The Great Barrier Reef is stretching for more than 2000km/1200mi along the Queensland coastline. Comprising 3000 reefs and 900 islands and cays, it is the world’s largest coral reef system.
The Great Barrier Reef provides ample opportunities for snorkelers to explore, but you’ll generally need to take a boat tour (or to book an overnight stay on one of the islands dispersed on the barrier) to reach them.
Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef features some of Australia’s most popular snorkeling spots. The Low Isles (located 15 kilometers northeast of Port Douglas), Green Island, and Fitzroy Island (both located on the inner reef, a 45-minutes boat trip from Cairns), are highly popular with day-trippers.
The two tiny resort islands of Heron Island and Lady Elliott Island, fringed by coral reefs, are also among the best snorkeling options in Queensland. If the islands offer good snorkeling, don’t miss a trip to the outer reef, the very best part of the Great Barrier, where marine biodiversity is exceptional. Some reefs, including Norman Reef, Opal Reef, and the Ribbon Reefs are all renowned snorkeling spots.
Moreton Island, just 25km off Brisbane’s shore, hosts the Tangalooma Wrecks, one of the most spectacular snorkeling spots in Australia. This chain of 15 wrecks, skunk deliberately in 1963 just off the coast of the island, and reachable by swimming out there from the beach, is full of coral and fish.
The Great Barrier Reef is home to an incredible array of marine life, including over 1500 species of reef fish, 400 varieties of hard and soft corals, sharks, manta rays, sea turtles, dugong, and Maori wrasse.
Queensland is a year-round snorkeling destination, with a sub-tropical climate marked by two main seasons. During the humid season, from November to May, you can expect hot temperatures (the temperature often exceeds 35°C/95°F around Cairns in December), and shower rains nearly every day, but fewer crowds.
The humid season is also the marine stingers season, jellyfish being prevalent around the mainland and the islands of tropical Queensland. During the drier season, from June to October, you can expect lower day temperatures (around 25°C/77°F) and sunny weather, but you will get much more snorkelers with you in the water.
Central and northern Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef are generally wetter and hotter than the south.
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Lady Elliot Island is one of the best spot in the world to snorkel with manta rays
The most common angelfish species of the GBR. Can be seen in the islands as well as at the Outer Reef.
Abundant in Lady Elliot Island waters, common in Fitzroy Island and Green Island. Sporadic along the Outer Reef.
Often seen on the Outer Reef, rare elsewhere.
On all spots, sometimes only a few meters from the beach
A spectacular fish, commonly spotted on reef spots, from 10ft deep.
Huge specimens on all reef spots, including Norman Reef and Green Island
Common in Lady Elliot Island, frequently seen at the Outer Reef
Lagoon and reef drop off with sea turtles, manta rays and sharks
Protected coral reef with sea turtles and reef fish
Shallow reefs and seagrass meadows with sea turtles, giant clams and reef fish
Fringing reef with coral, fish and sea turtles
Shallow coral reef with fish and clams
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