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Great Barrier Reef tours from Cairns

The legendary aura surrounding the Great Barrier Reef ensures that it remains one of the most sought-after destinations on the planet. That’s especially true for those who are lucky enough to live in what is considered to be the gateway to the Reef - the Australian city of Cairns.

Let's uncover the best of the best that can be found in Great Barrier Reef tours from Cairns. It may be the world’s largest coral reef system, but don’t think it hasn’t got a whole lot of heart.

How long does it take to reach the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns?

By car

The historic Great Barrier Reef Drive extends from Cairns all the way down to Cape Tribulation with gorgeous coastline scenery to enjoy, and from Cape Tribulation, you can make the short venture out to one of the Reef’s primary hotspots. On a good day with little traffic, the 140km journey should take around 2 hours and 30 minutes to complete.

By boat

Depending on your chosen island destination within the depths of the Great Barrier Reef, a quick boat journey can take between 45 and 90 minutes - with full day trips potentially lasting between 8am and 5pm, which tend to be the peak times.

By helicopter

The scenic wonders of looking down on the Reef can offer up an entirely new perspective, and it can be achieved in between 45-60 minutes, with extended tenures being available to those who really want to take a deep dive into the area.

What is the typical itinerary of a day tour to the Great Barrier Reef?

The luxury of a full-day tour to the Great Barrier Reef can be enjoyed with a variety of different companies, with the majority picking you up from your hotel early in the morning before kick-starting the festivities.

Depending on the price range, morning & afternoon tea will usually be accompanied by a gourmet lunch, often prepared by a chef - but if you’re going down more of a budget route, setting sail out onto the open water will be partnered up with a guided tour from a resident expert.

Activities can include snorkeling, scuba diving and island hopping from one location to the next with safety instructions provided throughout. It can be thought of as an elaborate and speedy way of cruising around without having to worry about the baggage that comes with an elongated spell out at sea.

Then, with safety checks being performed throughout, you’ll be returned to Cairns where the rest of the holiday can continue.

Pontoon Experience Tour

On this full-day cruise delight, travelers will be able to really get to grips with the Reef in ways that most can only imagine. From going via catamaran to the pontoon or going on a semi-submersible vessel, and perhaps even a boat with a glass floor if you’re brave enough, this is one for the daredevils out there.

Speedboat Tour

Everyone has a need for speed and through a speedboat tour, we’re pretty confident you’ll get the adrenaline rush you’ve been searching for. It’s fast, electric and unlike any other form of transportation - and we tend to think that’s a good thing. It’s hard to be unique and stand out in a place full of such beauty, and yet hopping on a speedboat seems to accomplish that.

Sailing Cruise Tour

We all want to live the high life, and at the very least, get a glimpse into what could be expected from such an idea. The sailing cruise tour to Green Island means that the intricacies of sailing can be learnt and explored, entering an exclusive-reef site on a 16-meter boat with up to an intimate group of 24 others.

Helicopter Tours

Discover the Great Barrier Reef with a fantastic helicopter tour. Explore one of the world’s top natural wonders from the air and admire the stunning views from your helicopter - a unique experience.

Are there any combo tours including any other places to visit?

As opposed to sticking with the status quo in selecting Great Barrier Reef tours from Cairns, why not expand your horizons by doubling up on the day ahead.

Mossman Gorge

Make sure to add Mossman Gorge to your Cairns bucket list. This rural wonderland speaks to the soul of Queensland in ways that many other local areas can only dream of. It’s rugged, it’s about as green as it gets down under and for a split second, there’s a sensation that the traveler could quite literally be anywhere in the world.

Cape Tribulation

Instead of just being a hub whereby visitors can meander on through aimlessly, Cape Tribulation can instead produce the ‘lost island’ fantasy that many of us have often wondered about. The beaches can be used as a spot to catch some much-needed sun, or alternatively, ride a few of the brisk waves amongst the calming waters.


The mountain village that doesn’t know how to quit - meet Kuranda. The Scenic Railway here winds all the way down the hillside, enveloping those within to give off a vibe of pure seclusion. Some use it as a place to let their hair down, whereas others simply try and imagine the gravity of the movies and TV shows that could and should be filmed here.

Travel tips

  • The temperatures remain steady between 21 & 30 degrees Celsius all-year-round in sunny Australia, and as such, wearing sunscreen is key at all times.
  • If you want to see as much as you possibly can and save money in the process, piecing together a combo tour could be the best way forward.
  • The peak season is June to October so book earlier on in the year if the intended goal is to experience it in its full glory, but if a cheaper experience is what you’re after, last-minute deals could make themselves known if you hold your nerve.