Cairns is the main city from where most boats depart for the Great Barrier Reef, either for one single day or several days. Dozens of companies share the cake and prices vary intensely with no obvious explanation. You might feel lost and confused trying to understand these price ranges. Do you really get more if you pay more? Are you really asking the right questions and getting the right information before handing over your credit card? Here is some information that will allow you to choose what suits you best. If you are staying a bit in Cairns, you can also read our article about what to do in Cairns and its region! In this article, we will give you tips on how to find the best Great Barrier Reef tours.
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Do you really need to pay more to see more?
In the end, the most important thing is what you get to see and experience. Unfortunately; no matter how much you pay, companies cannot guarantee that you will see all the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef in a few hours. After all it is WILD life!! It is nevertheless what creates the magic and what makes diving or snorkelling so amazing and unique. As you already know, there are a multitude of reefs but what you might not know is that each company has its own specific area. To say that some reefs are more beautiful than others would be false, it is obvious that you will find the same families of corals or fish on each reef.
On the other hand, you have different forms of reefs, with different depths and sizes and this can influence what you may encounter. Take the example of one of the most expensive companies in Cairns: Ocean Freedom, 205 AUD a day that takes you to part of the Upolu Reef. You will snorkel in shallow water which is great and reassuring for non-swimmers but sadly it is not very deep and your chances of meeting a whale in 2 meters of water are relatively low…
So if you have a specific reef in mind try to find the company that knows it best.
Find the right Great Barrier reef tours
The boat is an important aspect of your experience. But what do we know about safety, conditions and speed of the trip? Of course, there are no safety issues on board. We are in Australia, the strictest area in the world to practice scuba diving, everyone’s safety is ensured by every single company.
However, not all boats are pleasant to travel on (not necessarily only the cheapest)!
Not all boats are fast, some boats will take 1 hour when others will take 2 hours to travel the same distance. A slow boat is also a boat that is less scary to marine animals, which increases the chances of being approached by whales, for example.
Want to have a good day? You will also have to ask yourself with how many people you want to spend this day. Some companies have a capacity of a hundred people, some boats will have only 25 passengers…
Remember, not all prices include extras. So according to your needs, pay attention to what you choose! And don’t forget to compare prices!
Where do Great Barrier Reef tours leave from?
For most tourists, the obvious starting point is Cairns. The city has the largest number of tour operators and is well located for quick access to the Great Barrier Reef.
If you’re coming from the south, the other departure point for the Great Barrier Reef is Bundaberg. Since it’s a boundary with the rest of the Pacific Ocean, this part of the reef is less impressive but still worth visiting for snorkeling.
It’s also possible to depart from Port Douglas. The city is smaller, less touristy, and equally well-located. To reach the town, expect about a 1-hour drive from Cairns.
Additionally, the small town of Cape Tribulation also allows for some excursions, but the options are more limited and the town is less accessible. Expect about a 3-hour drive from Cairns.
Finally, Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, also allows for exploration of a part of the Great Barrier Reef. However, since it’s located on the southern part of the reef, it’s less rich/preserved. Therefore, for diving or snorkeling, it’s still recommended to go to Cairns, further north.
Good deals for small budgets
If you do not have a lot of money, you don’t have to worry, some companies offer day trips at around $120. This will give you the same chances to see turtles and sharks as any other tour on the reef. But beware, you’ll be in a big boat full of tourists …
Two other solutions are available to you:
- Volunteering: Some companies offer you to volunteer, and in exchange you can enjoy a moment of the Great Barrier Reef.
- Applying for a job in these companies: many positions with or without qualifications are available and sought after (kitchen, bar, sailor). It is also a source of training for scuba diving.
Go through an agency to pay less
In order to save a bit of money, know that through an agency you can enjoy discounts on your excursion. It’s also an effective way to help you make your choice. As you have seen, there are many companies and it is not easy to know all the details of their services (day and time of departure, the possibility to do a dive or not, lunch included, number of people on the boat etc…). Many agencies will offer good tours and you might find the best one for the Great Barrier Reef there.
If you need assistance in choosing your Tour in Australia, you can contact We Are Travellers, online travel agency: firstname.lastname@example.org