The Great Barrier Reef – What to expect and 8 Top Tips

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Some say that the Australian winter is the best time for a holiday in Queensland and after a trip to Cairns and Port Douglas last year I can vouch that the weather during July and August can be lovely.

If you’re planning a trip, then now’s the time to think about booking accommodation and flights. So if you want to get away from the winter squalls and storms that lash Western Australia during winter, then here’s an idea that might just have you running to the travel agent.

The Great Barrier Reef and Port Douglas

There’s an air of expectancy. Port Douglas is just coming alive. Doors are opening, the pungent smell of coffee wafts past my nose as we pass a small restaurant that’s beginning to fill with early morning breakfasters, and colourful wares from street-side shops tumble onto the tree-lined pavements.

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Our focus however, is not on coffee or gift-buying on this bright sparkly late winter morning, but on adventure, specifically on the high seas out in the Indian Ocean.

Yes, we are going for a trip on the Great Barrier Reef, which is a World Heritage Site and it’s apparently visible from space, not that you’ll ever get me up in a spaceship.

Off to Agincourt!

Down at the waterfront everything’s a-buzz. People are milling around waiting to jump onto boats going here there and everywhere, it’s a dynamic scene and a prickle of excitement courses through my tummy for today we shall be out all day visiting the outer reef, way out on the Agincourt Reef and snorkeling around spots known as Totem, Castle Rock and The Maze.

The boat staff are slick, professional, organized. You get the feeling they’ve done all this a hundred times before, yet still they inject excitement into their voices which transmutes into a vibrant energy that sets our eyes alight and our hearts thumping just a little faster.

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Our boat, The Poseidon is large, it holds about 100 people, but today it’s not so busy and definitely not crowded. Soon after the safety checks and head counts we’re off, speeding towards the horizon as Port Douglas and it’s picturesque old boat house, the tall palm trees and long sandy beaches recede quickly from view.

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There’s coffee and muffins, a fabulous buffet lunch with heaps of fresh fresh prawns, and afternoon tea, but it’s the snorkeling that really steals the show.

I had anticipated that the Reef may be damaged, that there might be signs of rubbish or worse still plastic bags – well you’ve heard the stories, haven’t you. However, it was pristine and the Reef looked fabulous. We saw huge clam shells and bright coral along with a multitude of colourful fish.

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The sea was a little chilly, but I didn’t know if it was excitement or the water that was making me shiver and despite my lips turning blue I was reluctant to get out of the sea each time one of the marine biologist rounded us up.

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To swim with turtles and Pirate fish, be surrounded by shoals of colourful zebra fish that swim right up to your mask, and explore underground cliffs and canyons as far as our snorkeling gear would allow was fantastic.

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8 Tips to make your Great Barrier Reef experience great

Queensland winters are a good time for snorkeling and diving because you’re less likely to get stung by jellyfish, particularly the deadly ones which inhabit the waters during summertime.

Snorkelling is fun, although classified as an extreme sport. However, your fins and the buoyancy of the sea keep you afloat much easier than swimming say in a swimming pool.

The sea, despite the publicity photos, is not always calm. It can get choppy, especially on the way to the outer reef, so take a sea sick pill if you need one.

Many people say the Great Barrier Reef is over publicized and not what they were expecting. It is not a scene from Disney’s Nemo, and you are no Little Mermaid. Perhaps you will find less damaged reefs and less populated tours in more remote places in the world, but for an experience that is both accessible and easy to book, this has to be an amazing day out on one of the wonders of the world.

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On another trip to the Frankland Islands we sailed from the boat to an island beach on a semi-submersible boat with windows down beneath the deck for fishy views.

The Queensland sun is harsh. Wear a rash vest and cover up with suntan lotion every 4 hours. Don’t forget your sunnies for when you’re on the boat. Oh, and don’t forget to slap lotion on the back of your legs – there were people who on the return trip had lobster red back thighs because your thighs, calves and your back are most exposed most when you’re snorkeling. I kept well covered from the sun in a rashie and sarong.

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The tour boats offer lots of food. You won’t go hungry, but you will be hungry with all that fresh air and swimming. If the sea is rough (and despite all those photos of mill pond blue Queensland seas, it can be choppy at times) then hold back on the food and drink lots of water.

Take a towel and definitely take a change of clothes for the return journey. Everything gets wet, the floors are wet, the seats get wet, and on the return you may feel cold (I did) and a wet towel isn’t enough to warm your shoulders up against a brisk sea breeze.

