Helicopter or seaplane tours to Great Barrier Reef?

May 17th, 2004, 09:10 AM
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Helicopter or seaplane tours to Great Barrier Reef?

My mother and I are traveling to Australia, NZ and Fiji in August on a guided tour for a total of 19 days. Unfortunately, our tour does not include the Great Barrier Reef. Since we do have some free days, I am trying to find a helicopter, seaplane or boat excursion to the Great Barrier Reef and haven't had much luck. We will be staying in Melbourne, Sydney, Queenstown, Christchurch and Nadi, Fiji in that order. I'm guessing that we will be the closest to GBR while we are in Fiji for 1 full day and 2 half days.
Does anyone have any suggestions on good day trips to the GBR?
sweetclover1 is offline  
May 17th, 2004, 10:05 AM
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The Great Barrier Reef runs parallel to the coast of Queensland, the state that's in the northeast corner of Australia.

The most common way of getting to the GBR for snorkeling or scuba diving is to take an hour's boat ride (give or take) from the Queensland coast.

There are various coastal bases that are used as jumping off points to see the GBR. One of the most popular ones is Cairns in Far North Queensland.

It takes 3 hours to fly from Sydney to Cairns. A boat ride to the GBR, a few hours of snorkeling, lunch on the boat, etc., takes up a good chunk of a day.

Then you have to fly back out again.

Many people say it's better to snorkel because the colourful coral is near the surface of the water and also because you're not allowed to fly for X number of hours after you've been scuba diving. I've forgotten what the mandaory flying delay after diving is, but it's buried in previous discussion threads around here.

Anyway, what this all adds up to is that it's difficult to visit the GBR in under 3 days if one counts travelling time to and from it, and even if one only snorkels and doesn't dive.

An Internet search has not brought up any direct flights between Fiji and Cairns. I'm not saying they don't exist, but I haven't found one.

In addition to that, when I look at the map of Australasia, I would guess that, if a flight between Cairns and Fiji existed, it would take at least 5 hours (extrapolating from the time it takes to fly from Sydney to Cairns). Here's a map of Australasia:


I've never been to Fiji, but I understand it has coral reefs of its own. Perhaps you could snorkel in Fiji.

Hope this helps.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
May 17th, 2004, 12:35 PM
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Judy is right. It's not feasible to fly to the GBR from Fiji.

Sydney is the closest point on your itinerary, and that's a 3-hour flight.

Both Qantas and Virgin Blue fly Sydney to Cairns, with Jetstar starting on the route (I think) later this year.

You'd need a couple of days. Quickest option is to get an evening flight from Sydney, arriving Cairns say 9.30pm. Next day do your reef trip, which you have pre-booked. You may be able to fly back to Sydney that night - or the next morning.

One problem with this is - it makes no allowance for weather. Some trips may not go out if the weather is bad.

Look for Pat Woolford's posts to see the best options on reef trips.

Another option may be the Daintree Air trip to Lizard Island - which sounds just fantastic. Search for Lizard Island posts on this board.
margo_oz is online now  
May 17th, 2004, 05:21 PM
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hi sweetclover, yes you are certainly closer to the northern part of GBR from Fiji, which is on about the same latitude as Cairns. Am pretty sure Qantas does a Nadi-Brisbane flight which would take an hour off the 3 hour Sydney to Cairns bit. But it's a long way to come for a day's snorkelling and as Margo pointed out it gives you no flexibility with weather, but then with only 1 full and 2 half days in Fiji, you don't have much leeway there either. If you decide to fly Cairns-Lizard you'll need to book now with Daintree Air - July/August are the busiest months of year in North Queensland. Cape York Air(light aircraft) also does half hour and hourly scenic flights out of Cairns as does DownUnder Helicopters. Check previous postings for recommendations for reef day trips.
pat_woolford is offline  
May 18th, 2004, 06:50 AM
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Thanks for all the advice. I know we will not have time to do the GBR now that you have explained the distance because we are on a guided tour and won't have that much free time to travel that far.
Let me pose another question. Fiji is an optional extention to our main trip. It would be possible for us to just delay our flight home (skip the optional Fiji extention) and use those days to go to the GBR on our own. Which would you recommend doing if you could only see the GBR or Fiji??? We are not avid snorkelers or divers but would snorkel or go on a semi-submersible boat at the GBR. I just having a hard time imagining coming all the way from the US on a once in a lifetime trip and not seeing the great barrier reef!
sweetclover1 is offline  
May 18th, 2004, 09:05 AM
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That is a tough choice! I too would be greatly disappointed to travel to Australia and miss the GBR. On the other hand, Fiji is a wonderful and unique place with different cultures and scenery that are rarely found elsewhere.

If you are only spending a day-and-a-half in Fiji, then perhaps your time would be better spent on a overnight trip to the GBR. As people have pointed out above, you can fly to Cairns, then take a boat.

