What is a Great Barrier Reef cruise like? What did the corals look like and how did we spend our time on a reef cruise?
On a reef cruise from Port Douglas, Queensland we had a perfect day out on the Coral Sea. The reefs we went to were the Agincourt Reefs at the very outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef.
This post will show you the UNESCO World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef. To be exact, it’s not only one reef. The Great Barrier Reef consists of 3000 separate reefs and all of them rive you a different experience.
On a Great Barrier Reef cruise
Spending a whole day on a sea pontoon, we snorkeled looking for corals and other marine of these warm tropical waters. I will now show you how we did it and what a Great Barrier Reef Cruise is like.
The first thing we had to do was to choose a cruise:
How to Choose a Great Barrier Reef Cruise
Port Douglas Marina where many cruises start
Planning our holiday we met the problem that there were so many cruises from so many places. Simply too many options to choose from, not knowing exactly what they contained. This overdoze of information made it hard to compare the providers and decide which one to take.
Then we found a website that helped us search for alternatives by location, date and duration. There might be many of them, but the one we used was the Cairns Holiday Specialists. In addition, the website shared a lot of valuable general information on cruises, and the same website also explained what other commercial activities were available in the tropical North Queensland.
Getting Our Cruise Tickets
We are going on a Great Barrier Reef Cruise!
From the selection we chose the whole-day Quicksilver Agincourt Reef cruise from Port Douglas. The tour maybe was a bit more expensive than some others, but contained more activities on the reef.
So we booked and paid for our cruise weeks before leaving for Australia, and the booking confirmation we got should be changed to tickets at the counter when departing. Booked and planned!
Our Great Barrier Reef Cruise
Our Great Barrier Reef vessel in Port Douglas harbour
So the tour we took went to a place called Agincourt Reef, located at the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef. The Agincourt Reefs are a part of the so called ribbon reefs that run from north to south, parallel to the Australian continent.
In that place corals should grow bigger and in the clear water of the outer reefs you will also see them better.
On Agincourt Reefs they have a pontoon. It’s like a big platform where they offer different activities. You can snorkel, swim, scuba dive and take an underwater tour on a semi submersible submarine. And at an extra cost you can take a helicopter ride.
Great Barrier Reef Cruise: The Reefs on the Map
Map of the Great Barrier Reef and the Agincourt Reefs
The map shows the location of the Agincourt Reefs north-east of Port Douglas. It’s a 90 minute journey north-east with a fast catamaran. Zoom in the map to see the reefs more in detail.
You might wonder where in Australia the Great Barrier Reef is. Zoom out to see the Queensland coast and the long ribbon that follows the coast.
On the way to the Great Barrier Reef!
Then, onboard the catamaran you can easily locate where you are using your smartphone, just remember to load the maps before losing your connection. Most probably there won’t be any connection during the day.
The Great Barrier Reef
Snorkelling to see the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef extends for 2300 km along the Australian coast. To be exact, it’s not just one reef but a huge network of almost 3000 individual reefs.
All these reefs consist of corals. Corals are not plants, they are animals that form a skeleton of limestone. That makes the Great Barrier Reef the world’s largest mass of living organisms.
The Great Barrier Reef has been given a UNESCO World Heritage area status. So no wonder people from all over the world want to see this exceptional underwater sight.
I’m so happy to be one of the lucky ones to go on a Great Barrier Reef cruise. It’s a thing I never even dreamed about and then became possible. But I’m sure you now wonder what the cruise was like and how we got to the starting point.
We were traveling Queensland in a campervan to see the Daintree and the reefs. You can read about the road trip from Cairns to Port Douglas here: our drive from Cairns to Daintree.
Arriving the Night before
As Great Barrier Reef cruises sail in the morning, we spent the night before at a holiday park in Port Douglas.
The Tropic Breeze Holiday Park was a short walk from the Marina Mirage Harbour where Port Douglas reef cruises leave.
The evening before we walked to the harbour to check where to park in the morning, to see that there was a huge parking area next to the ferry terminal. So no parking problems at all in Port Douglas, not even with a big campervan like ours.
A crowded campsite in Port Douglas
Yet the Tropic Breeze was overcrowded and we only got a tiny parking space between two big motorhomes.
As there was no privacy at all, we only slept there and spent the evening in the town. The sandy Port Douglas beach and the main street with entertainment and dining options are only a short walk from the campsite.
To read more about Port Douglas, check out the post Driving from Cairns to Daintree.
Port Douglas Harbour
Morning in Port Douglas Harbour
Early in the morning we were in the harbour, 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. The clouds were grey and it was almost raining. But in the tropics the weather changes rapidly, and the afternoon was hot and sunny.
At 10 we sailed past the port entrance and were to return at 4:30.
This is what the sea looked like at high tide and at 4:30 it was low tide. You will see the difference at the end of the post.
Sailing boats in Port Douglas Harbour
On a Great Barrier Reef Cruise
The catamaran that took us to the Great Barrier Reef
During the catamaran trip the staff held presentations on the life on the reefs. We sat down, listened and tried to absorb it all. Everything they told was new to us and so interesting. Great fun to learn all these facts! Some examples:
- 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. All corals live in colonies.
