as opposed to a coral cay, Fitzroy Island possesses largely different characteristics to several of the other popular islands in the region; it’s quite mountainous; it’s covered in rainforest; and as a result it thus offers a lot of on-island activities in which to participate in addition to its obvious reef offerings. The island’s structure also grants a substantial amount more natural shelter and protected conditions from both winds and other elements than the exposed conditions that coral cays suffer.

Fitzroy Island is draped in National Park and its hilly, forested terrain provides plenty of opportunities for walking and hiking. With its summit walk in particular offering a great overview of the island and its surrounds on its roughly 4.4km return trip; its historic lighthouse also offers a wonderful panorama. Other tracks such as the Secret Garden Path showcase the island’s greenery or lead to the island’s two beaches which are picturesque in their own right but largely consist of broken-down coral rather than pure sand.

A trip to Fitzroy Island brings with it a bevy of benefits including close proximity to the fringing reef and less day trip visitors when compared to its neighbouring Green Island, making it a more enjoyable secluded getaway. Snorkeling is one of the most popular activities on the island as the coral flanking the island can be accessed right off the beach. Home to a collection of colourful fish and marine life, snorkellers often boast seeing stingrays, clams and even sea turtles.

In comparison to coral clusters in other locations on the reef, this isn’t as impressive, however the abundance of active marine life surely makes up for it. Additionally, the lack of large crowds means visitors will have enough space to comfortably snorkel and relax on the beach.

Divers are also catered for on Fitzroy via the Fitzroy Island Dive Centre who offer both scuba equipment hire and introductory dives and expeditions to the fringing reef. For those who have never dived before, there is the option for dive training in the pool before you journey out into the open waters.

While diving here is filled with marine encounters, the visibility isn’t the best making the entire experience an interesting dive however it can’t compare to divin on the Outer Reef. The diving depths are on the shallow side, with spots rarely exceeding 12 metres. However, what the spots lack in depth they make up for in marine life. Dives in the area offer the ability to spot the likes of Lion, Parrot, Angel and Butterfly fish, trouts and cod, and plenty of nudibranchs in particular.

If you’re looking to explore the Outer Reef from FItzroy Island there are a range of tours available with DIve Centre and Sunlover Cruises. These tours offer pick ups and drop offs from the island every day to ferry passengers to the Outer Reef with ease. This gives visitors the best of both worlds; the relaxed and convenient snorkelling adventures off the island and the colourful wonderland of the Outer Reef, making this a great monetary investment.

A trip to Fitzroy Island as your Great Barrier Reef base brings along with it two main benefits: an immediately accessible fringing reef right off shore, and a smaller number of day trip visitors as opposed to its neighbouring Green Island.

There is more to do on Fitzroy Island than snorkel and relax, other activities include rides on the glass bottom boat, semi-sub tours, sea kayaking and more all at an additional fee. The island is also home to the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, a unique facility that cares for injured, wild animals before releasing them back into the wild. All of these experiences combined make for an ideal island getaway for both families and couples alike.

The opportunity exists for guests to spend the night on FitzroyIsland. Accommodation consists of a single, modern resort with a number of room options with reasonable prices, especially when compared to other island resorts. Room types include Resort Studio, Ocean Suite, Two Bedroom Apartments and Beach Side Cabins.

If you’re looking for a reef destination that isn’t solely focused on snorkelling/diving but also offers alternative activities to keep you occupied, then Fitzroy Island strikes a solid balance across the board.

View tours to Fitzroy Island by clicking here.

Flynn Reef

  • What it offers: Wonderful example of Outer Reef beauty; diving opportunities for beginner and advanced alike; excellent mix of marine life; high level of visibility
  • Who goes there: Silverswift, Pro Dive Cairns
  • Who it’s best for: Divers willing to invest time and money
  • Pros: Untouched “pure” reef environment; great mix of wall dives, swim throughs, canyons; uncrowded due to distance from mainland; large schools of fish and amazing giant clams
  • Cons: Takes time and monetary investment to enjoy; mostly suited to divers rather than snorkellers and families
  • How to get there: Multi-day liveaboard tours from Cairns

O ne of the smaller and outermost reefs visited regularly from Cairns, Flynn Reef sits roughly 60km to the east of the city and is home to several highly-regarded dive sites containing expansive fields of hard corals. Renowned for its excellent visibility and balanced mix of dive opportunities, the reef blends together a series of excellent wall dives and swimthroughs with a number of deep canyons for experienced divers and shallows for novices; as a result, there’s “something for everyone” here for those making the trek out.

