Great Barrier Reef Tours

Apr 6th, 2005, 12:27 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 13
Great Barrier Reef Tours

We will be on our trip of a lifetime in Sept 2005 to Australia. We will be Cairns for 3-5 days and want to see the Great Barrier Reef. Can someone suggest a good reasonable tour guide or tour company to use? Also we'd like to go to the Daintree Rainforest if someone can suggest a tour company or guide for that. Thanks for all ideas and suggestions.
travelingjoy is offline  
Apr 6th, 2005, 05:33 AM
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My husband and I went out to the reef with Quicksilver. It was very disappointing.The boat is enormous. You are taken to a huge platform where the snorkelling area is roped off and not very good. We decided to go out again with Haba Dive and it was excellent. A smaller boat, 2 sites, spectacular reef. This tour leaves from the harbor in Port Douglas. I suggest you use Trans-Derm Scop if you are at all prone to sea sickness as you are quite a few miles off shore and the boat rocks when you park to snorkel. You will have a wonderful experience.
badsneakers is offline  
Apr 7th, 2005, 10:02 PM
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travelingjoy - Quicksilver leaves from Port Douglas although it does pick up (coach or Wavepiercer) from Cairns. But it doesn't leave Port Douglas for reef until 10am, so you have less time on reef. It is indeed huge, the company also owns the smaller Quicksmart and Wavedancer, which goes to Low Isles. An excellent all-rounder out of Cairns is Ocean Spirit to Michaelmas Cay, it a lovely motor/sailer catamaran with easy snorkelling from sand cay (a recent post suggested that a sand cay is not a reef, a sand cay is part of a reef, although most reefs don't have them) - and Michaelmas is about as "outer" reef as you can get. There's a semi-submersible as well and introductory and certified diving is available. If there's a nice breeze it goes under sail and there's plenty of deck space, not just rows of seats like some other vessels.

Trek North does a good trip Cairns-Cape Tribulation and takes up to 12 passengers and you get a great lunch in a tropical fruit orchard. For a personalised trip of the area, Pete Baxendell of Heritage and Interpretive tours will take you where you want to go or design trip for you.
pat_woolford is offline  
Apr 8th, 2005, 08:05 AM
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I did the Michaelmas Cay with Ocean Spirit. As a backpacker I was totally taken to a different experience. It was good though! We enjoyed really good snorkelling, went in the glass bottom boat and saw sea turtles, had a great buffet lunch, on the way back the crew played music on the front deck and had the sails up, etc. There were a lot of Japanese tourists (and they translated everything in Japanese for them..). I liked that the little boat went back and forth to the snorkelling area so one could quickly come back to the main boat if needed/tired...
The next day I went to Fitzroy Island for a day and was so dissapointed because Ocean Spirit had really up my standards the previous day!
christellefv is offline  
Apr 8th, 2005, 08:44 AM
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i went on a trip of a lifetime to australia, in september, 2004. i took the ocean spirit from cairns to michaelmas cay. i found it to be a most pleasurable experience. however, it was quite cold and windy in september, the day we went.. the crew was FANTASTIC!!!! so helpful. i have water issues and didn't snorkel, so the semi-submersible was AWESOME. i might add that on the cay there's a bird sanctuary, with i'm sure 20 million birds, you can hardly hear yourself think. also the lunch was good and again the crew could not have been better. on the way back it was an EXTREMELY bumpy ride. i HIGHLY suggest some motion sickness tabs, if you are the LEAST bit prone to motion sickness. enjoy your time on the reef.
highness67 is offline  
Apr 8th, 2005, 02:40 PM
Join Date: Mar 2005
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For the reef, I would highly recommend to go out of Port Douglas, it is closer to the reef and you go to the better reefs in my opinion. Please remember, that during winter it is more windy out there than in summer.
On good days you definitely should go out on a smaller boat like the Wavelength, a snorkelling specialist. Takes about 30 people and goes to 3 different reefs during the day - you get the best snorkelling. Crew is great and looks well after novice snorkellers.
There are also a little bigger boats like the Calypso, Haba or Poseidon. they take about 50 people and also offer diving (Introductory as well as certified diving). They go to 2-3 different reefs.
In regards to the cays, remember, if it is windy, there is no protection from the wind on the cay.
If the weather is bad or too windy, I would NOT recommend to go on a smaller boat. You will not enjoy a day out on the reef with 20-30 knots winds. Then you should use the Quicksilver as it is a big boat and you spend the day on a platform, moored to the reef.
Another thing to remember, if the weather is windy, the water around the cays and islands can get pretty murky with the sand being stirred up, visibility is not that great.
For the rainforest, I would highly recommend Pete Baxendell. He is the owner, operator of Heritage & Interpretive Tours and he offers fantastic and spectacular trips to the best places in the forest. You will go off the beaten track, away from the main tourist route. He offers private charters, means you can create your own day. Or do a bushwalk, a more hands-on experience - fantastic. If you feel like adding a cruise on the Daintree river, I would recommend Dan Irby's Mangrove adventures.
If you need links and infos to tour operators, just go to
Hope this will help
myaustralia is offline  
Apr 8th, 2005, 04:57 PM
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Yes, it was unusually windy last September, last year the prevailing "winter" SE trade wind seemed to blow almost continuously from May-October. But windy weather can also crop up at other times, eg only 2 days ago it was 25knots+ out on reef. Three visitors went out with Great Adventures - this boat is almost as big as Quicksilver and keeps pontoon moored at Norman Reef which is about halfway between Cairns and Port Douglas and some 70km out to sea. They were so sick they paid a fortune to take helicopter back to Cairns, rather than face to reurn journey on the boat. On the same day another couple on Ocean Spirit had a wonderful time at Michaelmas Cay - had great visibility and loved the sail back to Cairns, even though it was a lot faster than usual. The crew on Ocean Spirit are second to none, the lunch is by far the best provided on any day reef trip I've ever taken either out of Cairns or Port Douglas, and its a beautiful looking boat, especially in full sail. Michaelmas Cay is not a little sand island which somehow sticks up out of the sea, its attached to the far larger Michaelmas Reef so offers plenty of great snorkelling. It is also a seabird sanctuary as are both Heron and Lady Musgrave Islands, way further south and attracts birdwatchers from all over the world. There is no need for a huge metal pontoon as you snorkel straight off the sand. For those prone to seasickness its wiser to take medication the night before the trip, then again on the early morning of trip - too late once you're on the boat. Or go to Frankland Islands where most of journey is on protected river, with only 25 mins spent on open sea.

