Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef
Getting There - Most of the reef tours that run out of Port Douglas depart from the main marina, located on Wharf Street. There are a variety of operators, ranging from small boats to large ferries, depending on your budget and personal preference.
The Snorkel - With a family trip to Port Douglas scheduled for July 2023, this was an area I had wanted to visit for a long time. With two World Heritage Sites on the lifelong list of places to experience as an adult, the Daintree and the Great Barrier Reef, first on the agenda for the trip was the Great Barrier Reef. Having visited Ningaloo Reef for the second time, a month prior to this trip, I was keen to see how they both compared, and also get in plenty of snorkeling while it's the off-season back in Perth.
There are no shortage of tour operators running out of Port Douglas, and we ended up selecting Wavelength due to the relative small numbers on each tour compared to others. There is one tour boat parked in the marina that looks like a converted ferry, which did not look like it would be the most enjoyable experience. Unlike Ningaloo where you can walk off the beach and immerse yourself in the coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef is located about 90 minutes by boat before you reach the good snorkeling sites. With the jellyfish that plague the beaches here, you are left with the tours being the best way to get out into the water. Joining Caris and myself on the tour was Candy and Hal, who we toured Tasmania with back in 2021. After selecting our wetsuits and getting a briefing from the crew about what to expect over the course of the day, we were soon powering away from the marina. Getting out to the various reef sites they can visit depending on the conditions requires crossing open water, so if you get seasick, pack some tablets.
Today we would be visiting Opal Reef to start with, getting in the first of three extended snorkels for the day. I had heard some not so nice stories about tours on the Great Barrier Reef taking you to floating platforms with large crowds, where you see some degraded reef. As you can see in the photos, this wasn't the case and when we arrived at the first snorkeling site, there was no platform to be found. Keen to get in the water, we jumped straight off the back of the boat and swam towards the reef. Given we were about 50km offshore, I wasn't expecting the water to be as shallow as it was. The boat was parked in about 5-7m of water and the shallowest part of the first reef we explored was just over a metre deep. This was a welcome relief as Caris is still learning how to duck-dive, so would be able to see a lot more in the shallower waters. The crew had let us know where the best spots were, so we ventured out and it didn't take long before we spotted an array of marine life ranging from Giant Clams, to Butterflyfish, to a Bluespotted Fantail Ray.