Flynn Reef is a site that’s consistently brimming with colour, as it’s home to coral gardens that are inhabited by a wide range of marine life – clownfish, trout, cod, Angelfish, Butterflyfish and more can all be spotted here, and combined with the water clarity makes for an underwater photographer’s dream.

The fish at Flynn Reef tend to congregate in large schools and are quite tame due to continued exposure to reef vessels and tours visiting; as a result, the opportunity to hand-feed some wild marine life exists and will likely prove highly memorable for first-timers. Add in a large number of sea cucumbers, and some truly massive giant clams that can measure up to 2 metres, and you’ve got one of the more satisfying overall reef sites for diving exploration.

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A number of resident turtles can also be frequently spotted making their way amongst the intermingled staghorn and boulder coral heads, as well as an impressive range of soft coral species – this is a spot where you can truly “Find Nemo” within the anemones. The reef consists of terraces of coral and coral plates, along with overhangs of reef that blocks out light and can make for an eerie diving experience.

In all, Flynn Reef possesses an ever-changing topography, with beautiful white sea sand not-too-deep below, and a sea bed populated with both bommies and outcroppings – this diversity means that it can also suit more experienced scuba divers on group tours while having plenty to keep beginners occupied, too.

It’s also an impressive spot for night diving, and the ability to submerge and see crabs, lobsters and turtles sleeping makes a ghostly beautiful spectacle.

Well-known sites at Flynn Reef include Tracy’s Bommie (an easy to navigate wall dive complete with sharks that can be seen resting on the ocean floor that’s also enjoyable for snorkelling), Gordon’s Mooring (a comfortable dive with little current and the chance to see Maori Wrasse, eels, barracuda and more), and the aforementioned sand-and-sealife-rich Coral Gardens (ideal for beginners).

These sites all have their own individual charm, and trips to each can be arranged via a pair of operators who have moorings here – namely Silverswift and Pro Dive Cairns – on extended Outer Reef tours.

Add in a large number of sea cucumbers, and some truly massive giant clams that can measure up to 2 metres, and you’ve got one of the more satisfying overall reef sites for diving exploration.

Flynn Reef is included on the itineraries of many “multiple dive site” itineraries with the likes of neighbouring Milln and Thetford reefs, which offer the chance to experience a range of different topographies and dive conditions in a single trip.

The reef’s distance from the mainland and relative exclusivity means you’ll have a near-total lack of crowds when visiting, however this exclusivity comes at a cost of both time and money required to visit. Mild currents can also creep up from time to time, in which cases the reef is more suited to experienced divers.

Overall, Flynn Reef is a shining example of what makes the Outer Reef great; while it takes an additional investment to reach, if you’re an experienced diver or visiting the Great Barrier Reef as a “once in a lifetime” proposition, it’s well worth the investment.

Browse a range of tours to Agincourt by clicking here.

Green Island

  • What it offers: Easily accessibly “taste of the reef”; great mix of facilities and activities; snorkelling just off shore; luxurious accommodation
  • Who goes there: Great Adventures, Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises
  • Who it’s best for: First-time reef visitors; families; those on a tight schedule; non-divers
  • Pros: Far less travel time than Outer Reef locations; very family-friendly; safe and well patrolled snorkelling environment without strong currents; good variety of things to do
  • Cons: Reef quality can’t compare to Outer Reef; can get very crowded; can be pricey for on-island purchases
  • How to get there: Multiple daily transfers from Cairns

A s perhaps the most popular day trip destination for those visiting Cairns, Green Island will be an item of consideration for many first-time visitors to the Great Barrier Reef due to its convenience. The island sits 27km off the coast of Cairns and can be reached in 45 minutes – a positive selling point for those travelling to the region on tight schedules- compared to the arduous 2 hour each way journey to the Outer reef.

Green Island is a low level coral cay that’s small and easy to navigate in a short amount of time and which is nearly always busy with other day trippers due to its easy accessibility. The island can become crowded, particularly during busy holiday periods or around midday when the majority of day trip vessels arrive. You’ll find yourself sharing sections of beach or water with plenty of other people.

A lot of this is offset by just how family-friendly and facility-rich the island is. There’s enough to offer in the surrounding waters and on the island itself to keep a majority of age groups and personality types entertained and catered for.

For starters, while experienced divers or reef veterans may scoff at Green Island’s offerings, there’s no denying that it’s a great choice for first-timers or those skittish with swimming, as you can snorkel right off the supervised beach for additional peace of mind.

The island’s sheltered snorkelling conditions can be largely reassuring factor compared to being in open water off the back of the boat at the Outer Reef. Green Island serves as a kind of “Reef Training Wheels” of sorts to build confidence in the water before heading onwards to the Outer Reef at a later point in your reef trip.