You will find many Japanese tourists in the area although they are fast being overtaken by those from mainland China. Cairns is only a 7and a half hour flight from Narita, Japan, 6 hours from Hong Kong and about 3 and a half to Denpasar, Bali.
pat_woolford is offline  
Apr 12th, 2005, 10:44 PM
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I did the trip to michaelmas cay, and the water and beach were spectacular. The boat ride was bumpy, though. People were falling around the deck. But the crew was great. And the food was good.
andrews98682 is offline  
Apr 20th, 2005, 01:34 PM
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Gotta agree with Ian's post. My DH went w/Wavelength as a first-time snorkeler last Nov., and had a great time. Also went on a day expedition with Pete Baxendell, and it was the highlight of his trip. Absolutely raved about Pete!

We are all going to Port D this August, and are hiring Pete for two days and doing Wavelength for snorkeling.

Enjoy! Lori
loriwass is offline  
Apr 20th, 2005, 02:29 PM
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Wavelength is great for snorkellers only and am sure it would have been perfect in balmy November, loriwass. But it is small and not very comfortable in a wind over 15knots, often experienced in August, which is about the windiest month of all. After all, it is winter here then. Out of PD with wind over 15 knots you'd be better off on something larger, Poseidon is a good one, or the others mentioned above by myaustralia.
pat_woolford is offline  
Apr 20th, 2005, 07:32 PM
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We just returned (earlier today) from AU on our 4 week once in a lifetime trip! We stayed in Pt. Douglas for 5 days at the Archipelago Studio Apt. right on the beach. Lovely, clean and wonderful owners. We took the "Wavelength". I am sure they have a website.Snorkeling and was a highlight. Only snorkels, goes to 3 different spots have marine biologist on board and of course, ALL the boats give you free seasick pills, should the waters be rough. They are a smaller boat but very indiviualized attention and leave right from town. Most beautiful underwater life.
We rented a car to see Mossman, Daintree River and the rainforest. It was a very EZ drive, no traffic. Enjoy. jb
jbstrig is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2005, 08:19 AM
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We're heading off in 2 weeks for our "trip of a lifetime" as well. I've done a lot of research online for dive trips to GBR (probably too much!) I think we've decided on a liveaboard to get more time on the reef and maximize our diving experience. We are absolute novice divers. We are currently thinking of Reef Encounter's 2 day/1 night trip.

Another option is the Jungle Tour -- Reef and Rainforest that combines Cape Trib and a dive day.

Any feedback or ideas welcome!

Peter & Michelle
petermichelle is offline  
Apr 25th, 2005, 05:33 PM
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Just a quick response to a few of the comments under your question:

1. Michaelmas Cay is beautiful and it is part of a reef BUT to see great coral you have to get away from the shore. Coral gets smothered by sand, polluted by bird droppings and smashed up by winds in the shallows. It is a simple biological observation that the best corals are as far away from any sort of land as possible. Im sure those who go there have a great time and think they have seen great coral.... but there is better reef to be had if you get away from the influence of land/shallow water.

