Visiting The Great Barrier Reef From Port Douglas

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The Great Barrier Reef is about an hour and a half by boat from Port Douglas. Our town is one of the very best places to see the reef and the team here at portdouglasaustralia.com.au spend a lot of time out there. We know the reef well. If you need any help in choosing or booking a reef trip, get in touch. Private charters and multi-night cruises are also available along with fishing, snorkelling and scuba diving. You can even take a helicopter trip to see the Coral Sea. Which operator do we recommend to most visitors? This one.

The Great Barrier Reef
This photo was taken on Long Bommie, Opal Reef in January 2024. The photo shows hard and soft coral, anemones, and a giant clam. You can see the rain falling on the surface of the water. All of this beautiful stuff is near the surface, where it gets light, this is the sort of view you should see as a snorkeller. There are normally a lot of fish and you may see sharks and sea turtles. Sometimes you can even see dolphins and whales.

Options For Visiting The Great Barrier

The Outer Reef is the edge of the reef, where the open ocean meets the reef. This is probably where you want to go for the best snorkelling, although some operators from Port Douglas will take you to Inner Reef locations.

The other option from Port Douglas, also a good one) is a trip to Low Isles to see the fringing reef, we don’t cover Low Isles tours in this post.

You may have read doom and gloom about coral bleaching and dying this year. There has been bleaching, but this doesn’t mean the whole reef is bleached, some is pristine and looking fabulous. I was out there myself just a few days ago, it was beautiful.

What’s The Best Time of Year to Visit The Great Barrier Reef From Port Douglas?

October is probably the best time to see the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas. In October the trade winds should have died down, you’ll get good visibility, and stinger season won’t have started. October is often a quiter time here too. The busiest time is usually the June and July school holidays and the Christmas school holidays.

That said, you can visit the Great Barrier Reef year-round and have a great experience. If you visit during the wet season you may be unlucky with the weather. Tropical storms, high winds and cyclones may force boats to cancel.

We have a full post covering weather and the best times to visit Port Douglas here.

While there are no whale-watching tours from Port Douglas, humpback whales are in the area in July and August and you are very likely to see them on your way to or from the reef.

Which Reefs Will You Visit?

The Great Barrier Reef is made up of a series of smaller reefs (2900 individual reefs stretching over 2300 km, 344400 square km) and on a reef trip from Port Douglas you will probably visit several.

The exception to this is the Quicksilver pontoon, which is permanently moored on Agincourt Reef.

Other reefs you can visit from Port Douglas include Opal Reef, St. Crispin’s Reef, Tongue Reef, Undine Reef (and Undine Cay), Mackay Reef (and Cay). In all honesty, they’re all good. Tides and weather conditions normally determine which reefs your cruise will visit on the day.

Bat Reef is near these, it’s not used by tourist boats. This is where Steve Irwin died.

Mostly the Cairns fleet does not visit the reefs this far north, other than for liveaboard scuba diving, in which case they go even further north to the Ribbon Reefs.

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Alyson Long

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