Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef is awesome! It also scares the heck out of some people.
In the six years we lived in Port Douglas we went snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef maybe half a dozen times. It’s an amazing day out, one that is justifiably on a lot of people’s bucket lists. It carries a hefty price tag, 4 or 5 hundred dollars for a family day trip. I think it’s worth it, it’s unlike any snorkelling experience we’ve had anywhere else in the world. We think you should go if you get the chance, but a lot of people are scared. Read on, it’s not so scary really!
Is Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef Scary?
The Great Barrier Reef is a LONG way away from the Queensland coast, certainly up here in Port Douglas. It takes around an hour on the boat to get there.
It’s not just paddling out from the shore like you would with fringing reefs, you are in open water and it’s deep .
Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef involves jumping off the back of the boat or pontoon into deep water, it can be scary, the thought used to terrify me, but now I find my desire to see the fish is stronger than my fear of jumping in the water.
I just get on with it.
You usually find that there will be a bit of deep water to cross before you get to the actual coral, obviously boats can’t moor ON the reef. You can see the bottom if the visibility is good and there should be lots of other people around. It’s not so bad, my 6 year old can do it!
Will I See Sharks Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef
The dreaded S word. Shark, there, I’ve said it.
Only if you’re lucky!
You are far more likely to see them scuba diving. You don’t often see them on top of the reef, in fact I’ve never seen one above the reef, only in the deeper water around the edge. You may get a glimpse of a black tip reef shark, too small to do you any damage, not that they’d want to. Sharks tend to clear off when people are splashing about.
In theory, there are no Great White Sharks on the Great Barrier Reef, it’s too warm for them, they’re a cold water fish. There is a possibility of tiger sharks, but I don’t know anyone who’s ever seen one while they’ve been snorkelling.
I’ve scuba dived with grey nurse sharks, lots of them, big ones. They totally ignored us, just remained almost motionless and looked menacing. Most sharks aren’t interested in you at all. This was down south, Bateman’s Bay. I’ve never heard of a grey nurse shark on the reef.
Will I be Stung by Jelly Fish?
It’s always a possibility, but a fairly unlikely one. In Queensland we have Stinger Season from around November to May, it’s when the water is warm enough for the deadly Irukadje and Box jellyfish.
Your chances of getting stung on the reef are lower than on the shore. In stinger season you will always be required to wear a full body stinger suit, only your face and finger tips are exposed.
They are terribly inelegant and yes, they make you look fat. I take my wet-suit instead, its more flattering!
Can Children Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef?
Yes! It’s fantastic for them.
I’ve taken my kids out since they were tiny, we didn’t have much luck the first few times, they didn’t fancy the deep water. They had fun on the step of the pontoon or boat instead. The big fish come right up close to be fed. Chef and I had to take it in turns with snorkeling and child watching.
The children are now 8 and 6, neither are particulrly strong swimmers, but they get about fine. Fins help them out and flotation devices are provided ( pool noodles, sometimes lifejackets). They absolutely love it these days and watching your children snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef is priceless.
I wrote a post about children meeting an enormous Maori wrasse on the reef, click the link and check out the pictures!.
The staff on the reef boats are fantastic with kids. The hardest part of the day is keeping them occupied and stopping them falling in (unlikely) on the way out. Coming home they usually fall asleep after such a big day.
Will I get Seasick?
Possibly, if you are that way inclined.
I can’t help you much with that one, sorry. Crew hand out ginger based anti sickness tablets on departure, I don’t know if they work.
Keep your eyes on the water and get plenty of fresh air.
I’ve only been seasick once, on the way out to the Yongala, a wreck dive off Townsville. Some people were vomiting, all the fish came up to the surface for a feed, it was kind of gross but cool. My seasickness disappeared as soon as I jumped in the water.
Boat or Pontoon?
This is the big choice, some boats take you out to permanently moored pontoons, these things are huge and come with underwater viewing galleries, mini submarines, helmet diving, all sorts of frills. These may be a better option for really small children or people who know they aren’t going to snorkel.
My choice would be the smaller reef boats, the ones that take you to the outer reef and stop at 2 or 3 snorkel sites during the day. You see a better reef. There will be fewer people in the water and you receive a more personal service.
Snorkeling or Scuba Diving?
I love scuba diving, but, I have kids, so we snorkel.
When you snorkel you see the top of the reef, the bit that gets the sunlight. It’s actually the prettiest part, I think.
When you scuba dive you see the edges and deeper parts, you can get more up close and personal with the reef and you have a better chance of seeing bottom dwellers and creatures hiding in the nooks and crannies.
You have to be qualified to dive, it takes a few days. You must have a medical, it can be very expensive, there is an exam, but scuba diving is so cool it’s worth it.
It will cost you an arm and a leg to learn on the reef up here in Port Douglas because of those long boat trips. If you can find somewhere to learn to dive from a beach, such as Magnetic Island, it’s generally cheaper. Maybe read about the time I almost died scuba diving first! But don’t let it put you off, it made it into my travel horror stories, but not my travel regrets.
So that’s about it, unless you have any questions? What do you think, would you be happy snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef? We are taking off around the world very soon, sign up to follow our journey, lots more family scuba and snorkeling fun to come!
We spent our day on the Great Barrier Reef with Calypso Reef Cruises and I have to credit their on-board photographer for some of these photos.
I’ve snorkeled in many countries now, the Great Barrier Reef is big business and unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere, it’s slick and well managed. Conservation is always a big consideration. Thanks for reading, come back soon!