2. Wavelength ( is the smallest boat that goes to the outer reef - thats true. But to say it cant handle the winter winds is erronous ! Wavelength is argueably the most stable boat in Port Douglas as she is NOT a rocking rolling lightweight aluminium catamaran. She is a lobster boat from WA, has a 3 inch fibreglass hull weighing 18 tons, a brand new 1000 horsepower twin turbo Mann deisel engine that weighs 4 tons and is designed to handle serious open ocean conditions - unlike the majority of "pretty" tourist vessels around here ! She sits down low in the water and muscles through waves at 21 knots. At 15 knots of wind you can still ride the bow she is that stable ! And at 20 knots of wind you can still pour yourself a drink in the galley.

Furthermore, Wavelengths amazing collection of sites (20 years of operation) means that they have many highly sheltered locations with astounding coral growth that they can hide in to get out of the wind. Most other boats (new businesses) have about 3 sites and thats all they have to pick from in rough conditions - like it or lump it.

3. With regard to reduced visibility - if the company doesnt have a sheltered site, then yes, visibility can be cut due to the winds. In the last week we have had howling winds here and I can report that Wavelength still managed to get 15 or even 20 metre visibility despite the rough conditions. Its all about the site location !

4. Finally, just to recap on the weather - most tourists come here for the Winter. Its mostly windy with drissling rain at times. Thats not bad for rainforest tours or sitting in restaurants but if you are a reef nut - DO NOT COME HERE IN WINTER - best time is October/November and if you dont mind warm rain, December/January is just as good.
If you are a reef fanatic, then do a live-aboard trip - you will get to see more reef, better reef, for longer times than doing multiple day trips - probably be cheaper in the long run to.
Fish_Boy is offline  
Apr 25th, 2005, 06:24 PM
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Agree, Wavelength probably does have the best reef sites. Had reason to talk to them only this morning, they are not going out today because of high wind - the bigger boats are going out.
pat_woolford is offline  
May 1st, 2005, 11:11 AM
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We went out from Cairns for a day with Ocean Spirit. Had a marvelous time. Those that chose to SCUBA dive did so, those that wanted to snorkle did so, those that wanted to cruise the area in a glass bottom boat did so. (The glass bottom boat stays anchored at the Reef. Good food, good company, good catamaran and crew.
John71cove is offline  
May 1st, 2005, 05:06 PM
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Glad to hear you enjoyed Ocean Spirit, john. Just to point out to others, Ocean Spirit has two sailing catamarans - the larger (and more expensive) one goes to Michaelmas Cay and has a semi-submersible. The smaller goes to Upolo Cay and Oyster Reef - no semi-sub, but does have glass bottom boat.
pat_woolford is offline  
May 2nd, 2005, 09:13 PM
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We used Wavelenghts and thought they were great! The day we happened to go out, the waters were fairly one in our party (their were four of us) got ill but a few others did. There was one woman who was sooooo sick that her husband actually walked away from her. one of the crew literally held her in his arms for the entire ride and then made her tea and stayed with her until she felt better.Above and beyond in my book!

Can't say enough good about them for many reasons, that is just one of them.

moneygirl is offline  
May 3rd, 2005, 04:53 AM
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I am taking my father who is in his mid-80's to Cairns next month. He has never seen the GBR before. I was wondering if the Low Isles tour with Wavedancer would be a good idea for him as he can walk around the beach amd take it a bit easier than some of other trips which go further out. Dad is quite active enough to do a bit of snorkelling. What is the snorkelling like as compared to going out further? For myself, I would like to be at least able to get in some good snorkelling - I know they don't do dives on this trip.
shandy is offline  
May 3rd, 2005, 03:15 PM
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Hi Shandy,
you might get more replies if you open your own thread instead of adding to someone elses.
In regards to your question. Low Isles is very nice and an alternative to the reef, however the quality of the trip will depend a lot on the weather. If it is rough, the visibility around Low Isles will not be that good. The snorkelling is good (not great) and they do offer Introductory dives there too.
The other option for you would be on the big Quicksilver boats to the Outer Reef.
You could do the snorkelling and diving and your father could see the reef from the glass bottom boats and the underwater observatory. The trip is pretty calm as the boat is very big and you spend the day on the pontoon at the Outer Reef. To see the best reef, you should go to the Outer Reef!
Hope this will help
myaustralia is offline  
May 4th, 2005, 04:05 AM
Join Date: Sep 2004
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we did a couple of boats out of Cairns / Port Douglas. We have no complaints at all about either of them.

We also did the flight to Lizard Island with Daintree Air where we snorkeled off of a magnificent beach.
The experience was the best we had in Australia. The reef was just amazing, thousands of fish and huge clams.

The flight to Lizard along and over the rainforest was breathtaking, the flight back over the reef was just as amazing.

We had a full seven hours to snorkel which was more than enough for us.
All in all the highlight of our visit.

mrsmayers is offline  

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