Today I’m hooking in with some Weekend Travel Inspiration – where you’ll find more great travel stories.

Most of all Have Fun! This is one of the adventures of a lifetime.

Who’s been – Who would love to go?

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Comments

  1. We had a great time with the guys at Poseidon last year – here’s our review (including a little video of me trying to take a photo of a reef shark :)
    http://diveplanitblog.com/2013/08/25/diving-the-great-barrier-reef-with-poseidon/

  2. I loved this article, thanks Jo! We used to go to Cairns all the time when I was a kid because my dad used to go there a lot for his job. I have the most amazing memories of sailing around the Great Barrier Reef, snorkelling and playing on tropical island beaches, but it was all so long ago that it feels like a dream to me now. Funny that snorkelling of all things is classed as an extreme sport! Makes me wonder what base jumping and big wave surfing would be classed as.

    Nice sea cucumber, by the way!
    Bonny recently posted..Sunset and Sting Rays at Hamelin BayMy Profile

  3. Oh Awesome, thanks Deborah! Yes, the Poseidon offers a great trip and the crew are fabulous :)

  4. Ha Ha, thanks Bonny – love a big juicy sea cucumber! Sounds as if you had an idyllic childhood, how lovely to have those memories. I know, snorkelling – extreme sport? It struck me as a little odd too when you think of other extreme sports!

  5. I loved my experience in the Great Barrier Reef. Afterwards I heard that the reef should be even better close to Port Douglas. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to go there, but if I ever get the chance to visit Queensland again, I’ll definitely want to go there.
    Stef recently posted..Guest Post: 10 Unseen Amazing Swimming Holes in North AmericaMy Profile

  6. Hope you get back there one day, Stef! Yes, we enjoyed the reef closer to Port Douglas than Cairns, although we enjoyed both for different reasons – we swam with turtles off the Frankland Islands for instance. Thanks for popping by.

  7. Ok, you sold me on The Poseidon, Johanna! Muffins, buffet lunch with prawns? Yes, please! Honestly what sold me was that you said it wasn’t crowded. I don’t do crowds. I probably would spent most of my time under the canopy because my VERY light skin and the sun don’t get along to long exposure. I so hope they are able to protect The Great Barrier Reef…I’ve read about it’s deterioration back here in the States. NO good. Btw…you rock the color yellow :)
    Mike recently posted..Top 10 Tom Cruise Movies, Show Me The Money!My Profile

  8. Hello Mike, oh yes the food was A1 – I could have just sat and gorged! It was great that it wasn’t crowded, and I think our timing was spot on. Yes, I hope that the power that be step up the ante to protect the area too, because it’s such a fragile eocsystem. Thanks – I normally don’t do yellow – that was my daughter’s chucked out rash vest!

  9. I have been out to the reef from Cairns. It is a wonderful day. When did you go Jo? Your underwater photos are great :)
    budget jan recently posted..Sihanoukville Market Cambodia or Phsar LeuMy Profile

  10. I went out on a trip to the reef from Cairns about 20 years ago and you are right the ocean is not always smooth and calm. When we went out it was very choppy and I got very seasick. However it was worth it once we reached the reef and we started to snorkel – it was an amazing experience! It is something people of all ages can do, but probably should at least be able to dog paddle before they enter the water.
    Kathy Marris recently posted..Gallivanting The Great Ocean RoadMy Profile

  11. It is amazing isn’t it Kathy but like you say people should be able to swim reasonably well before booking a trip.

  12. Thanks Jan! We went in August and had lovely weather. Yes we also enjoyed our day out from Cairns but it was quite different to the trip from Port Douglas.

  13. this is somewhere I really need to visit soon! Thanks Jo. I can never work out when is the best time to go – it always seems to be hot or raining. But I see you say August. Maybe next year…..
    Life Images by Jill recently posted..South Australia trip – Part 8 – Exploring Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges National ParkMy Profile

  14. I have scuba dived at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef but never made it as far north as Port Douglas. What a fabulous sounding trip – and I especially love your first photo – with beautiful painted nails!
    Leigh recently posted..A Kayaking Trip on the Georgian Bay, OntarioMy Profile

