Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef

We’ve just visited one of the most iconic destinations of Australia – the Great Barrier Reef. I mean, you’ve got to, haven’t you? If you’re here.

Boat Trip

After our wonderful explore of the Daintree, we headed straight to Cairns and boarded a boat for the Great Barrier Reef. As you can imagine with such a popular tourist activity, there are so many trip options, it’s a bit mad.

In the end we used the trusty bookme.com to pick a discounted day trip, including 4 hours at the reef with a buffet lunch included. I think it was meant to cost around $230 per person (£120!), but with the discount from bookme, we saved plenty of pennies and got the trip for around £155 for us both. Good work!

We boarded the boat at Cairns Reef Terminal and had a very choppy hour and a half ride out to the pontoon anchored by Moore Reef. I have honestly never felt so sorry for tour crew members in my life – the amount of sloshing sick bags they were depositing in the bins was crazy. And then, bless them, they would head on back to the sickie guest with a smile and give them a fresh bag and a consoling pat on the shoulder.

Here we are, looking thrilled not to be chucking up our breakfast like everyone around us

I’m not good on boats at the best of times, as our Kiwi Bus friends found out on the extremely calm crossing from North to South Island in New Zealand (“OMG Lizi did you chunder?!”… no sympathy from my fellow backpackers at all). However, this time I was far wiser and sat out in the fresh air on deck with Blakey for the whole gut-churning trip and managed to actually enjoy the journey as the boat crashed through the waves, watching the sickies being led outside by kindly crew members with strained smiles.

Once we finally got to the reef, the sun decided to come out, which was nice. We all trooped off the boat on to the floating pontoon anchored by Moore Reef. The floating platform was pretty cool – there was an underwater observation deck, on the lower deck there were shaded tables and a section for dive/snorkel gear, then the upper deck was a mixture of beanbags and sun loungers, with a twirly slide for quick access to the sea. There was also a bar on the boat and ice cream, so we were happy bunnies.

Sunlover Pontoon, Moore Reef, Cairns

Blakey and I shamelessly dragged a beanbag over to the corner and dumped our towels over it like the worst kind of German tourist. Someone else managed to save pretty much the whole row of sun loungers for their family by dumping single flipflops on each one, so I figured claiming a beanbag wasn’t so bad, relatively speaking.

As soon as we were given the all clear, we were the first in our flippers and masks and straight in the water. Other people were busy pulling on wetsuits or life jackets but we thought f**k that… you had to pay extra for them…

The Great Barrier Reef

The reef was amazing. Blakey says it’s one of his favourite experiences of Australia. You just float there, head down, gliding over beautiful coral and thousands of brightly coloured fish, all busy nibbling at the coral or off on their own business. It’s so relaxing… floating there listening to the sounds of the deep with your waterlogged ears (the sound of the fish nomming on the coral travels surprisingly well), occasionally kick your flippers to propel you forward to follow something particularly interesting.

So many fish!! – seen from the underwater deck of the pontoon, Moore Reef

The reef is so interesting to explore, I can’t even think of the words to do it justice. Giant clams, electic blue along the edges, slowly opening and closing… orange fleshy fingers of weed waving in an underwater breeze… bizarre mushroom-like blooms as big as your head… the feeling when you float over the edge of the reef and look down into the bottomless depths is in itself a crazy sensation, like you’re floating in the air above a huge drop, where some monster from the deep will swim up and swallow you…

You guys know what it’s like, you’ve all seen Finding Nemo. I do not have any underwater pics of my own as we currently don’t have a GoPro, so I shamelessly borrowed the below from Shutterstock so you can get an idea of what it’s like.

Edge of the reef, Shutterstock get the credit for this one

We even saw some sea turtles going about their business, ignoring us all completely and intent on whatever sea turtles do. Being that close to them out in the wild was brilliant, especially in such a special setting.

Worth the cost?

Yes, I’d say so. Definitely shop around.. there are so many options. If you’re travelling down the East Coast, there are plenty more options than taking a trip out of Cairns. Airlie Beach, for example, where you can snorkel the reef plus see the Whitsundays at the same time, even do overnight trips. Do your research!

If you ever get the chance to snorkel over a reef system as amazing as the Great Barrier Reef, then do it. Next level is diving, and that’s one thing that’s high on our list, but as we’re on a budget we decided that we couldn’t justify it in Australia.

However… our time in Australia is coming to an end and the next stop is Cebu in the Philippines, where we will be doing our scuba diving qualifications. Exciting!

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