How to choose a Great Barrier Reef tour

A trip out to the Great Barrier Reef from Far North Queensland is on many people’s bucket list, but with so many options available there are a few things to consider before you pick the tour to suit your dreams.

When comparing reef tours out of Cairns or Port Douglas, there are many variables that you need to consider. Here’s a list to help you pick the right trip.

Firstly, answer these questions:

  • Do you get seasick?
  • Are you travelling with kids?
  • Do you want to snorkel or dive?
  • Do you want to avoid crowds?
  • Do you want to minimise travel time?
  • Do you want to have the use of an activity platform?
  • Are you a swimmer or a non-swimmer?

As the reef is so popular, crowds can be a problem on some trips. Big crowds mean you get less personal attention, which can be cause for concern if you’re not a swimmer, or have never snorkeled before.

Big crowds can affect the quality of the snorkelling due to the impact on the marine life — scaring fish away, for example. The big reef boats out of Cairns carry 200 to 400 people. The smaller boats carry 25 to 80 passengers, while private charters obviously have as many people as you want, but cost significantly more.

Another factor to consider is the speed of the boat. A fast boat will cut down on travel time and give you more time on the Reef. Sometimes a fast boat doesn’t mean less travel time but means you go further out, beyond the reach of the other day boats. This gives you access to more pristine coral and better assortment of marine life.

If you want to dive, rather than snorkel, the smaller boats are the best option as they offer a better crew to passenger ratio, which is important if you need instruction.

If you’re travelling with kids, look for a boat with an activity platform on the reef. It gives you more space to spread yourself out and the access to the water is easier from a platform than from a boat. Most of the activity platforms have kids’ safety enclosures for safe swimming.

If you get seasick, you can still get out to the reef. Choose one of the big catamarans as they give you the most stable ride in all conditions. If you’re a non-swimmer or are travelling with non-swimmers, then the big boats with activity platforms are the best options as they have options to see the Reef without getting wet via semi-submersible submarines, glass-bottom boat and underwater observatory).

Win a tour to the outer Reef

This month you could win a trip for two people to the outer reef on a Sunlover Tour. Click here to enter.