There are 1500 different fish on the reef, each of which has its own job in the system. Some of the most typical fish are the parrot fish, nemo and butterfly fish. Like corals, all Great Barrier Reef fish has a bright colour:
Learning about Great Barrier Reef fish
There are also turtles on the reef. Turtles are reptiles and they need to breathe air. Below water they can hold their breath as long as up to five hours.
The presentation was held upstairs and when the sea got rocky most of the audience got seasick and went down. When planning a cruise, you should think about this and take pills with you.
At the end we were the only ones on the upper deck. As we have a boat at home we maybe are more used to seafare and don’t easily get problems with rough seas.
On the Reef Pontoon
On a Great Barrier Reef cruise: the pontoon
This is what the platform looks like. There are stairs to get down into the water, submarines to show you the corals and motor boats to take you to the helicopters.
As we were going to spend the whole day outdoors we were happy for the shade the pontoon provided. The sun is hot out on the sea, and even more that in the tropics.
Life on the pontoon
A buffet lunch was served in the afternoon. A buffet meal is a good idea as it’s something for everybody and people with different diets can take what they like.
The rest of the day we were free to choose what to do on the pontoon, and in which order we want to do that. So there was no organized time schedule what you should do and when.
Swim, snorkel, dive, take an underwater or helicopter tour or just take it easy and relax on the platform.
Great Barrier Reef Helicopter Tours
A great Barrier Reef helicopter landing
You can take a 10 min helicopter ride and see the reef from above. We didn’t as there was an extra cost, and we had already seen the reef so well from the plane when landing in Cairns.
Underwater Observatory and Scuba Diving
Scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef
Scuba diving, too, was optional and there was an extra cost. We didn’t have interest for that either, we rather watched others learning how to dive.
The underwater observatory had big windows towards where the corals were:
Watching corals and fish from the underwater obserwatory
Here are some tropical fish seen from the observatory located below the water line.
We learned that many of these fish are born without gender. Later the big ones become female and the small ones male. And in case they want they can change their gender later.
Semi Submersible Submarine
Exploring the Great Barrier Reef in a submarine
There were two semi submersible (half-way below the water) submarines. They left every 30 min so everybody who wanted had a chance to take a tour or two on them.
The bottom of the submarine was a superb place to see different corals and the staff thoroughly explained everything there was.
Corals seen from the submarine
There are 400 different types of corals. The most typical corals are the brain coral, the staghorn coral, mushroom coral and plate coral.
There were also many fish coming close to the submarine, some of them in the middle picture.
We also saw small sharks. There are 50 species of sharks, not all of which are dangerous. Some of them are very small and only eat small fish, not people.
Great Barrier Reef corals
Many of the corals are still brightly coloured, but you don’t really see the colours through the blue submarine windows. To see the colours better you will need to snorkel.
Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef
Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef
On a Great Barrier Reef cruise, try to use most of your time swimming and snorkeling. It’s when you will see the underwater life best. As the water is so clear you can see all the beauty around you and get close to corals. But don’t get too close and don’t touch the corals. They are sharp and easily cut you.
Most people hired black lycra suits. They protect you from stingers that exist in tropical waters. A life vest is compulsory and makes that you only move slowly in the water. That makes fish dare to come closer to you.
Snorkeling equipment on the pontoon
Masks, fins and snorkels were in the bins on the platform, so we just chose our equipment trying to find the right size of everything. As all equipment is on the platform, you only need to bring your swimsuit, towel – and a lot of sunscreen.
Lifeguards on Duty
A Great Barrier Reef lifeguard at work
The lifeguards were on duty all the time, to help those that didn’t know what to do and how to snorkel. You can see how the different snorkeling areas were marked with lines. The meaning was to follow the lines below the water.
A water bird on the pontoon
One of the lifeguards told me that an injured water bird (whose nick-name I already forgot) comes and lands on the pontoon every time there are visitors and stays there until they leave.
Two European travellers on a Great Barrier Reef cruise
Soon it would be the time to leave the pontoon. After snorkeling and other activities we were a bit exhausted but there was still time to look at the Great Barrier Reef, before walking back to the catamaran along a narrow landing bridge.
Leaving the Agincourt Reefs
Before we all left the pontoon, the lifeguards went and collected all remaining items and equipment from the water. Then they counted that all passengers were onboard and we started our journey back to the Australian mainland.
Back to Port Douglas
Our Great Barrier Reef cruise pontoon
Here you can once more see the platform and one of the many smaller reefs we passed by on the way back.
Great Barrier Reef pontoon and corals
Then, after 90 minutes on the sundeck we were back in Port Douglas. Here we are entering the harbour:
A sunny Sunday in Port Douglas
There were people sitting in outdoor cafes and bars, all of them so happy – and all of them waving to us!
I’m sure most of these people already knew how once-in-a-lifetime experience a Great Barrier Reef Cruise is. And maybe the rest of them were going on a cruise tomorrow.
Views of Port Douglas Harbour
It was a relaxed sunny Sunday afternoon and it really felt like a Sunny Sunday!
Today we have been on a Great Barrier Reef cruise! We have seen the reefs, which was the main reason to make a trip to the Australian tropical north. Today was well worth it!
Back from the cruise to Australia’s amazing waters
More Information on the Cruise
If you are planning to cruise the reef the way we did, start with the amazing video material on the Quicksilver Cruises website: Quicksilver Cruises
And to end the post, here’s the photo of the harbour of Port Douglas at the time we returned – at low tide:
The Port Douglas harbour at low tide
More about Queensland
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