Another choice would be to fly into Hamilton Island, in the Whitsunday Islands, then take a fast catamaran out to the reef from there. A large barge (called, 'Reefworld') is anchored along the reef, allowing for a stable platform, easy snorkeling, underwater platform viewing, and helicopter excursions. Hamilton is closer to Sydney, and might be a cheaper flight; although the reef itself is further offshore and perhaps not as vibrant as the parts to the north. Hamilton has many hotels, and would be a convenient place for a short GBR trip.
ALF is offline  
May 18th, 2004, 09:25 AM
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Sweetclover1, this doesn't answer your question about the GBR versus Fiji.

Rather, it's a warning about August weather in New Zealand and in Australia's more southerly latitudes. You're probably aware of this but, just in case you aren't, Christchurch is as far south of the equator as Boston is north of it. Although I've never been to New Zealand (other than to refuel in Auckland), the latitudes tell me that Christchurch in August is likely to feel something like Boston in January. I felt that your being aware of this, if you weren't already, would help you to pack appropriate clothing.

Cairns and Fiji, being in the tropics, are likely to be pleasantly warm in August. That was true of Cairns when we were there in July.

Good luck in deciding between the GBR and Fiji, and hope you have a great trip.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
May 18th, 2004, 06:44 PM
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While the weather in CChurch will not be balmy in August, it will not even approach the low temperatures of Boston in the wintertime. Winds across N America blow mostly from the western quadrants, so Boston gets most of its weather from the cold center of this big continent. CChurch gets a great deal of weather from the ocean, which moderates temperatures tremendously.

Melbourne's and Sydney's latitudes are in the mid 30's, which will yield winter weather similar to that of Northern California.

ALF is offline  
May 18th, 2004, 07:53 PM
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Thanks for the correction, ALF.

I've now looked up the respective temperatures. Christchurch's average maximum temperature in August is 55 deg F, and its average minimum temperature is 37 deg F.

By comparison, Boston's average maximum temperature in January is 36 deg F, and its average minimum temperature is 21 deg F.

So there's an almost 20 deg F difference between daytime highs with Christchurch, as you say, being by far the warmer of the two.

Queenstown, which Sweetclover1's tour will include, has winter temperatures of 50 deg F / 34 deg F. (I didn't find average highs and lows for August, only for June, July and August lumped together.)

Melbourne's average high for August is 57 deg F, and its average low 43 deg F. It gets an average of 2 inches of rain, spread over 16 rainy days, leaving 15 sunny days. It averages 6 hours of sunshine per day over the month.

Sydneys temperatures are 64 deg F / 46 deg F. Its 3 inches of rain falls during 10 days, leaving 21 sunny days. There are an average of 8 hours of sunshine per day.

Cairns gets highs of 81 deg C, lows of 63 deg F, an inch of rain, 23 sunny days, and 8 hours of sunshine per day.

The Australian info comes from

Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
May 19th, 2004, 06:28 AM
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Judy_in_Calgary, thanks for the weather warning! We are aware of the fact that we'll have to pack everything from a pair of shorts to layers and a coat depending on which city we'll be in. My travel coordinator did explain that there may even be snow in Queenstown, although it does not *feel* as cold (read: bitter cold) as it does here in Maryland in January!
After additional conversations with the travel coordinator, if we did decide to forego Fiji we would be flying out of Christchurch (our last official stop on the guided tour itinerary) to Cairns then we would be on our own in Cairns to explore the city and parts of the GBR, leaving on the 4 day to return home. I expect 3 days is enough time to see both???
Alf, thanks for the recomendation to Reefworld!
sweetclover1 is offline  
May 19th, 2004, 08:51 AM
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Hello Sweetclover1,

Glad to hear you're all set for the weather.

As to Cairns, in addition to the GBR, another fascinating thing to do in that area is a tour of the tropical rainforest. You can do it as a self drive exercise, but this is one occasion when I think a guided day tour really is worth it. A knowledgeable guide can make all the difference to one's appreciation of the rainforest and mangrove swamp ecosystems.

Going to the GBR takes the better part of a day, and the same can be said of a rainforest tour.

It's best to schedule the GBR trip first. Then, if weather precludes the trip on your preferred day, you have some wiggle room. You can re-schedule your tours so that you can do the rainforest first and hopefully the GBR second.

In this thread entitled, "Help! Honeymoon in two weeks in Australia and Need Advice on Where to Go," I posted a message in which I described the lay of the land in Far North Queensland (the 3 communities in which visitors most typically stay, popular activities, ground transportation arrangements, etc.).


The one piece of advice that I'd alter for you is the suggestion of Palm Cove as a place to stay. The message mentioned above was addressed to an individual who was going on honeymoon. You don't HAVE to be on honeymoon to enjoy Palm Cove, so you certainly could stay there if you wanted. However, you also could consider Port Douglas (in which I've stayed, and which I enjoyed) or Cairns. Next time I go to FNQ, I'll seriously consider staying at Lilybank, the Cairns B&B of regular Fodors poster, Pat Woolford, and availing myself of Pat's advice and tour booking services:


Hope this helps.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
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