In terms of reef quality, Green Island is a mixed bag; there’s sufficient marine life such as clams, rays, turtles and various schools of fish which make for enjoyable spotting.

However, coral conditions are not particularly impressive, and the abundance of sea grass beds as opposed to pure coral means there isn’t nearly as striking a panorama as at many other islands or the Outer Reef. Visibility can also be an issue due to sand and sediment, particularly after recent bouts of harsh weather.

The island’s jetty is perhaps its best overall snorkelling spot within reach of shore, as coral here is impressive enough and rich in marine life, but the best snorkelling to be had is in its offshore reefs roughly 1.5km from the island. These reefs are a mixture of coral garden beds in fairly shallow waters of 8 to 10 metres, and aspiring explorers can be transferred there from the island upon request.

There’s enough to offer both in the surrounding waters and on the island itself to keep a majority of age groups and personality types entertained and catered for.

Green Island truly shines in its other offerings, as there’s plenty of both activities and facilities to keep visitors occupied. The luxurious Green Island Resort comes complete with a bar, restaurants and cafes that can also serve as a great place to stay – albeit at a relatively high price.

Activity-wise, visitors can participate in the likes of parasailing, glass bottom boat and semi sub tours, scenic flights, visit an on-island wildlife park to see crocodiles, and perhaps its most unique and iconic offering, the SeaWalker: an underwater, fully-enclosed seabed walking experience that allows non-swimmers to get a full view of marine life swimming by while still staying dry.

A bushwalk is enjoyable on Green Island as much of the island is a national park draped in tropical rainforest. The island has a purpose-built boardwalk from its jetty that winds its way through the wilderness and provides curated plaques detailing the environment along the way.

Getting to Green Island is easy and convenient, with tour operators including Great Adventures and Big Cat Green Island offering multiple daily transfers from Cairns’ Reef Fleet Terminal. Multiple services means you’ll have a range of options whether you’re looking to maximise your time with an early departure or simply squeeze a trip over to Green Island into a half day. Alternatively, those with private vessels can also make their way over and moor at the far side of the island’s jetty.

Green Island is beneficial to a number of different demographics – those who are after a “taste” of the reef without the fully blown time and monetary investment, families, timid swimmers, and those looking for variety in activities rather than a raw diving focus. While this may not be for everyone, it’s an excellent starting point for further Great Barrier Reef adventures.

View tours to Green Island by clicking here.

Hardy Reef

  • What it offers: Convenient, family-friendly and facility-rich Outer Reef experience; good quality snorkelling and novice diving; famous “Heart Reef”
  • Who goes there: Cruise Whitsundays, Air Whitsunday (scenic flights)
  • Who it’s best for: First-time divers; snorkellers; non-swimmers; families
  • Pros: Great for beginners and non-confident swimmers; well-run operation with modern facilities and extras; good snorkelling and introductory dives
  • Cons: Pontoons shared with many other travellers; lengthy trip out from Airlie Beach
  • How to get there: Day trips available from Airlie Beach

O ne of the Whitsundays region’s most popular reefs – and home to one of its most famous spectacles – Hardy Reef is a highly-visited destination off the coast of Airlie Beach that’s both a good spot for snorkelling and an easy dive that novices can enjoy. Couple this with its being home to the largest floating pontoon in Australia, ReefWorld (operated by Cruise Whitsundays), and you’ve got a reef destination that boasts wide appeal for first-time visitors, while veteran divers may want to look elsewhere.

Whether or not Hardy Reef appeals to you will largely depend on your prior Great Barrier Reef or diving/snorkelling experience; it’s an efficient and slick operation design to showcase some of the best and most accessible spots of the Outer Reef to the masses, with some parts shallow enough to stand with the water at only waist-level during low tides.

The ReefWorld pontoon plays a large role in this overall level of accessibility, and is a modern and well-equipped base from which to launch reef adventures.

The platform offers surprisingly upmarket facilities including sun decks, freshwater showers, change rooms and undercover seating, as well as an air-conditioned area for cooling off, with buffet lunches typically also included as part of the tour itinerary. Non-swimmers can also do their share of marine life viewing, both via semi-submersible and through the largest underwater viewing chamber in the state.

ReefWorld sits alongside a coral wall that’s largely protected from northerly wind conditions and thus offers a calm yet picturesque environment in which to snorkel and dive, while the reef’s southern face offers great diving both shallow and deep. Hard corals can easily be seen here in water down to 5m in depth, and there’s a number of ledges and caves covered with fans and soft corals to explore.

