It’d be easier to make a list of where to not go snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef! This incredible ecosystem is the largest living ‘thing’ on Earth, made up of thousands of reefs and hundreds of gorgeous islands – you can even see the sprawling reef from outer space!
You’ll find over 600 types of unique coral life here, and an endless variety of fish and sealife to discover amongst its many islands. With all the different destinations it can be hard to know where to find the best spots, so here’s where to find the best snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef.
Fish in Great Barrier Reef: Blue Starfish, Clownfish, Dolphins, Goatfish, Kingfish, Lionfish, Moray Eels, Parrotfish, Reef Sharks, Sea Turtles, Stingrays, Triggerfish, Wobbegong Sharks, Yellowtail, and so much more.
Corals in Great Barrier Reef: Cauliflower Coral, Finger Coral, Flowerpot Coral, Hump Coral, Honeycomb Corals, Mushroom Coral, Organic Pipe Coral,, amongst 600 other species!
Great Barrier Reef snorkelling map
Best places to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef
Where: Port Douglas Details: This is one of the best snorkelling sites in the world, on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef. A spectacular ribbon reef that’s crawling with an abundance of diverse sea life and complete with an underwater observatory, there are 16 different snorkel sites to explore here. It’s also one of the best places in the Great Barrier Reef where both advanced snorkellers and beginners have lots to enjoy.
You’ll have to go with a boat tour company to reach this reef, and they’ll provide all equipment, amenities, food, bathrooms, and more.
Where: 29km off the coast of Cairns Details: Fitzroy Island is a local favourite, a rainforest-covered mountainous island with reef accessible right off the beach. The coral life here might not be as fascinating as elsewhere in the Great Barrier Reef, but there’s a tonne of active marine life to make up for it and a lot less crowds. This spot is the ideal getaway for those who want to snorkel, but do other things as well – here you can hike & bushwalk as well as swim with stingrays and sea turtles.
Apart from snorkelling and hiking, there are also kayaks, glass-bottom boats, and a Turtle Rehabilitation Centre to check out,
From Fitzroy Island you can also catch a boat out to the Outer Reef, where the more magnificent coral life awaits
Where: 60km off the coast of Cairns Details: This is one for the pro-snorkellers who are willing to invest time and money into seeing the best of the best. The sites here are world-class, with massive fields of hard corals and excellent visibility. Saturated with brightly coloured coral gardens, you’ll find lots of active marine life and enormous schools of fish weaving through the plants here.
Flynn Reef is really the best of the Outer Reef – there are giant clams up to 2 metres big, huge sea cucumbers, turtles, diverse topography and truly incredible reef overhangs.
This remote snorkelling destination is almost exclusively for passionate and pro-snorkellers and divers. As it’s so far off the coast of Cairns it’s quiet and peaceful – but also requires a lot of time and money to get to,
The fish here tend to be quite tame in this area and hand-feeding is a possibility.
Where: Cairns Details: This beautiful snorkel spot is popular with the tourists, and just a 45-minute boat ride away from Cairns. It’s the closest part of the reef that you can explore, and for that reason it can be a bit overcrowded at times. You might have to share the beach with other snorkellers, but you’ll find rich coral gardens and bustling marine life as soon as you hit the sand, with reef sharks, stingrays, turtles, parrotfish, chromis, clownfish, and more.
The conditions here are calmer and more peaceful than the Outer Reef, making it a prime destination for beginner snorkellers,
Note that there are mostly seagrass beds here rather than pure coral, so if you’re after corals then head to another part of the reef,
You’ll find lots of boat and snorkel tours to take you to the best spots on Green Island.
Where: Hayman Island, Whitsundays Details: The Whitsundays are a stunning spot no matter which island you choose, but this is one of its most popular destinations and the closest to the Outer Reef. If you’re a serious snorkeler, this spot may be a little too ‘mainstream’ for you as it’s designed to make the Outer Reef accessible to less advanced divers. Still, there’s plenty of beautiful marine life to explore including Maori wrasse, reef sharks, stingrays, and green sea turtles.
Australia’s largest pontoon, ReefWorld, is here and fully-equipped with everything from food to showers and shaded seating.
Where: 80km off the coast of Gladstone Details: If you’re looking to explore the Great Barrier Reef without compromise, Heron Island is a great bet with one of the reef’s best snorkel sites. Just as good as hitting the Outer Reef, you’ll get to see all the incredible coral life without having to head out as far – you can snorkel right off the beach! You can find around 60% of the Great Barrier Reef’s marine life right here, so expect to see wobbegong & reef sharks, manta rays, cod, turtles, eels, and all the coral life this reef is famed for.
During low tide you can go reef walking and look at all the coral life in the shallows without having to get wet,
Between November and March (especially January) turtles hatch their eggs here,
Heron Island isn’t available to day visitors, so you have to stay overnight (also making it more exclusive and less crowded).
Lady Musgrave Island
Where: South Great Barrier Reef Details: Just an hour and a half from Bundaberg is this 1200-hectare lagoon that offers some of the best snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef. Pristine, untouched, crystal-clear turquoise waters, no current, and great visibility all year. Can snorkelling get any better than this? You’ll find over 350 varieties of coral here and more than 1,300 tropical fish species to swim with. Look out for leopard sharks and reef sharks, as well as turtles!
Be aware that as a protected, uninhabited island, there are no facilities or supplies on the island. You can camp, but bring your own supplies.
This is a great snorkel spot for those on a budget or beginners wanting to snorkel shallow waters. Otherwise, the Barrier Reef can be quite expensive.
Where: Port Douglas Details: This is the section of reef that you see on Nat Geo when they show the Great Barrier Reef. Protected with restricted access, Opal Reef hasn’t seen the thousands of tourists that other parts of the Great Barrier Reef has, making it one of the most pristine and untouched areas. One of the best spots for beginners to get a taste of the Outer Reef, there are a number of different snorkel sites to explore, teeming with vibrant corals, white tip reef sharks, parrotfish, and turtles.
Look out for Angus, the blue-lipped Maori wrasse who has become famous amongst the Opal Reef marine life.
Where: Moreton Island Details: The world’s third-largest sand island is a truly spectacular spot to throw on your snorkel mask and check out the pristine natural beauty. Off the shore of Moreton Island are the wrecks, 15 or so old boats, barges and dredges. The wrecks are just a short swim away from shore and home to over 175 different varieties of fish, crystal-clear water, and picture perfect scenery. Expect to see anything from turtles, moray eels, stingrays, dolphins, and sharks amongst all the fishlife.
The wrecks are close to the shore but be careful as there is a strong current and no lifeguards on duty,
You’ll find lots of snorkel tours with equipment hire to guide you through the sites,
The site is safe for kids. Click here to read a parent’s perspective on snorkelling Tangalooma Wrecks.
Click here to find out when’s the best time to snorkel at Great Barrier Reef
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