Snorkling Recommendations for Great Barrier Reef
July 10, 2016 10:55 PM   Subscribe

We're seeking recommendations on snorkeling locations and outfitters/tours on the Great Barrier Reef, north of Cairns.

We're seeking recommendations on snorkeling locations and outfitters/tours on the Great Barrier Reef, north of Cairns. Would love to hear your recent experiences with tour operators, local reef conditions, etc. We're considering both day trips and maybe a 3-night liveaboard. There are a million operators online and it's quite hard to distinguish among them.

Any other area recommendations are welcome for hiking, accommodation, food, etc. We're considering a 4wd camper as a base. We'll be in the area for just under 2 weeks, flying up from Melbourne.

[FWIW, my partner and I are mid/late middle age, active but not especially fit at the moment, somewhat experienced at snorkling. I might have an interest in a non-certification diving "try it" experience, but it's mostly about the snorkeling.) Many thanks!
posted by Mngo to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Hi! I live I Cairns. Please feel free to MeMail me if you have other regional questions.

Does "north of Cairns" mean you're going out of Port Douglas, or is Cairns itself an option? My favourite day trip is with Sunlover, but Quicksilver is also very popular and I've had friends happy with both their snorkelling and their diving experiences with Quicksilver. As snorkellers I think you're likely to find the multi-day tours really overpriced - they're meant for divers and priced accordingly. But day trips are great. You might also consider a package with a Fitzroy Island overnight stay if you do want to make multiple days of it - you can snorkel there as well. But I would primarily look for an Outer Reef trip, as you'll see less dead coral that way, compared to the islands and Inner Reef.
posted by olinerd at 2:26 AM on July 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I spent a week in Port Douglas in 2014 and did two snorkeling trips.

One with Calypso Pure Snorkel and one with Wavelength.
I was looking for boats that only did snorkeling so the reefs would be more accessable.

I don't think there was much difference between the boats and they used the same caterer so the food was the same.
I really enjoyed both trips.

Just make sure your wet suit is big enough and comfortable. My husband ended up cutting one swim short because his wet suit was a bit too tight and very uncomfortable.

We stayed at the Pink Flamingo and really enjoyed it. Their breakfast baskets are very generous and the outdoor bath is awesome.

We also enjoyed a Trike tour and a Daintree safari.
posted by poxandplague at 3:09 AM on July 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another 'week in Port Douglas' here, except in 2015. We did a single trip with Silversonic - one qualified scuba (him), one snorkel-only (me). It was fantastic, but I am not sure that the GBR could fail in that regard. As a newbie I found it fine for a first time - my partner is more experienced but enjoyed it as much as any other diving trip he's been on.

I am not sure there is much to choose between the major outfits, to be honest though, and I can't compare them. I have no recollection of the food - but we are both vegetarians and obviously managed to eat something!

I will add another vote for the Pink Flamingo - not least because we had a disaster with one of our flights and they were great (and calm) about rearranging things for us while I was wrangling new connecting flights for my partner (I was in Sydney, he stuck in the UK) - including moving our planned diving trip for us (we had booked through them the dive and other excursions).
posted by AFII at 4:52 AM on July 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing Port Douglas. There were several boat companies offering pretty much identical day snorkelling tours when I went (2009). As well as the snorkelling the boat had a little submarine thingy that went off into the nooks and crannies.

Also if you go to Port Douglas check out the beautiful Four Mile Beach and go on a jeep trip to the Daintree for jungle fun. You might see a crocodile or a cassowary!
posted by intensitymultiply at 5:05 AM on July 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Mossman Gorge really worth a visit - fresh water rainforest river to swim in. I grew up there (there's a park named after my father at Port Douglas). I went out snorkling with Quicksilver (about a million years ago) from Port Douglas to Low Isles, which I loved. Kuranda (tablelands) has great rail trip around rainforest and mountains. Check out Lake Barrine (crater lake). Daintree of course. Cape Trib is beautiful, and (used to be) off the beaten track. In Mossman region, there's a lot of rare fruits grown, and farmers give you tours. Don't go in our summer. You'll die. Or get flooded in. Seriously, it's crazy hot and humid, and the killer jellyfish are rampant.
posted by b33j at 5:24 AM on July 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't go in our summer. You'll die. Or get flooded in. Seriously, it's crazy hot and humid, and the killer jellyfish are rampant.
What time of year is best to go?
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:32 PM on July 11, 2016

What time of year is best to go?

I thought July was fabulous when I went. (Though I'm a diver and don't have any great advice on boats for snorkeling specifically. I do think some of the liveaboards make a point of catering to snorkelers though, e.g. choosing sites with shallow parts.)
posted by ktkt at 8:42 PM on July 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, April to September. You miss the monsoons, the heat, and the killer jellyfish, though someone who's son lives in Cairns told me today the north hasn't had much of a winter recent years - so no guarantees on the stingers.
posted by b33j at 2:01 AM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah I think the stinger nets were still up on local beaches through May this year. But generally, June/July/August are really lovely. It hasn't cooled off much this year but the humidity is way down and the weather is pretty nice at the moment.

Don't come here November-March. Just don't. Unless you like sweating and scratching mosquito and sand fly bites.
posted by olinerd at 10:58 AM on July 12, 2016

Response by poster: Great answers so far, thanks. As for time of year, these warnings make sense, which is why we'll be there next week!
posted by Mngo at 8:05 PM on July 12, 2016

Response by poster: A more specific question: if we've done a few days snorkeling on a reef boat, would we find going to Green Island for a couple of days at the end to be a letdown? Online testimonials seem contradictory.
posted by Mngo at 3:33 PM on July 13, 2016

Six years ago, the snorkeling I did at Green Island was nowhere near as impressive as the day boats I went on from Cairns. (And that presumably doesn't begin to compare to the outer reef boats.) Luckily, I went on my first day, when I arrived too late to go out on the dive boats. A half-day trip to Green Island was a nice way to recover a bit from travel and just spend some time in the ocean. It was exciting then, because there are lots of neat fish, but I would have been disappointed going the other way around.
posted by ktkt at 7:40 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update:
We went out of Cairns with Reef Encounter and had an amazing time for two main reasons: the crew were fantastic, and I discovered scuba diving. I'm not even going to tell you how much I spent on "Introductory" dives, but after a couple, my guide seemed to have a lot of confidence in me and I did a lot more, you know, actual swimming around underwater than I expected. Fantastic--I plan to get certified. Snorkeling was also great although some unusual winds had the surface quite rough.
One night on Green Island was, frankly, the let-down we expected, but man are there a lot of turtles there.
In Cairns we really enjoyed eating at Prawn Star, which is basically a boat in the harbor with a fridge and a steamer--really great.
Thanks all for the answers!
posted by Mngo at 5:07 PM on August 13, 2016

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