TOP 5 Breathtaking Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling Spots

snorkeling great barrier reef

TOP 5 Breathtaking Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling Spots

If you want to see giant whale sharks, docile nurse sharks, sea turtles ranging from babies to over a hundred years old, and species of marine life that you have never before laid eyes on, then snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef is the place for you! While Great Barrier Reef diving is world-class, you don’t need a scuba diving certification to explore the breathtaking underwater world that sprawls throughout the Great Barrier Reef. There are numerous Great Barrier Reef snorkeling spots spread throughout the area that allow you to experience sea creatures and marine life that seems almost alien compared to what you have become accustomed to. If you are looking to explore the underwater world, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is a destination that you simply cannot miss. 

Before we jump into the exciting Great Barrier Reef snorkeling offerings, here are some Great Barrier Reef facts to intrigue you a bit more. The 2,000-kilometer long Great Barrier Reef is located off the coast of Queensland in Northeastern Australia. Interestingly enough, the reef is the largest living thing on Earth and can actually be seen from outer space due to its sheer size! The massive reef has an area of 132,974 square miles and is home to more than 600 types of soft and hard coral as well as colorful fish, sharks, turtles and boisterous dolphins. Another thing to note, is that conditions range from great to fantastic for Great Barrier Reef snorkeling. The water temperature averages around +26C (79F) and can even go as high as +29C (84F) during certain months. Australia is located in the tropics, which means warm weather can be found year round. Air temperatures throughout Australia average +29C (84F), with nighttime temperatures dropping just a bit. Water visibility is also very good along the Great Barrier Reef and ranges from 15-30 meters depending on the month, weather conditions and the area that you are snorkeling.

Now that you’re hooked on the history, the weather and the marine life that you can spot along the diverse Great Barrier Reef, let’s get into the good stuff – the Top 5 Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling sites! These sites are listed here in no particular order, and they each offer a variety of sea life and different depths to explore depending on your snorkeling experience level.

Top 5 Breathtaking Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling Spots

1. Cairns Reefs

snorkeling cairns reefCairns is a great snorkeling spot for first timers or families, and even for more advanced snorkelers. Cairns is an “Outer Barrier Reef” and the travel time to get there is between one and three hours by boat depending on the area of the reef that you are visiting and snorkeling at. The water clarity here is superb and the best Cairns snorkeling spots are around Green Island, along Hastings Reef and in Michealmas Cay. Green Island offers several snorkeling sites of its own, but the best is underneath and around the jetty, but along the resort side. The time of day doesn’t matter because low or high tide, you will still see corals and marine life such as turtles, stingrays, Rabbitfish and maybe even a massive Queensland grouper. Hastings Reef offers sandy floors and over 13 kilometers of gorgeous coral to explore. Here you can swim and interact with Butterflyfish, Angelfish and even catch glimpses of rays and some sharks resting on the bottom of the ocean floor. Michealmas Cay is protected under the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area. The cay is sandy and you can even hear Parrotfish munching on the coral that has built up around the cay over time. This is truly a unique sound and experience if you have never witnessed the occurrence before.

2. Cod Hole, Ribbon Reefs

snorkeling ribbon reefsThe Ribbon Reefs lay along the northern coast of Queensland. The Ribbon Reefs got their name because it is comprised of 10 narrow reefs that are numbered one through ten. The Ribbon Reefs are home to Cod Hole, a world-renowned snorkeling destination that is famous for the giant Potato Cod and Maori Wrasse fish that call it home. These magnificent creatures have been fed by tour guides over the years, and as a result, they show no fear of humans. If you visit during the months of June and July, you may even be lucky enough to spot some Dwarf Minke Whales making their way through the area.

3. Heron Island, Queensland

snorkeling heron islandAlthough every area for Great Barrier Reef snorkeling is simply magnificent, Heron Island is a great place to snorkel. The island offers such diversity in marine life and coral that you won’t know where to look first! You can see everything from turtles to manta rays, and even the nudibranchs are gorgeous. The great thing about Heron Island snorkeling is that you can enter the water from any area of the beach and there are a few resident groupers that frequent the area, growing larger and larger over time. The best spot to snorkel from the shore on Heron Island is along the jetty and the best time to do this is three hours before and three hours after high tide. Boat tours are also offered to take you further out to the Heron Reef where you can see a much more diverse array of marine life. 

4. Lady Elliot Island, Southern Great Barrier Reef

snorkeling Lady ElliotThe best time to snorkel Lady Elliot Island is when the tide recedes out of the lagoon, creating deep channels and gullies between coral reef flats to swim through. This is a great spot for swimmers of all snorkeling levels and you can access the water right from the beach, or book a boat to take you on a guided tour. You can enter at the Lagoon along the eastern side of the island, which is a better area for beginners. Don’t worry though, you will still see tropical fish, bountiful coral, starfish, urchins, sea cucumbers and even turtles swimming about. Along the western side of Lady Elliot Island, you can enter at either the Lighthouse or the Coral Gardens. There are deeper depths to explore here for more experienced snorkelers and on top of unique coral and colorful reef fish, you can find marine life on the larger side such as dolphins, whales, manta rays and even reef sharks.

5. Knuckle Reef Lagoon, Whitsunday Islands

snorkeling knuckle reef lagoonKnuckle Reef Lagoon is located 100 kilometers off the coast of Airlie Beach. This lagoon houses more almost an impressive array of coral species and around 200 species of fish. While you are snorkeling about the beautiful coral reef, you will encounter giant clams, sea turtles and even friendly clownfish.

No matter which destination you visit, you will experience the snorkeling adventure of a lifetime. Submerging yourself into the waters of the Great Barrier Reef will take you to another world that you will never forget.