What is it like to cruise the Barrier Reef and what are the reefs like? How do you spend your day on a reef cruise?
We took an Agincourt Reef cruise from Port Douglas and had a perfect day out on the sea. Agincourt Reef located at the very outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef consists of 3000 reefs and is World Heritage listed.
We snorkeled, watched the corals and other marine life and spent the whole day on a sea pontoon. This blog post is about how we did it and what our trip was like.
Cruise the Barrier Reef: Choosing the Cruise
When we started planning our holiday it was kind of a problem for us that there were hundreds of tours and we didn’t know which one we should take. But after searching for a while we found the Cairns Holiday Specialists website that has very valuable information on reef cruises and other activities you can take in Queensland.
The website was very helpful for us as we could search for alternatives by location, date and duration.
We decided to take a whole-day Quicksilver Agincourt Reef cruise from Port Douglas. The tour costs a bit more than many others but it also offered more activity options on the reef.
We booked and paid the tour at home before leaving for Australia since we wanted to fix our schedule. They sent us a booking confirmation with which we got the tickets at the counter at departure. Now it was booked!
Agincourt Reef Cruise
The Quicksilver tour goes to Agincourt Reef at the very outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef. At the outer edge of the reefs exist so called ribbon reefs that run parallel to the continent. Here corals grow well and you can also see them better since the outer reef water is so clear.
On Agincourt Reef they have parked a pontoon, it’s like a big platform, where they have organized different activities that you can choose from. You can snorkel, swim, scuba dive and take an underwater tour on a semi submersible submarine. You can also take a helicopter ride but that brings an extra cost.
Agincourt Reef on the Map
You might wonder where Agincourt Reef is. It’s 90 minutes north-east from Port Douglas with a fast catamaran. You can see it here, just zoom in or out the map depending on how well you know the area.
Onboard the catamaran you can easily follow the route with your smartphone, just remember to load the maps before you lose your internet connection. There probably isn’t a working connection during the whole day.
The Great Barrier Reef extends for 2300 km along the Australian coast! It’s not just one reef but a huge network of almost 3000 individual reefs.
All these reefs consist of corals. Corals are animals that form a skeleton of limestone. The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest mass of living organisms.
The Great Barrier Reef has been given a World Heritage area status. No wonder it is the main destination for tourists from all over the world that visit the beautiful North Queensland.
I’m so happy to be one of the lucky people that have been able to cruise the Barrier Reef. And I’m sure you now wonder what the cruise was like and how we got there.
We were traveling from Cairns with a campervan. You can read about the trip in my other post.
The Night before: Port Douglas
As we didn’t want to drive long distances early on the cruise morning we booked the night before at Tropic Breeze Holiday Park which is right in the middle of Port Douglas.
Tropic Breeze is a short walking-distance from the Marina Mirage Harbour where reef cruises leave in Port Douglas. With car it’s a less than 5 min driving. There’s lots of parking space around the ferry terminal so no problems at all with parking.
It was high season and Tropic Breeze was packed with campers and we only got a small space for our campervan. It was so crowded and there was no privacy at all and we had other campers on all sides. But no problem, we only slept here and spent our time outside the camping. Port Douglas beach, the main street and all the entertainment and dining options are just a short stroll away. Here’s more about the Tropic Breeze caravan park.
If you want to read about what the destination of Port Douglas is like, check out my blog post Driving from Cairns to Daintree.
Port Douglas Harbour
Finally here, in the harbour, early in the morning and ready for the great day, today we were going to cruise the Barrier Reef! The only problem was the weather that didn’t look promising, there were dark clouds and it was raining a bit. But finally the day turned hot and sunny as you can expect in the tropics!
We sailed past the harbour entrance at 10 and we were to return at 4:30. This is what the sea looked like at high tide. At 4:30 it was low tide and you can see that picture at the end of this post.
Catamaran to Agincourt Reef
During the catamaran trip the staff held presentations on the life on the reef. We sat and listened and tried to absorb everything, like school children. Great to learn this all!
