Snorkel and Dive on the Great Barrier Reef
One of the must-do trips when you're in far northern Queensland is to take a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. There are lots of options in terms of where to leave from, where to go, what to do while you're out there, how long to go for, and which boat to go on.
So in short, we chose a day trip out of Port Douglas on Silversonic, heading to Agincourt Reef to snorkel, for as much time as was possible.
But here's the longer version.
We were staying at Thala Beach Nature Reserve, 10 minutes out of Port Douglas. This delightful resort sits above the Coral Sea and has a wide-ranging view across the area. It enjoys a leafy rainforest setting but also has some open light bush, a rich birdlife, a coconut plantation, and two beaches – Pebbly Beach to the north of the headland and Oak Beach to the south. All we needed to complete the experience was some time on the reef. Even better, we could be picked up from the resort, and dropped there afterwards.
Silversonic is not one of the big shiny reef boats, but a smaller, smoother boat which takes around 80 people and gives a very personal service. So when you get out to the first reef stop of the day you're not in the water with countless other people, all trying to explore the same spot. It’s not a true luxury boat, but offers a nice step up from the tourist trips, while giving you an exciting, authentic experience.
That morning we went out on a glassy summer sea, having picked a fine day between many rainy ones. Summer brings the water temperature up to a delicious 30 degrees C (give or take) so it was easy to stay in the water for extended periods of time. We travelled 70 kilometres off-shore to the Agincourt reef system, which is one of the ribbon reefs on the outer edge of the reef. The water was pretty clear, definitely warm, and each place we stopped revealed a beautifully different patch of coral and fish life.
You can choose to either dive or snorkel off Silversonic, and divers could do intro dives if they weren't certified, or head out separately if they were. Snorkellers could choose to be guided if they wanted, or swim wherever they chose if they were confident in the water.
I hadn't been out on the reef for a number of years and was curious to see the effects of some recent major coral bleaching events and cyclones.
So what did we see? The first place we jumped in was a colourful area of big potato corals and a mix of other smaller ones. It was pleasing to see almost no bleached corals and quite a few fish. Big parrotfish were chomping on the coral, as they do, and damselfish were gliding between the outcrops. It was great to be in the silent water, finning gently above the micro reef environment below.
The second place we stopped, just 5 minutes away by boat, was called the Nursery. This time there were lots of plate corals (the big flat ones) and a few staghorns (the pointy ones). Some of these were broken, probably from a storm surge barreling over the reef's outer edge at some time. But the highlight was a bommie (a single point of coral that rises from the seafloor) just a short swim away that was crowded with fish. Clouds of mostly small, brightly coloured fish were swimming in separate coloured groups, flitting and flirting with the current. A few larger fish were also circulating between the groups. This was a beautiful site which I didn't tire of, staying in the water for as long as I could.
The final spot we snorkeled was different again with a mix of corals, a variety of pretty fish and another bommie, this one with less, but much bigger, fish rotating around it. The highlights here were a big turtle which cruised slowing through the scene a few metres below the surface, and a shy reef shark making little cameo appearances in the distance. We followed the turtle quietly at a distance, mesmerised by his stately presence in the water.
Throughout the day we had been treated to great food, warm drinks (or cold if you chose) and some interesting pre-snorkel talks about what we would be seeing, and the ecosystem it was part of. It was a great day out.
© Sue Farley - Travel Gallery
FYI – if you're staying in Cairns you can travel out to a different part of the reef on Silversonic's sister ship Silverswift.