Fish here are very tame, used to being fed by the large quantity of visitors, and highly approachable, with their habits and more available to be explained via a guided tour accompanied by a marine biologist.

Introductory dives are also offered for those looking to take the first steps, with these kept to a shallow depth of between 1 and 12 metres. As a result, the pontoon makes for a great choice of itineraries for those travelling with kids, or adults who are not confident swimmers.

Further out on Hardy Reef is a spot for the more adventurous diver: a canyons section with a veritable maze of tunnels to explore, with the chance to encounter both giant clams and massive Queensland grouper.

Fish here are very tame, used to being fed by the large quantity of visitors, and highly approachable, with their habits and more available to be explained via a guided tour accompanied by a marine biologist.

Hardy Reef is also renowned as home to the iconic “Heart Reef” that’s become a staple of promotional material for the Whitsundays region; however, despite its fame it’s a relatively tiny portion of the reef that can’t be snorkelled or swam to due to its protected nature. Those wanting to take in this romantic spectacle instead will have to pony up the money to view it from the air, which provides the chance for an amazing birds’ eye view of the reef from above.

Reaching Hardy Reef can be done by both air and water, or a combination of both, with the option to cruise or fly out once each way, or fork out extra money for a return flight – absolutely spectacular, but pricey.

Weighing the pros and cons of the trip thus plays a large role in deciding whether are Hardy Reef trip is right for you. There’s an incredible array of amenities and things to do outside of the raw snorkel/dive combo when utilising the pontoons, it’s very reasonably priced given the quality, and travelling on the larger vessels this in entails can also help to combat or prevent seasickness. On the downside, the reef can take on the far side of 2 hours to reach from Airlie Beach, and the slick “mass tourism” nature of the trip may turn off some experienced reefgoers.

Browse a range of tours to Agincourt by clicking here.

Hastings Reef

  • What it offers: Wonderful mixture of high visibility, diverse marine and coral life; plenty of tour operator options to choose from; both snorkelling and diving equally impressive
  • Who goes there: Down Under Dive, Passions of Paradise, Ocean Quest, Reef Quest, Sea Star, Tusa
  • Who it’s best for: Intermediate divers and snorkellers looking for a great all-round Outer Reef
  • Pros: Large quantities of tropical fish of all sizes; visibility and water clarity; good protection from weather; coral in great condition
  • Cons: Lengthy trip to reach; liveaboard tours can be pricey
  • How to get there: Tours and multi-day trips depart from Cairns
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T his fairly large, crescent-shaped reef sits around 55 kilometres from Cairns and offers approximately 10 square kilometres worth of wonderful coral and marine life. It’s a magnificent showcase of coral gardens alive with thousands of bright, tropical fish that cover much of the reef, and when combined with its high level of visibility, makes for some wonderful snorkelling and diving. Hastings Reef is one of the most-visited reefs in the northern area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Hastings Reef possesses an excellent mixture of wall dives and shallow corals for snorkellers, as the top of the reef varies in depth from 6 to 15 metres and offers plenty of marine scenery to pass over while snorkelling. Simply float on top and watch the parrotfish, trumpet fish go by below.

Divers, meanwhile can head down to depths of around 20 metres along the reef edge and down to the sand floors where white tip reef sharks and rays can be seen resting on the ocean floor.

This particular reef is brimming with anemones and staghorn coral, while giant clams can be spotted on the reef and its bommies and the likes of sweetlip, cod and trout and enormous Maori Wrasse can all be encountered here.

Divers of all ability levels can find something appealing at Hastings Reef, with a number of outstanding swim-throughs and coral caves on offer.

Hastings Reef is generally well-protected from weather, particularly on the southern side; however inclement winds can change its conditions drastically, with the difference on the two sides of the reef being very large.

The north-east and north-west ends of the reef have the best overall coral cover, however the south-east end is more protected and thus more heavily used by tour operators who visit Hastings.

Hastings Reef forms a staple of many of the further-ranging liveaboard reef trips and extended tours of the Outer Reef, and due to its popularity a wide range of operators include it on their reef itineraries.

Hastings Reef forms a staple of many of the further-ranging liveaboard reef trips and extended tours of the Outer Reef, and due to its popularity a wide range of operators include it on their reef itineraries

Down Under Dive, Passions of Paradise, SeaStar Cruises, Tusa and various others all visit Hastings at regular intervals, with your best bet being to see which additional reef sites on their itinerary appeal to you and go from there.

There are also two public moorings that can be used by general visitors who have made prior reservations.

