Gypsy Travel – The Great Barrier Reef

Clow Fish

How to do the Great Barrier Reef – from Cairns and Port Douglas –  right the first time.

Ahh… the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), everyone’s childhood fantasy looks like something out of the little mermaid or a David Attenborough Documentary.

Fair enough, too. The way the reef has been depicted from behind the lens of the camera or from the comfort of your own lounge chair is only one point of view. Where you go on the GBR can significantly change your experience. It’s like the moment of disappointment when you order a Big Mac based on the picture on the display menu only to be greeted by some soggy mess of bun-mayo-lettuce-beef? combo.

However, when you walk into a fine dining, 5 stars, 3 hatted restaurants, you soon realise that your $160 steak soaked in angel’s tears and presented on a shard of stone carefully cut from the 10 commandments was worth the wait.

Thus, bringing me to my point; not all GBR cruises are created equal. The higher the price, the more you can expect. But, you need to do your homework and be clear on exactly what you want to see and experience.

So, how do you know what to look for?

Well, my friend, that’s a great question. The first thing to note is that there is no ‘hard and fast’ rules, only a few key signs to keep an eye on.


Island Hopping

Island hopping isn’t a thing in Cairns and Port Douglas. Meaning you can’t go from one island to the next on a day tour… or even an overnight tour for that matter. But, you can get your island fix. If you’re after an island experience, you’ll find Fitzroy Island, Green Island, and Franklin Islands, as well as the Low Isles off Port Douglas, all within reach. The reef here isn’t what you’d call ‘world class’, however, they do offer more premium products to get you to more secluded parts of the islands.

While the reef has some rare moments of brilliance, the wildlife is still in abundances. Turtles, Parrot fish, Nemo, turtles, white tip reef sharks, octopus, and the occasional whale (May to September) just to name a few… did I say turtles?

If you’re looking for the picture-perfect vision of the GBR you dreamt of as a child, the island options aren’t a great place to start. Unlike the Whitsundays, there are fewer island options off the Cairns coastline and a much larger number of visitors.

Perfect for: People looking to chill on the sand, do a bit of light snorkelling, and having a few cocktails or beers while you work on your tan. One of the best value for money trips with boats leaving multiple times a day.


Pontoons (Nope… not like the movie)

Think giant, floating, man-made platforms filled with activities suspended over choice parts of the GBR. When I say ‘big’, I mean ‘BIG!’ You’ll have 200 – 350 people moving from the boat to the pontoon, to the water for 3-5 hours. The great part about the pontoons is that you have everything you could possibly want in the one spot.

Snorkelling, lunch, glass bottom boats, and heaps of room to move around are all included for one price. But, if you want to get a bit more action (G-rated action) you can upgrade to scuba diving, sea walker helmets, guided tours, and scenic helicopter flights.

The pontoon is a great place to visit if you want to tick a lot of boxes in one visit.

Keep in mind: Once you add scuba diving to your trip, the price jumps quite significantly. If you want to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef, and see the best of the best (including snorkelling the best of the best) then our third and most ‘David Attenborough’ like the option is the GBR trip for you.


Outer Reef Dive and Snorkel Boats.

This is where it’s at! You can go cheap on these boats, or you can go all-in. Cheap on the Dive and Snorkel boats doesn’t always mean bad. But, the more cash you spend the further it goes.


Passions of Paradise


Classified as one of the most respected reef tours and a perfect way to see the GBR.

Passions of Paradise is slightly cheaper than most and offers real bang for your buck. Passions visit two reef sites on their full day charter, Michaelmas Cay and Paradise Reef. They also include all your snorkel equipment, food, expert instructors and a marine naturalist to help you identify the vast array of sea life.

Silver Series & Poseidon


Ok, stick with me here because all three of these GBR trips are world class. They are all run by the same company and have the greatest reach over any other day vessel off Cairns or Port Douglas.

The Silver Series is, in fact, two boats; Silverswift out of Cairns and Silversonic out of Port Douglas. Firstly, for any commercial boat to visit a reef site they need a permit. Each boat purchases a permit to a reef site which then allows them to put a ‘mooring’ on that site. A ‘mooring’ is a line tethered to the sea floor which boats attached to like an anchor.

That being said, both the Silverswift and Silversonic have the widest range of moorings on the outer reef. They’ll decide, based on the weather, which reef site to visit on the day. This gives you an endless list of possibilities and variety. You could be swimming out over the Continental Shelf at one site, and the next could be in waist deep water hanging out with a sea horse and a turtle.

Now, Poseidon… Poseidon is virtually a mirror image of Silversonic out of Port Douglas. The boat was purchased by the Quicksilver Cruises to diversify their list of moorings. More moorings, more variety for their guests.

The crew on all three boats will make you never want to leave. Friendly, fun, and always keen for a laugh, not to mention super switched on to the GBR. All your equipment is provided, guided snorkelling tours, food, marine naturalists – the lot. You can upgrade to scuba diving if you’re feeling adventurous.

And… each boat has an additional permit to swim with the Minke Whales during whale season (May to September).

The tip of the Iceberg

There are sooo many different options and considerations to factor when choosing your GBR trip. Weather, activities, boat size, experience (Island, scuba, snorkel, drinking, etc.), time of year, and the list goes on…

At Gypsy Travel our aim is to pair you with an experience you’ll never forget. The Great Barrier Reef is a once in a lifetime opportunity for most of us. And we want to make sure you’re still talking about your experience long after you’ve unpacked your backpack.

Get in touch with us here to start planning your Great Barrier Reef trip (or Airlie Beach Trip, or Whitsundays trip).