  15. The nails ;) A tad incongruous! Dazzled the fish, Leigh! Glad you’ve experienced the Reef :)

  16. Hope you do Jill. Yes it was a great time of year for us.

  17. I’m dying to get out to the Great Barrier Reef to explore, however, I have this thing about swimming in the ocean. Totally freaks me out! I definitely have to get over that before my boys start snorkeling and scuba diving and mocking me. Ha! Thanks for linking up!
    Keryn from Walking On Travels recently posted..Friday Postcards from Thingvellir (Þingvellir) in IcelandMy Profile

  18. Those are some amazing photos, especially the first one. I will have to admit that I ended up being slightly disappointed by the Great Barrier Reef (Green Island) as I was one of those people who was expecting a Finding Nemo seascape or, at the very least, something comparable to a huge aquarium. I would love to give it another chance, and the Poseidon looks like a fine way to experience the reef.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Chiang Mai Sunday MarketMy Profile

  19. I think there are certainly some spots that are better than others and the reef definitely needs protecting, but the Poseidon did take us to some magic spots. By the way I loved your post about the GB R too :)

  20. Hey Keryn, yes the boys will no doubt have you in the water and hopefully you’ll become more confident. The Reef is one of those all time ‘must visits!’

  21. I loved my visit to Queensland in the Australian winter for all the reasons you posted…especially that things were not that crowded! Love the photos…gorgeous!

    Corinne recently posted..Where to Eat in Singapore – More Hawker Stall GoodnessMy Profile

  22. Your pics are amazing. I’m living in Brissie but have yet to venture up as far as Port Douglas. Good thing you speak the truth about the rough sea though as people always expect it to be calm. Even the Caribbean can be pretty rough! A great post!

  23. So I thought the Great Barrier Reef is in the North East not WA :) Great guide though – it’s my list for my next Australia trip.

    Btw just followed you on Twitter. Like your site! Looking forward to connect!

  24. You are so right Mighty Travels, the Great Barrier reef is North East, on the other side of the country to us in WA, but sometimes I deviate and slip in a little all around Aussie travel. After all, we ‘sandgropers’ do like to visit other parts of Australia too, despite WA being the most awesome! Thanks for following me on Twitter :)

  25. Thanks @ Sophisticated Mumma! Yes, I do think people are lured by the perfect mill pond tourism pics and can be disappointed when it turns out to be choppy. Truth is good!

  26. Thanks Corinne! Yes not having crowds is bliss, hey!

  27. I loved the photos of the snorkeling. I was shocked that this is considered an extreme sport, although getting stung by something could make it so. I’m hearing about so many reefs being destroyed by swimmers, so sad that it can’t be protected for future generations.
    Neva @ Retire for the Fun of it recently posted..Goblin Valley Topplers – Heroes or Idiots on ProbationMy Profile

  28. I have to admit that the sea creature you’re holding in the first picture made me shudder a bit. I have never been to the Great Barrier Reef, but it’s definitely on my list of must go places. Considering the state of the environment I suppose I better consider going sooner, rather than later!
    Sarah recently posted..Generic Beauty Products to Never Travel WithoutMy Profile

  29. Yes the sea cucumber is not a pretty fellow Sarah! I agree, go rather sooner than later :)

  30. I know Neva, me too … it always seems quite a tranquil sport to me (jellyfish and sharks not withstanding!) They were adamant on the tour we were on that no swimmer should touch or stand on the reef, but I know, so many are being destroyed.

  31. Thank you Muza-chan :)

  32. Beautiful photos especially your underwater shots. This post is so timely. I’m in the midst of planning our trip in a few months which includes a stop in Cairns in early July. My family is so excited to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. Thanks for the tips and hope we get a great experience like you.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted..Our Tacky Tourist Photos CollectionMy Profile

  33. Wow, that’s fab Mary! I hope you’ve gleaned a few useful tips. We did enjoy our trip very much.

  34. Jo, how wonderful this adventure does sound! And, with the rain having hit Bunbury, this could indeed be the time to slip North and East. Funny cause I’ve noticed you’re not around town!
    Wanda recently posted..Pearls of Wisdom for Keon and the Rest of UsMy Profile

  35. Yep, definitely the time for a little frolic in more tropical climes, Wanda!

  36. Johanna, Snorkeling the GBR is one of my fondest memories from Queensland when we visited. I loved the catamaran ride, the fish, the clicking, all of it! And many thanks for linking up with Weekend Travel Inspiration this week. I hope we see more of your Australian travel inspiration in the future!

  37. Thanks Corinne – yes I will continue to pop by, and glad this post brought back some good memories for you :)

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