Everyone passionate about the undersea world won’t want to miss the opportunity of snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, especially if they happen to visit Eastern Australia. Norman Reef is one of the most accessible spots in the Outer reef, the external part of the barrier famous for its exceptional biodiversity. Here, snorkelers swim amongst hundreds of bright-colored fish species in the deep-blue waters following the drop-off.

Blue branching coral at Norman Reef

How to get there?

The classic way to visit Norman Reef is to book a day excursion starting from Cairns. 3 types of experiences are possible: spending 5 hours on the platform set on the reef, visiting both Norman Reef and Green Island (about 2,5 hours spent on the platform) or visiting several spots including Norman Reef (no stop at the platform, you will enter the water directly from the boat). You must know, however, that operators can seldom confirm in advance the exact reef you will visit, as their choice is often made at the last minute, depending on the day’s weather conditions. Prices vary from 240$ to about 290$ including a lunch meal and snorkel gear. The ride from Cairns to the reef takes about 1h30. Numerous liveaboard boats cruising the Great Barrier also stop at Norman Reef, but they are generally dedicated to scuba diving rather than snorkeling.

Norman Reef snorkeling map

Water entrance

You will enter the water either from the platform (if you have been given access to it), or from your boat.

Exploration

You will explore the inner side of the reef, North-west trending and well sheltered from waves. If you enter the water from the platform, you will have access to the adjacent swimming area marked by buoys (see map). If you enter the water from a boat, it will moor next to one of the buoys set along the reef, most of them located north of the platform. In this case, however, you won’t be allowed to get too far from your boat.

Spinecheek anemonefish at Norman Reef

The reef quality is variable. Sadly, the reef flat is very degraded and covered with dead coral debris (↕1-2m), but it gets livelier as water depth increases (especially from ↕3-4m). The reef irregularly steps down to a sandy seabed (↕6-8m), boasting in the meantime a chaotic waterscape made of plateaus, overhangs and breaches. Corals, especially fluorescent-blue branching corals, are simply gorgeous in the preserved areas. Giant clams are set on the seabed, some of them 1 meter large and more. Amongst the most notable fish species likely to be spotted in Norman Reef, you won’t miss huge harlequin and yellowbanded sweetlips staying still next to the drop-off, or humpback groupers hiding underneath coral overhangs. Groupers, angelfish, clownfish inside their anemones, bannerfish… There are so many different species dwelling here that it is almost impossible to list them all. If lucky, you might even spot a sea turtle, a reef shark or a bluespotted ribbontail ray.

Yellowbanded sweetlips at Norman Reef

Restaurants and accommodation

Lunch meal is included in day excursions. Snacks and drinks can be bought onboard and on the floating platform.




 

  • Level required Intermediary
  • Protected areaGreat Barrier Reef Marine Park
  • Maximum depth1.5m/5ft on the reef flat, 8m/26ft on the drop-off
  • Water entranceFrom a floating platform or a boat
  • Visitor numbersHigh
  • Access costsSnorkeling day tour price (from AUD240pp.)

MAP Spot

These spots are accessible to anyone with basic snorkeling skills, and feeling comfortable in the water and with his snorkeling gear. You will enter the water from the shore (beach, pontoon, ladder, rocks) or from a boat. The water height in the sea entrance area is reasonable, but you will not necessarily be within your depth. Moderate currents can occur in the area, even when the sea conditions are good. The distance to swim to reach the most interesting snorkeling areas of the spot does not exceed 200 meters.

This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.