10 Ways You Can Discover the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns

By Camille Poire | BLOG

Dec 16
10 ways you can discover the great barrier reef from cairns

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most visited places in all of Australia. Nestled under the surface of the turquoise waters of the Coral Sea that line the Northeastern coast of Australia, this impressive reef system is not only the largest in the world, but also visible from space.

Spreading over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres, the reef is made up of around 300 individual coral reefs, over 900 islands including continental islands and sand cays, and is home to a whole host of incredible marine life, including 1500 different species of fish, more than 100 different kinds of sharks and rays, over 100 different species of jellyfish, and more than 30 different types of whales and dolphins.

As you can imagine, given how far the reef spreads, there are some pretty diverse and unique ways that you can discover it for yourself. If you’ve always wanted to see the reef for yourself, keep reading because we’re going to tell you about 10 of the best ways to discover the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns.


Snorkel from an Outer Reef Adventure Platform

Hop aboard a high-speed catamaran that will take you out to a permanently moored platform where you can base yourself for around 3 hours of fun and exploration. While you’re literally out on the waters of the Coral Sea, this adventure is perfect whether you want to get wet or stay dry. You can snorkel. You can dive. And you can even check out the underwater wonders of the reef from their underwater observatory.

The trip also includes a buffet lunch out at the platform – which is a pretty incredible place to have lunch! This trip is available through Great Adventures from Cairns.

discover the great barrier reef from cairns diving on the outer reef

Superyachts and Diving

Enjoy the snorkelling and diving out in the outer reef at two different locations with Down Under Cruise and Dive. You’ll get to spend around five hours discovering the reef with the PADI certified team and you also get to enjoy the ride out there on a 35-metre superyacht. With lunch included and a gloriously luxurious boat ride – what could be better?

Bask on a Tropical Island

Why not take a day trip out to a tropical island that somehow feels like you’re a million miles away even though it’s only 45 minutes from Cairns? Fitzroy Island is a slice of tropical paradise and is accessible via the Fitzroy Flyer Fast Cat.

You can enjoy nature walks, cocktails, coral beaches, the turtle rehabilitation centre, and a whole heap of different water sports like stand-up paddle boarding, sea kayaking, and diving.

As the island is literally nestled in the heart of the waters of the Great Barrier Reef, you can discover its coral gardens only metres from the shore and even take part in Great Barrier Reef snorkelling tours!

Meet the Residents at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre

To discover more about the Reef and see some of the marine life that call it home, you don’t even have to get wet – you do this by visiting the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre on Fitzroy Island. Like we said above, you just need to take the Fitzroy Flyer out to the island, which only takes 45 minutes from Cairns.

Once at the centre you can meet some of the turtle residents who are there because they are unwell or injured. Unfortunately, sea turtles face a lot of dangers in the water, both from predators and humans, and the amazing folks at the centre work hard to nurse these sea turtles back to full health.

Many of the patients at the centre end up being able to be released back into their natural habitat. But before they are released you can learn about them and meet them at the centre – you might even get to feed them.

Just remember to book your visit to the turtle rehab centre in advance because it is very popular.

Get a Bird's Eye View of the Reef

helicopter tour great barrier reef from cairns australia

Why not see the reef from up above? You can get a true idea of why the reef is called the Great Barrier Reef by taking it in from above onboard a helicopter! Nautilus Aviation offers 30-minute scenic helicopter rides from Cairns where you can see many of the incredible reefs and how they sparkle and glimmer from above.

A pretty incredible sight to see, these flights can also be tied in with other adventures like the outer reef pontoon trip we mentioned earlier.

Take a Sea Walk

We don’t mean a romantic stroll along the beach; we mean a walk under the sea. On Green Island, another tropical island close to Cairns, you can take a walk on the sea floor using the Seawalker. A pretty unique and incredible way to see the tropical reef waters, you can then enjoy the rest of your day on this gorgeous little island.

Sleep on the Reef

If you really want to maximise your time on the reef, why not sleep there? Pro Dive Cairns offers reef cruises that allow you to spend two nights out on the reef, where you can dive and snorkel. Meals and accommodation are included in this trip, so you can see what it’s like to live on the water!

The tour is PADI accredited so you can feel safe knowing you’re with experts too!

Take a Trip to Where the Rainforest Meets the Reef

cape tribulation

You may not realise it, but the in addition to the Great Barrier Reef, Tropical North Queensland is blessed with another world heritage natural wonder of the world – the Wet Tropics rainforest.

The oldest rainforest in the world, including even the Amazon, the Wet Tropics offer a variety of different landscapes and rainforests just waiting to be explored.

From Cairns you take a trip to the Daintree region of the rainforest, which is probably the most well-known rainforest in Australia. This area is also special because this is where the rainforest and the reef quite literally meet. At Cape Tribulation the rainforest spills into the waters and provides beautiful sights for all visitors.

Meet the Sea Creatures of the Reef without Getting Wet at Cairns Aquarium

You can stay on the mainland and dry and still enjoy the incredible marine world of the reef at the Cairns Aquarium. You can meet all sorts of marine life include rays, mantas, reef sharks and lot of different fish species that call the reef home in the incredible state-of-the-art facilities of the Cairns Aquarium.

You can also take in a wealth of information about the incredible water eco-systems of the region and learn about how it has developed and changed over time – pretty fascinating!

cairns aquarium

Cool Down at the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

Iconic Woven Fish sculptures that have been designed by Indigenous artist Brian Robinson welcome you at the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon. A public swimming facility in Cairns, you can marvel at the Coral Sea the Lagoon overlooks. Cool down and get wet, or simply enjoy the warm Queensland sun and relax with those gorgeous views – the choice is yours!

As you can see, there are so many ways you can discover the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns! We recommend mixing a few on your trip to get a greater overview of the scale and different aspects of this exceptional natural wonder. So, which ones will you choose?

Read more:
5 Inspiring Things to Do in Palm Cove, Australia
The Best Attractions and Experiences to Enjoy in Sydney

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About the Author

Hey, I'm Camille! I'm a 30-something "ex-French" girl turned world explorer. In 2013, I quit my life to travel the world - and I haven’t stopped since! I have lived in the UK, South Korea, Thailand, and Colombia, and have visited 50+ countries as a location-independent travel writer and affiliate marketer. I like sleeping in hammocks, riding scooters, eating all the foods, and scaring my mother trying adventure sports! I now share this journey with my nomadic boyfriend Mr B, with whom I recently bought a home base in the mountains of Bansko, Bulgaria.

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