The Great Barrier Reef is one of those highlights of Australia that I can’t imagine you would even fathom leaving this country without seeing for yourself. You learn about this magnificent reef in school, you see it featured in popular movies like Finding Nemo, and you dream about the day you get to jump off the boat and admire its unique beauty.
When I knew I was going to be coming to Cairns – a Great Barrier Reef hub – of course I planned to head out onto the reef. There are about a million tour companies that head out daily for snorkel and dive tours, and they all visit different reefs and locations. It can be challenging to decide which one to go with, because if you only go once, you want to make it count!
As a traveller, I thoroughly enjoy small, personalised groups when I take a tour, and preferably with an owner-operated company. I am not so much a fan of those giant commercial tour buses that drive everywhere you go and say, “…and to your left we have x, y, z…” because you just feel like a seat on a bus. I’m sure most backpackers out there would agree with me on this one.
That being said, I couldn’t have made a better decision than to go with Reef Daytripper for my Great Barrier Reef tour! With a small, owner-operated catamaran that can only take 20 people max, friendly guides that actually remember your name and genuinely care if you have a great time, and stopping at some of the best locations for snorkelling and diving, Reef Daytripper has everything you are looking for and more!
Snorkel & Dive 1 Day Tour with Reef Daytripper
Our day started at 7:30am at the boat, where we would meet the crew, pay the $15 reef and tax levy (if you hadn’t already), fill out the necessary paperwork for snorkelling and diving, and enjoy morning tea and coffee. The boat departed at 8:00am and we were on our way!
Right away, we got a safety briefing from Lena, one of our guides. She introduced us to our Captain, Des, and our other guide, Trent. She also explained the layout of the catamaran, what to do in case of an emergency, and how to use the life jackets should we need them.
We then continued the two-hour journey to Upolu Reef, where we were able to chill and relax in the amazing bow nets located on the front of the catamaran. These nets were so comfortable, it was like hovering over the water in a hammock with the wind blowing and the hot sun shining over you. Needless to say, I enjoyed a peaceful morning nap.
As we got closer to the reef, Trent gave us a briefing about snorkelling, how to use the mask and fins, and explained how to keep the reef safe while we were out there enjoying it. He also explained a few species of marine life we should expect to see, including clown fish (aka Nemo), sea turtles, reef sharks, and other tropical fish.
For those that were going SCUBA diving, Lena explained the process and safety procedures for Introductory Diving before taking them out on a guided tour. I only participated in the snorkelling, so I did not experience the introductory dive with the others.
Finally, at around 10:30am, we arrived at Upolu Reef, located on the very edge of the outer Great Barrier Reef. We gathered our masks and our fins and we made our way to the back of the boat.
As I made my way down the stairs to the edge of the water, I slipped on my fins and tightened my mask. I jumped into the cool water that felt amazing against the intensity of the hot sun. The sheer thrill of being in the water took over me as I started to swim around in the deep, crystal-clear, blue water. As a group, we followed Trent to the reef, and in an instant, the underwater world came to life.
For 1.5 hours, we followed Trent around the reef in a “loose” guided snorkel tour. I say loose because we were free to see what we wanted, but we stayed as a group and remained near Trent. Which for the first part of the snorkelling was actually very helpful, because Trent knows the reef well and was able to point out amazing things for us to see. He showed us some giant clams, a bright blue starfish, and he found Nemo!
I was just amazed at everything that surrounded me. Everywhere you look, you see something incredible. We dove down over and over again to get a closer look at all of the coral and the tropical fish. There were so many species, all made up of different sizes and colors. I found myself chasing after a lot of the fish, swimming around in circles, taking a thousand photos and videos (even though I knew they wouldn’t be able to depict the true natural beauty accurately).
All too soon, the 1.5 hours had passed by, and we all gathered back onto the boat for lunch at 12:00. As the guides were preparing our buffet-style lunch on the table, we drove about 15 minutes to the next location, still on Upolu Reef but in a different area.
For lunch, the guides served us huge platters of cold meats, drumsticks, pasta salad, potato salad, classic tossed salad, and bread. There was more than enough food for everyone to go back for seconds (or thirds…). We worked up quite the appetite swimming around!
Starting from about 12:30pm (or whenever you finished lunch), we were free to explore the new location of the reef entirely on our own for another 1.5 hours. This second spot was my favourite of the two, as some parts were a bit deeper than the first, allowing us to dive down more. At this location was also where I spotted a reef shark and a beautiful sea turtle.
One minute, we were wandering around, and the next minute, we spotted the shark. It was a little over a meter in length (I would guess), and it was swimming around beneath us without a care in the world. We (quietly) attempted to follow the shark for as long as we could before it swam away. The thing with sharks that is so fascinating to me, is that you equate “shark” with “danger”, understandably so given media history. However, as I followed this reef shark, I was not afraid. In fact, the shark was most assuredly more afraid of me than I of it. In this instance, I felt it was more of a reward than a risk to spot the shark, and I felt very lucky to have had the opportunity to swim with it.
Even crazier, at about the moment we lost the shark, we turned around, and there was a sea turtle swimming under us! Finally, I saw the marine creature I had hoped to see most! It was such an incredible moment to see this (very large) sea turtle cruising about below me. We followed it for what seemed like a few seconds but I’m sure it was a few minutes. Eventually, the turtle swam into deeper water, so we could no longer see it. I was absolutely ecstatic that I was able to experience that moment. Definitely felt like once in a lifetime (although I hope it can happen again someday).
Around 2:00pm, we were called back onto the boat. While I was sad to leave the water, I was very satisfied with my time snorkeling. I could have snorkeled all day if that was possible! But three-hours total was more than enough time to see what I wanted to see.
The Reef Daytripper crew definitely knew how to celebrate a great day on the reef, and we each were able to have a complimentary glass of wine when we got back onto the boat. We certainly had a lot to “cheers” about!
Around 2:15pm, we started to head back to Cairns. Once the boat started moving, it kicked in just how tired I was from all of the snorkeling. I had a nice, relaxing nap during the cruise on the way back to Cairns.
As we got a bit closer to Cairns, Lena and Trent started passing around platters of tropical fruits, cheese, and crackers. A wonderful (and delicious) afternoon snack.
We arrived back in Cairns around 4:30pm after an absolutely incredible day. Thank you so much to Reef Daytripper and the crew for the best experience on the reef I could ask for! And a special thank you to Paul and Renee for letting me tag along! I only have wonderful things to say about your tour 🙂
If you would like to book your 1 Day Great Barrier Reef tour with Reef Daytripper, please visit this link:
For more amazing tours, visit www.backpackerdeals.com to book the best tour for you!
Author’s note: If you would like to read more written by me, you can visit my personal blog at: https://arielearoundtheworld.wordpress.com/