As with other Outer Reef locations, all the quality of marine life and clarity of water comes with the associated increased investment of time and money – liveaboard tours in particular can put some pressure on the budget – however Hastings Reef’s mixture of appeal to different skill levels of both snorkeller and diver along with its beauty justifies its reputation.

Browse a range of tours to Agincourt by clicking here.

Heron Island

  • What it offers: Excellent island-based snorkelling and diving springboard; secluded and upmarket island location; great variety of marine life
  • Who goes there: The Heron Islander, Australia by Seaplane
  • Who it’s best for: Higher-end travellers who want to snorkel/dive with an island stay
  • Pros: Lack of day trippers makes for quieter and more exclusive environment; great mix of wildlife both in water and on land; laid-back, peaceful atmosphere; everything necessary either on island or just offshore
  • Cons: Expensive; takes a long time to reach
  • How to get there: Connecting flight from Brisbane to Gladstone, followed by boat or seaplane trip

H eron Island is a fully fledged coral cay draped in a surprisingly diverse amount of vegetation and famed for the birdlife from which it derives its name. The island sits roughly 80 kilometres off the coast of Gladstone. As part of the Great Barrier Reef’s southern portion, Heron Island is widely regarded as having some of the best coral reefs adjacent to the island and is one of the best snorkelling spots in the reef. This is an island stay where visitors do not have to compromise on reef quality for, however, reaching and staying on Heron Island requires more time and effort in order to reach its shores.

Much like the other islands on the list, Heron Island provides visitors with great underwater explorations and adventures and water clarity is impeccable.The gap between snorkel and dive quality off Heron Island and the Outer Reef is not nearly as large and many will find it unnecessary to invest in an additional Outer Reef trips at all with the reef at your doorstep.

The island sits on the west side of Heron Reef and serves as a gateway to plenty of great dive spots nearby. There are over twenty spots located in close proximity to the island, many are located just 15 minutes away. If diving isn’t in your repertoire or you aren’t looking to learn, this is one of the best coral reefs to snorkel right off the beach. All you’ll need is snorkelling equipment and a sense of adventure.

The clear water also allows snorkellers and divers to revel in the abundance of marine life that occupy the waters surrounding the island. Around 60% of the Great Barrier Reef’s marine species can be found here. The chance of coming into contact with marine life is relatively high and visitors will get some impressive underwater photos. Wobbegong and reef sharks, manta rays and large cod are often spotted off Heron Island year round while loggerhead and green turtles visit in the warmer months. Turtle nesting season runs from November to March with January being the prime time to watch the turtles hatch and scurry to the ocean.

Heron Bommie is the main diving spot off Heron Island, with its large coral heads and flourishing marine life including turtles, eels and wrasse. This bommie is a relatively easy dive that doesn’t require extensive experience to enjoy, however beginner divers will be catered for with introductory dive lessons available.

Heron Island Marine Centre conducts all of the diving and activities off the island including diving equipment and semi-submersible rides. They conduct multiple dives during the day as well as in the evening in waters close to the island. Additionally, reef walking is also a popular activity during low tide to provide a fascinating ‘dry’ look at the coral and marine life living in the shallows.

Heron Island is an ideal getaway for travellers looking for seclusion, beautiful scenery and an island oasis.

Heron Island is an ideal getaway for travellers looking for seclusion, beautiful scenery and an island oasis. The island isn’t available for day visitors, which results in more privacy and peace for overnight guests.In addition to the great snorkeling and diving opportunities, the island is also home to an array of bird life which provides an enjoyable alternative to the water-based activities that are so popular on the island.

The island is the smallest official island in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef and as a result is quite easy to navigate. The entire island can be circumnavigated on foot in as little as 25 to 30 minutes and the designated walking tracks will lead you through the island’s vegetation and beaches.

In terms of accommodation, visitors choice is rather limited as the Heron Island Resort is the only option available. Located on the island’s north-west corner, the resort is filled with a range of facilities to make guests comfortable. Though rather basic and dated, the resort is all you will need for an overnight stay on the island, with room types varying from simple garden facing rooms to upper tier suites with reef views. The resort also includes a restaurant, has minimal technology meaning so you can escape the outside world, and friendly staff who sometimes have to operate under difficult conditions.This lack of choice combined with the exclusivity and distance of its location – Heron Island is a long distance from the mainland – lead to prices that range from expensive to extravagant.