- Corals are animals in the same family as jellyfish. They need warm water and sunlight for growth. Corals grow some 25 cm a year and they grow towards the sun.
- There are soft and hard corals and the soft ones move. The corals live in colonies.
There are 1500 different fish on the reef and each has its own job in the system. Typical fish are the parrotfish, nemo and butterfly fish. They all have bright colours.
There are also many turtles on the reef. Turtles are reptiles and they need to breathe air. Below water they can hold their breath even five hours.
The sea was rocky and many of the passengers got seasick, above all kids. You should think about that and reserve some medicine in ahead. But since we have a boat back home we are used to waves and we didn’t mind them.
Agincourt Reef Pontoon
This is what the platform looks like. There are stairs to get into the water and boats to bring you to the helicopter. You’re going to spend the whole day outdoors but there is some shelter which is good since the sun is very hot.
A buffet lunch was served in the afternoon. Buffet is good since everybody can find what they prefer. The rest of the day you could just choose your activities. Swim, snorkel, dive, take an underwater or helicopter tour or just relax on the platform.
You can take a 10 min helicopter tour and see the reef from the above. We didn’t, since we happened to get a perfect view of the reef from the plane when we landed in Cairns.
Underwater Observatory and Scuba Diving
Like the helicopter tour, scuba diving was optional as well. We didn’t try that either. But it was fun watching others learn to dive. The underwater observatory had big windows facing the corals.
Here are some tropical fish seen from the underwater observatory. Many of the fish are born without gender. Later the big ones become female and the small ones male. Later they still can change gender.
Semi Submersible Submarine
There were two semi-submersible submarines that departed every 30 min so everybody could take a tour or two on them. Sitting down here was a suberb place for coral watching, and the staff explained everything we saw.
There are 400 types of corals. The most typical corals are the brain coral, the staghorn coral, mushroom coral and plate coral. There were also many fish around the submarine. You can see some fish in the middle picture.
We also saw small sharks. There are 50 species of sharks and all of them are not dangerous. Some of them are small and they only eat small fish, not people.
Some of the corals are brightly coloured but you don’t really see the colours through the window. To see the colours and get still closer to the fish you need to snorkel.
Reserve most of your time for swimming and snorkeling! It’s great fun. The water is very shallow at some points and you have to be careful so you don’t touch the corals, the corals are sharp and might cut you.
Most people hired black lycra suits that protect from stingers that exist in tropical waters. A life vest makes that you don’t have to move so much in the water and so the fish tend to come closer to you.
Masks, fins and snorkels were provided in the bins on the platform so you just select the right size of everything. All you need to bring is a swimsuit, a towel and sunscreen.
Lifeguards on Duty
The lifeguards were alert all the time and they helped those that were unexperienced. Different snorkeling areas were marked with lines that were easy to follow.
A lifeguard told me that this injured water bird (whose nick-name I already forgot) lands on the pontoon every time a tourist group is visiting.
After the snorkeling and all the other activities we still enjoyed the reef views before heading back to the catamaran.
Before we left the lifeguards collected all items from the water. There was a passenger count for safety reasons and so we started our journey back to the mainland.
Back to Port Douglas
Here you can see the platform and one of the many coral reefs we passed on the way back. After 90 minutes on the sundeck we were back in Port Douglas. Here are some views of the harbour entrance.
People were sitting in outdoor cafes and bars and all of them looked so happy and they were waving to us! I’m sure most of them already knew what a Barrier Reef Cruise is like and others were still looking forward to their cruise.
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and it really felt like a Sunny Sunday! Today we had been lucky enough to cruise the Barrier Reef! Cruising was the main reason we came to Cairns, Australia and it was well worth it.
More Information on Agincourt Reef Cruises
If you’re planning to cruise the Barrier Reef, and especially Agincourt Reef start with looking at the amazing video material and great photos Quicksilver Cruises presents on their website. Here is the link:
And finally, this photo shows Port Douglas harbour when we returned, at low tide.
My Other Posts on Queensland
If you are planning a trip to Queensland you might like these posts too: