The Best Outer Great Barrier Reef Tours | Experience Oz + NZ

The Best Outer Great Barrier Reef Tours

Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef is one of the most iconic sites in the world, so visiting and exploring it for yourself while in Australia should be at the top of your bucket list.

If you have a little bit of extra time on your hands (and a few extra dollars) it’s advised you head out to the outer reef to take in some of the most breathtaking scenes, with un-crowded bommies acting as a postcard-perfect scene.

However, when planning your outer reef trip, one of the big questions on everybody’s lips is which reef should you go to. Here, we’ll break down all of the best outer reefs to visit and who can get you there and give you one of the best and most memorable days on the Great Barrier Reef.


Moore Reef

Who goes here? Sunlover Reef Cruises & Reef Magic Cruises

What you’ll see

A popular option from Cairns, Moore Reef is home to both the Sunlover Reef Cruises and Reef Magic Cruises activity platforms. Both offering hours of reef-focused fun, you can enter the beautiful world of the Great Barrier Reef with ease thanks to the ample facilities on board the vessels and platforms.

With shallow fringing reefs, deep drops (up to 22 metres), and flourishing bommies, you’ll be able to spot a range of tropical fish including wrasse, parrotfish, emperors, butterflyfish, and surgeonfish, as well as hard and soft corals, white tip sharks and the odd grey reef sharks.

Sunlover Reef Cruises

Type: Reef Activity Platform

Departing Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal at 9:30 am, Sunlover Reef Cruises’ day trip out to their pontoon offers up to 4 hours on Moore Reef to return around 5:30 pm.

Complete with a tropical buffet lunch, serving up a delicious selection of seafood, hot and cold dishes, salads, and tropical fruit, as well as tea and coffee throughout the day, you won’t go hungry on this day trip.

Image: Sunlover Reef Cruises

While on board, you can also take advantage of the many different exploration opportunities, with glass bottom boat tours included in the cruise, as well as a touch tank onboard to get hands on with the reef.

For those chasing more adventure, there are numerous optional activities to choose from including introductory and certified dives, a sea walker platform helmet dive, guided snorkel tours, and a scenic helicopter flight. Keep in mind these listed extras come at an additional price.

Image: Sunlover Reef Cruises

Reef Magic Cruises

Type: Reef Activity Platform

Reef Magic Cruises’ Marine World Platform is another all-weather reef attraction moored on Moore Reef. Complete with a plethora of activities both on board and in the water, Reef Magic’s day tour departs Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal at 9 am to return around 5 pm, offering up to 5 hours on the reef.

Image: Reef Magic Cruises

Complete with a hot and cold buffet lunch, morning and afternoon tea, and tea, coffee, and water throughout the day, you won’t need to bring much on this reef adventure.

While on board, you can explore the reef from the dry underwater observatory, learn about the reef with a marine biology presentation, jump aboard the glass bottom boat or semi-submersible boat tours, or join the marine biologists for a fish feeding and identification session.

Getting into the water opens up a whole new adventure, and with the aid of snorkelling equipment and wet and lycra suit hire all included in the tour. Optional extras to add on to your Reef Magic experience include introductory and certified scuba dives, helmet dives, guided snorkel tours, and scenic helicopter flights.


Hardy Reef

Who goes here? Cruise Whitsundays

What you’ll see

Located in the beautiful Whitsundays off the coast of Airlie Beach, Hardy Reef is a mecca for all things aquatic. Reached within a 2.5-3 hour boat ride from the mainland, the reef is home to a selection of Great Barrier Reef favourites including unicorn fish, angelfish, starfish, grouper, giant Maori wrasse, sea turtles, and more.

Image: Cruise Whitsundays

Cruise Whitsundays

Type: Moored Activity Platform

Cruise Whitsundays’ Reef World pontoon sits adjacent to the sheltered reef and is the perfect hub for exploring this gorgeous part of the Great Barrier Reef.

Complete with a variety of facilities to make your visit as comfortable as can be, there’s a sundeck to relax and take in the views, sheltered seating and tables, an air-conditioned lounge for when you need a break from the Queensland heat, as well as fresh water showers and change rooms.

Image: Cruise Whitsundays

In terms of reef exploration facilities, there are sanctioned off swimming and snorkelling areas along the reef, with platforms erected for those who need a break without swimming back to the pontoon. If you’re a first-time snorkeller there are buoyancy aids available to help you along as well as snorkelling instructions from the friendly crew.

Back on board, there’s also a kids club to keep the young ones occupied for the whole day, a full buffet lunch, an underwater observatory or semi-submersible vessel for those wanting to stay dry, marine biology presentations, and complimentary snorkelling equipment and wetsuits.

Image: Cruise Whitsundays

If you’re looking to add a little something extra to your day you can purchase an introductory or certified dive or a relaxing massage.

The full day tour departs Airlie Beach at 8 am and returns around 6:10 pm with stops at Hamilton Island and Daydream Island.


Hastings Reef

Who goes here? Down Under Cruise & Dive

What you’ll see

Hastings Reef off the coast of Cairns is another great choice for visitors looking to see some of the typical reef inhabitants. A great all-weather option, Hastings offers a number of great snorkelling spots along the reef including the coral gardens, the fish bowl, and compass mooring.

Where the boat is moored and what part of the reef you can explore is completely dependent on the weather and wind direction on the day.

Image: Down Under Cruise & Dive

Home to a selection of tropical fish, you’ll be able to spot schools of small fish, parrot fish, yellow butterfly fish, rabbit fish, and damsel fish, as well as turtles, giant clams, and reef sharks.

Down Under Cruise & Dive

Type: Vessel

Departing Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal, Down Under Cruise & Dive’s reef adventure takes you to a total of two different reefs, North Hastings and either the Norman or Saxon for a full day of adventure.

Visiting Hastings in the afternoon, you’ll have a few hours to explore this beautiful part of the reef with guided snorkelling tour and equipment all included in the tour. However, ou can also embark on an introductory or certified diving adventure off the boat for an additional fee. The same goes for the scenic helicopter flights and semi-submersible boat tour.

Visiting Hastings in the afternoon, you’ll then have a few hours to explore this beautiful part of the reef with guided snorkelling tour and equipment all included in the tour. However, you can also embark on an introductory or certified diving adventure off the boat for an additional fee. The same goes for the scenic helicopter flights and semi-submersible boat tour.

Image: Down Under Cruise & Dive

On board the high-speed vessel, evolution, you’ll enjoy an Aussie barbeque lunch complete with prawns, steak, sausages and fish, with salads and vegetarian meals also available.

Come time to head back home you’ll be treated to relaxing live music on board accompanied by a delicious fruit and cheese platter to end the day.

Image: Down Under Cruise & Dive

Departing Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal at 8:20 pm, you’ll return to finish the day around 4:45 pm. All you’ll need to bring on the day is sun safety gear, swimmers, a towel, money if you wish to purchase additional food, drink, merchandise and more onboard, and the $20 Environmental Management Charge payable on the day per person.


Miln Reef, Pellowe Reef, Flynn Reef, and/or Thetford Reef

Who goes there? Silverswift

What you’ll see

A popular diving reef, Miln has some of the best dive spots on the reef including The Three Sisters, The Whale, The Edge, and Hoffs Drop, and is home to some of the crowd-favourite aquatic animals including sea turtles, reef sharks, Maori wrasse, parrotfish and more.

Thetford Reef has numerous isolated coral bommies home to giant clams, school of reef fish, and the rare pygmy seahorse. Lastly, you’ll find squid, eels, reef fish and more on Flynn Reef, which is one of Cairns’ outermost reefs.

Image: Silverswift

Miln boasts depths of up to 36 metres and more than 25 metres visibility on a good day, Flynn has depths up to 28 metres and more than 25-metre visibility, and Thetford has depths up to 18 metres and 10 to 20-metre visibility.

Silverswift

Type Vessel

Another reef trip departing from the hub of Cairns, Silverswift’s luxurious, 29-metre, air-conditioned catamaran, takes you swiftly out to some of the most scenic parts of the Great Barrier Reef. The small group tour takes you from Cairns to visit up to three of the above-mentioned reefs, for a full 5-hour day of exploring beautiful reefs, coming face-to-face with tropical fish, and admiring the beauty of the region.

The small group tour takes you from Cairns to visit up to three of the above-mentioned reefs, for a full 5-hour day of exploring beautiful reefs, coming face-to-face with tropical fish, and admiring the beauty of the region.

Silverswift’s small group tours make this an intimate and personalised experience for everyone to enjoy. Complete with a guided snorkelling tour and reef interpretation you’ll be able to explore the reef with ease when you add on the complimentary snorkelling equipment and prescription masks.

Image: Silverswift

To improve your underwater reef experience, you can sign up for an introductory or certified dive with the experienced instructors, to take you around some of the best dive spots available.

When you’ve had enough of the water, you can climb back on board to enjoy a delicious morning tea, hot and cold buffet lunch, and afternoon tea. The ultimate one day reef adventure visiting a handful of the most beautiful reefs in the region, Silverswift departs from Cairns Reef Fleet at 8:30 am and returns at 4:30 pm.


Norman Reef

Who goes here? Great Adventures

What you’ll see

As one of the best dive sites in Australia, Norman Reef on the outer Great Barrier Reef is home to a number of popular reef animals including Moray Eels, tropical fish and the local Napoleon Maori Wrasse, Barney. Snorkelling is a popular past time when on the reef as is diving with Norman Reef boasting diving depths of up to 30 metres.

Great Adventures

Type: Moored Activity Platform

Great Adventures moored activity platform on the Norman Reef is a mecca to explore. Reached with a relaxing ride on the air-conditioned fast paced catamaran, Great Adventures’ guests gives guests up to 3 hours on the reef.

While on the reef you can embark on snorkelling adventures around the reef, enjoy a reef education presentation to learn about the species you’re seeing, look around the coral viewing submersible, and experience a guided eco reef talk in the underwater observatory.

While on the reef, the option also exists to add on some adventure activities on the reef such as scuba diving, scenic helicopter flights, or a ride on the underwater scooters.

Cruises depart Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal at 10.30am and return at 5.30pm with check-in commencing at 9.30am and boarding from 10.10am.


Agincourt Ribbon Reefs

Who goes here? Quicksilver & Silversonic

What you’ll see

Located on the very outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef, Agincourt Reef, or as it’s otherwise known, the Ribbon Reefs, run parallel to the Continental Shelf and are a mecca for explorers looking to experience the reef.