Getting to Heron Island isn’t as easy as the other islands along the Great Barrier Reef, the only option is by plane and boat. Options include flying to Gladstone (the closest major mainland city) from Brisbane and then catching a catamaran to the island (a 2 hour one way trip). Additionally, if you are willing to spend a little extra money you can charter a seaplane flight to take you directly to the island. However, once on the island you won’t have to deal with the annoyance of shuffling back and forth like reef trips from Cairns and Port Douglas so often incur as everything is in close proximity to the island.

Overall, Heron Island is a solid and lovely balance between price, beauty and quality of reef, and for those who don’t mind investing more money into a reef trip it checks all of the requisite boxes with a stay here.

7 of the best day trips on the Great Barrier Reef

A visit to the Great Barrier Reef can be an emotional and unforgettable experience. Whether you fly over it, cruise on top of it or dive or snorkel one of its many famed sites, the size and beauty of this natural wonder will stay with you forever.

By Malcolm Chenu

Described by Sir David Attenborough as the most beautiful thing he has ever seen, the Great Barrier Reef is a marine miracle. The 2,300 kilometre (1,430 mile) living coral masterpiece runs down the north-east coast of Australia and is teeming with diverse marine life, including reef sharks, manta rays, sea turtles and countless colourful fish. There are many ways to experience this natural wonder, and tours depart from towns and cities all along the Great Barrier Reef coastline. Here are our favourite day trips.

Whitehaven Beach and Heart Reef

Heart Reef, Great Barrier Reef, QLD © Saltywings

Heart Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland © Saltywings

Where: tours depart from Whitsunday Airport, Airlie Beach, Queensland.

Whitehaven Beach is a seven-kilometre (4.3-mile) stretch of pure white silica sand, with Hill Inlet at one end. Tourists come from all over the world to marvel at its beauty. It’s in the same area as the Great Barrier Reef’s Heart Reef, a beautiful coral arrangement in the shape of a heart. You’ll see them both on a half-day adventure with Air Whitsunday. You’ll take off in a seaplane from Airlie Beach, soaring over the Whitsunday Islands and circling over Heart Reef for photos before landing on the water at a nearby coral lagoon. Here you will jump from the plane into the water and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef before taking off again and flying to picturesque Whitehaven Beach for a champagne lunch. After lunch you’ll be returned to your accommodation.

Yongala Shipwreck

Scubad diving around the SS. Yongala shipwreck on the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland © Tourism and Events Queensland/Scuba Diver Life

SS. Yongala shipwreck, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland © Tourism and Events Queensland/Scuba Diver Life

Yongala Shipwreck, Townsville, QLD © Tourism Queensland

Due to its currents, Yongala shipwreck is considered an advanced diving site and is best suited to SSI- and PADI-qualified divers.

Where: tours depart from Townsville, Magnetic Island or Alva Beach, Queensland.

Regarded as one the best dive sites in the world, the wreck of the SS Yongala sits on the sandy ocean floor 28 metres (92 feet) below the surface. It’s in an area of the reef off the coast of Townsville, a tropical city south of Cairns. The 110-metre (360-foot) ship sank in 1911 and is now home to turtles, giant trevally, groupers, manta rays, sharks and thousands of tropical fish. You can take a day tour with Adrenalin Dive from Townsville or Magnetic Island, a popular local holiday destination just off the Townsville coast. Alternatively, Yongala Dive departs from Alva Beach, located a 15-minute drive from the town of Ayr.

Low Isles

Where: tours depart from Port Douglas, Queensland.

The Low Isles near the beachside town of Port Douglas is one of the most sheltered snorkelling destinations on the Great Barrier Reef. Boat tours depart for the Low Isles daily from Port Douglas (a lovely beach town about a one-hour drive north of Cairns) with several tour operators, including Calypso Reef Cruises, Sailaway Port Douglas and Wavedancer. You’ll receive a full safety briefing and all the equipment you need (including floatation devices) on the 75-minute journey to the islands. The snorkelling area is very safe and much of it is in shallow water. Look for sea turtles on or near seagrass. Lunch is provided and you can even hire an underwater camera.

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Mon Repos

Turtles, Mon Repos Conservation Park, Mon Repos, QLD © Tourism Australia

Turtles, Mon Repos Conservation Park, Mon Repos, Queensland © Tourism Australia

Where: tours depart from Bundaberg, Southern Great Barrier Reef region, Queensland.

Each summer from November to January, nesting sea turtles, including endangered loggerhead turtles, come ashore at night to lay their eggs at Mon Repos beach in the city of Bundaberg (just over a four-hour drive or a one-hour flight north of Brisbane). Then, between January and March, the hatchlings leave their nests and race down to the sea. Both spectacles can be witnessed in intimate nighttime tours on the beach. Tours are accompanied by an environmental scientist who offers insights into the fascinating life cycle of these gentle creatures.

