Your Reef, Your Way: Which Great Barrier Reef Tour is For You?

By Emily Robertson
May 15, 2018. Last updated Jan 30, 2021


If you’ve ever typed “Great Barrier Reef tours” into Google and immediately had heart palpitations from the thousands of search results that swim onto the page, you’re not alone. With so many tours to choose from, it’s easy to panic and lucky-dip your decision. But instead of losing yourself in the big blue of the interweb, we’ve brought you the Great Barrier Reef tours making waves in Port Douglas. Whether you’re a keen adventurer of the underwater world or prefer to observe from afar, see the Great Barrier Reef your way, with less crowds and more exclusive experiences.

Tip: Peak visitor season is June - November, so for a more secluded experience book between December and May for a summer out at sea.

If you’re short on time: Reef Sprinter

Don’t have much time up your sleeve but you still want to get out to the reef? Pick up the pace with Reef Sprinter. These guys know you’d rather spend more time exploring the reef than getting to and from it, which is why their speedboat travels at 80km/h (40 knots) and gets you to Low Isles in as little as 15 minutes. The whole experience takes just over two hours, making it the quickest Great Barrier Reef trip in Queensland. You still get an hour and a half of snorkelling over spectacular coral teeming with marine life, so you don’t have to sacrifice too much of your time on the reef.

Low Isles Reefsprinter

If you want to stay on the surface: Wavelength

If the thought of descending the depths freaks you out, opt for a tour that specialises in snorkelling so you can stay happily on the surface, looking down.

With a Full Day Outer Reef Snorkel Tour with Wavelength, you can view the reef from above during the 90 minute boat ride where you’ll be briefed before sliding under the water. Visiting three sites, the snorkel advisor accompanies you and the group during the first two snorkels, pointing out specific sections of the underwater oasis and getting you to confident snorkeller status before setting you free at the third site.

Snorkelling tour to the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas

If you want to be like Scuba Steve: Silversonic, Calypso Snorkel and Dive, Blue Dive

Completely immerse yourself in the underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef with a diving tour that takes you into the depths of the Coral Sea. Both Silversonic and Calypso Snorkel and Dive give you the opportunity to glide along the surface while snorkelling or dive deep after a lesson in scuba. Both of these operators offer full-day tours visiting not one but three sites on Agincourt Reef, with the choice of diving or snorkelling at each one.

For beginners, book into a day trip with Poseidon and discover the Great Barrier Reef onboard their personalised vessel that has an exclusive mooring on the outer reef at Agincourt, St Crispins and Opal Reef, which means no matter what time of year you go, you won’t have crowds cramping your style. You’ll be given a briefing on the way out to the reef, and will be alongside one of their qualified divers at all times underneath the water’s surface. But the perks don’t stop there – Poseidon is one of the very few vessels that have a special permit to swim with the Dwarf Minke Whales! Bucket list, here we come.

If you’re after a more exclusive experience, Blue Dive is the way to go, offering the only privately guided dive tours in Port Douglas. Aboard Poseidon, you’ll experience some of the most exclusive dive sites of the Agincourt Ribbon Reefs like Barracuda Bommie, The Nursery, Helms Deep and Turtle Bay.

Agincourt Reef tour to Great Barrier Reef on Calypso Agincourt Snorkel And Dive

If you’re a landlubber through and through: Quicksilver or Sailaway

If you’ve seen Sharknado too many times and can’t bring yourself to dip your toes into open waters, you can still experience the reef. Quicksilver’s Great Barrier Reef tour offers an underwater experience minus the water, in their semi-submersible boat and Underwater Observatory. While others snorkel or dive, you can descend into the sea and explore the underwater oasis of the reef from the comforts of a dry seat (with dry hair, too, we might add). With fewer people on board, there’s no chance of people crowding your view as you smoosh your face against the windows and watch turtles, fish and coral float by.

If you’d rather stick to a tour above sea level and are more about the Insta-worthy views, spend sunset on the water with Sailaway. Gliding through Dickson Inlet and across the Coral Sea, all you need to do is sip champagne as you watch the sun sink into the mountains of the Daintree Rainforest. Who said you had to be underwater to enjoy the reef?

Outer Barrier Reef tour with Pontoon and submersible activities Quicksilver

If you want a birds-eye-view: Nautilus Aviation helicopters

For arguably the best view of the reef, skip the boat and head straight to the sky on a Nautilus Aviation helicopter. From 30-minute reef or rainforest flyovers to a one-hour Reef and Rainforest Scenic package or a once in a lifetime Undine Cay Getaway, discover the blue hues of the reef without the goggles, snorkel mask or even getting wet.

And for the best of both worlds, Nautilus Aviation have teamed up with Quicksilver Cruises to offer a fly and cruise option that gives you time to snorkel the outer reef and see it from above.

Heli Tour over the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas with Nautilus Aviation

If you’re on a budget: Ocean Safari

You don’t need a high-roller helicopter budget to see the Great Barrier Reef. Memories of swimming with the fishies can be made for less than $150 with a Great Barrier Reef tour from Ocean Safari. A quick 25-minute ride is all that takes to arrive at the vibrant marine environment of Mackay and Undine Reef. All your snorkelling gear is included in the price, which also includes two hours of exploring, snorkelling instructions, reef presentations, as well as courtesy transfers and the boat rides.

Note: What you save in money you sacrifice in exclusivity - maximum numbers fly up to the 25 mark with this tour, meaning you’ll have a few boat buddies for this trip.

Reef tour from the Cape Tribulation in the Daintree Rainforest with Ocean Safari

If you’re keen to learn about the reef: Wavelength Reef Cruise

It’s one thing to see the reef but it’s another to know exactly what you’re looking at. If you’re a budding marine biologist or simply love everything found under the sea, a Wavelength Reef Cruise is for you. Visiting three sites, you’ll learn from the marine biologist guides who provide commentary about the reef and the species of fish and coral you see below. Afterwards, you can tune into a presentation about what you’ve just seen and ask any burning questions to delve deeper into your reef experience.

Great Barrier Reef tours from Port Douglas


Got the cash? Splurge on an exclusive trip to the reef for you and seven of your closest friends on a privately chartered yacht. The M.Y. Flying Fish is a luxurious, classic white motor yacht packed with Insta-worthy potential and a casual helipad for late arriving guests. Accommodating up to eight guests, you can chart your own course and stop to snorkel the reef at your leisure.

If you’re after something slightly less rock star but still packing those exclusivity vibes, Indigo Port Douglas offers private charters for snorkelling day trips to Low Isles. With a maximum of 12 passengers, you won’t be bumping heads while exploring and you also have the freedom to wander the island when you need a break from the water.

Luxury Great Barrier Reef tour from Port Douglas on MY Flying Fish

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