Dwarf minke whales

Where: tours depart from Cairns and Port Douglas, Queensland.

Dwarf minke whales visit the Great Barrier Reef every year, and you can swim with them in June and July on tours that operate from Port Douglas and Cairns. When the whales are spotted, you’ll jump into the water, hold onto a surface rope and simply wait for them to approach. These friendly, curious creatures almost always do. Day trip operators include Mike Ball Dive Expeditions and Silverseries.

Lady Elliot Island

Green sea turtle, Lady Elliot Island, Great Barrier Reef, QLD © Tourism & Events Queensland

Green sea turtle, Lady Elliot Island, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland © Tourism & Events Queensland

Where: flights depart from Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, Queensland.

Just off the coast of Bundaberg you’ll find Lady Elliot Island, a 42-hectare (103-acre) coral cay that sits on the southern stretches of the Great Barrier Reef. This is the closest Great Barrier Reef island to Brisbane and can be reached via an 80-minute flight aboard Seair Pacific. Once you’ve arrived on the island, which is renowned for its high-visibility water, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy. You can snorkel right off its beach with huge manta rays that can have a “wing span” of up to seven metres (23 feet) or enrol in a diving course at the PADI Dive Shop. Stay overnight in the 41-room Eco Resort, tariffs include buffet dinner and breakfast in the beachfront dining room.

Birds' eye view, Jetty, Heron Island, QLD © James Vodicka

Guide to the Southern Great Barrier Reef

Vlasoff Cay

Vlasoff Cay, near Cairns, Great Barrier Reef, QLD © Tourism Tropical North Queensland

Vlasoff Cay, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland © Tourism Tropical North Queensland

Where: tours depart from Cairns, Queensland.

Enjoy a deserted island on the Great Barrier Reef all to yourself when you take a day tour to Vlasoff Cay. Taking off from Cairns, your helicopter pilot will fly over the Great Barrier Reef before landing at the sandy islet with snorkels, flippers and a gourmet picnic for you to enjoy. The serene setting is yours for the next 90 minutes to wander, beachcomb, or dive in the warm water for a swim or a snorkel, before the return flight back over the reef to Cairns.

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Vlasoff Cay, Great Barrier Reef, QLD © Tourism and Events Queensland

Pixies Garden, Great Barrier Reef, QLD © Tourism and Events Queensland

Great Barrier Reef, Heron Island, QLD © Paul Giggle, Tourism and Events Queensland

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*Product Disclaimer: Tourism Australia is not the owner, operator, advertiser or promoter of the listed products and services. Information on listed products and services, including Covid-safe accreditations, are provided by the third-party operator on their website or as published on Australian Tourism Data Warehouse where applicable. Rates are indicative based on the minimum and maximum available prices of products and services. Please visit the operator’s website for further information. All prices quoted are in Australian dollars (AUD). Tourism Australia makes no representations whatsoever about any other websites which you may access through its websites such as australia.com. Some websites which are linked to the Tourism Australia website are independent from Tourism Australia and are not under the control of Tourism Australia. Tourism Australia does not endorse or accept any responsibility for the use of websites which are owned or operated by third parties and makes no representation or warranty in relation to the standard, class or fitness for purpose of any services, nor does it endorse or in any respect warrant any products or services by virtue of any information, material or content linked from or to this site.

Where is the best place to visit great barrier reef

Home » Blog » Best Place To See The Great Barrier Reef


Best Place To See The Great Barrier Reef

The world heritage listed Great Barrier Reef is a must see for all travellers to Queensland’s sunny shores.

But with the world’s largest living structure spanning over 2,300km in length, encompassing nearly 3,000 individual reefs, being home to over 900 islands and covering 5 major holiday regions, deciding what town to launch from and what reefs and islands to visit can be daunting to say the least. Find out more great facts about The Great Barrier reef that every traveller should know.

In this article we cover the main ports that you can access the Great Barrier Reef from and the best destinations to explore from each.

Best Places To See The Great Barrier Reef - Port Douglas

Port Douglas – Low Isles

Starting at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef we have Port Douglas.

(The Great Barrier Reef stretches all the way to the northern tip of Cape York but is very hard to reach and there are not many options for tourist to visit the reef once you go north past Port Douglas.)

Port Douglas is a scenic little tropical town located about an hour’s drive north from Cairns. There are a number of reefs and islands that can be accessed from Port Douglas but for those looking for an easily accessible island that offers a great family friendly reef trip and snorkelling options, Low Isles is definitely the pick of the bunch.

Located just 15 minutes boat ride from Port Douglas, Low Isles is made up of two land masses. One being an uninhabited mangrove island and the other a more frequently visited coral cay where you can relax on the beach or under the shade of a nearby tree.

The Low Isles is surrounded by 55 acres of tropical reef which makes the calm, warm, blue waters ideal for visitors new to snorkelling or swimming. There are around 150 types of hard coral and 15 species of more dominant soft corals that make snorkelling the Low Isles a real treat for all that visit.

Great Barrier Reef Facts

Cairns – Fitzroy Island

Long know as the premier gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is the boarding point for many great inner and outer Barrier Reef expeditions. But we would have to say the best of all is Fitzroy Island.

Long held as a favourite island destination for locals, Fitzroy Island offers vast array of activities and accommodation to cater for all types of traveler in all types of budgets.

Located just a short 45 minute boat ride from Cairns Fitzroy Island is different to most of the coral cays found is this region as it is an actual granite island, making for great hiking and contrasting landscapes in different areas of this 339 hectare island ( 324 hectares of which is protected National Park.)

Fitzroy Island serves as the perfect destination for a relaxing island getaway, be that a day trip or a more extended stay in one of the islands many accommodations options which include:

  • Camping
  • Resort Studios
  • Ocean Suite
  • Two Bedroom Apartments, and
  • Beach Side Cabins

All of which are available at very reasonable prices when compared to other Great Barrier Reef Islands.

Fitzroy also has plenty to do once you’re there and unlike many other reef destinations that don’t all require you to get wet. These include:

  • Several scenic hiking tracks that cater for ages, abilities and fitness levels
  • The world famous Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Centre
  • Sea Kayaking
  • Stand Up Paddle Boarding
  • Snorkelling
  • Glass bottom boat tours
  • Resort facilities including pool, bar, cafe, restaurant and other activities
  • The giant ocean trampoline

For a Great Barrier Reef destination that is easily accessible, affordable, full of activities for kids and adults alike, yet still offers that untouched natural beauty you expect on the Great Barrier Reef, Fitzroy Island is your best choice.

Great Barrier Reef at Magnetic Island

Townsville – Magnetic Island

Although Townsville is the largest city in North Queensland (and also the unofficial capital) it is a little more limited in terms of options for visiting the Great Barrier Reef, though there are still some great that lie just off the coast.

Magnetic Island is one of those options.

Located just eight kilometers of Townsville, Magnetic Island is an inhabited island that has it’s own community, yet still cater to many tourist and people looking for a quick and easy reef experience.

Magnetic Island sit within the world heritage listed great Barrier Reef but is unique in that it does not have the tropical rainforest that most of the other islands within the reef system display.

The Island offers beautiful, quiet, secluded beaches, rugged nature, abundant wildlife and plenty of opportunities to snorkel amidst reefs that trace the shoreline of Magnetic Island.

Some of the best snorkelling opportunities are found at Nelly Bay and Geoffrey Bay which is great for beginners and more advanced snorkelers alike.


Airlie Beach – The Whitsunday Islands

Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands that offers a great launching pad to the some 74 tropical islands that litter the surrounding ocean.

From Airlie Beach you can easily take a day trip or book into a resort on one of the many islands that cater to visitors looking to escape the mainland and settle into island life for a little more rest and relaxation.

The waters in the Whitsundays are warm all year round and teeming with marine life. Nature lovers can find a secluded uninhabited island and take in the picturesque views that abound in the beautiful Whitsundays.

Some of the best islands to explore the Great Barrier Reef from include:

  • Hamilton Island
  • Hayman Island
  • Hook Island
  • Daydream Island
  • Long Island

The options above offer a great balance of easy access, good facilities, great snorkelling and beautiful blue waters that make up a true Great Barrier Reef experience. I hope this has helped you plan your journey into one of the 7 natural wonders of the world.

Book A Tour Today

Fitzroy Island is one of the best locations for viewing the Great Barrier Reef in Australia with reef snorkelling just a short paddle from the shore. With snorkelling and scuba diving options available, there’s something for everyone.

If you’re staying in Cairns then Fitzroy Island is just a short 45 minute fast cat right from Cairns and is a perfect day trip option for you to do on your stay in Far North Queensland. For best available prices we recommend you book online with directly with the resort operator, click here to find out more.

Source https://greatbarrierreef.com.au/which-reef-is-best/

Source https://www.australia.com/en/places/cairns-and-surrounds/best-day-trips-on-the-great-barrier-reef.html

Source https://www.fitzroyisland.com/blog/best-place-to-see-the-great-barrier-reef/

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