What is the best reef to visit from Cairns, and Port Douglas in Cairns Tropical North Queensland

Simon Mallender on February 3rd, 2023

Best for: anyone keen to snorkel or dive

What is the best reef to visit from Cairns and Port Douglas?  With so many great reef tour operators in this region offering snorkelling and diving day trips, private boat charters and multi-day reef trips to the Great Barrier Reef, it’s hard to choose the best reef experience that’s perfect for you. To help you decide which reef is the best for you , here’s a sampler of some of the things you might see at each reef site on this hugely popular part of the Great Barrier Reef.

Agincourt Reefs

Agincourt Reefs are the most northerly reefs visited by the Port Douglas day boats. The group has plenty of great snorkelling and is a mecca for serious day trip divers. Its diverse underwater terrain has swim throughs, large sponges, and patches of big lettuce coral, and there are also small coral heads with their bobbing humbugs and sea anemones with their resident clownfish. Look out for turtles and reef sharks – you’d be unlucky not to see one.


Moore Reef

Like many reefs, Moore Reef is shaped like a croissant – but at 6km from end to end, you can understand just how many great dives sites could be hidden away all around it. To the south is an area called ‘Fish Bowl’ – and it’s no secret why – both snorkellers and divers are amazed by the prolific marine life to be seen there. It’s also a great place to see giant clams, and meet the friendly Maori Wrasse part of the Reef’s Great Eight.

  • Experience amazing snorkelling and diving plus an incredible family-friendly pontoon experience on our Moore Reef and Pontoon Tour complete with a waterslide!


Opal Reef

Opal Reef boasts a number of sites suitable for both snorkelling and scuba diving, providing you with a great introduction to what’s on offer on the outer reefs around Port Douglas and Cairns. Sandbox is a shallow dive – a great choice for any Discover Scuba Diving experience, or a third dive of the day for the experienced diver. As well as a colourful hard coral reef top you get to see plenty of big fish like giant sweetlips, six bar angelfish, coral trout and even rabbitfish. 

Michaelmas Cay

Michaelmas Cay is a great example of a coral cay and makes for the perfect second stop of the day. At just 200m long, you can also see how a cay is formed by the accumulation of sand piling up on a reef. Add in the birdlife and it becomes a small island with vegetation. The snorkelling on the reef is some of the best you’ll get in the region – large flat areas of corals – where you can simply float and watch the reef society busily going about their daily lives just inches from your mask.

  • Experience an amazing day tour to Michaelmas Cay, where you'll enjoy a range of family-friendly and adventure-filled activities including snorkelling, intro scuba diving (optional extra) and a glass bottom boat tour.

    Day trips to a coral cay are great options for families and those that desire an island getaway.


Fitzroy Island House Reef

If you’re looking for more than a day trip to the Reef, a night (or two) on an island is certainly a more leisurely way to enjoy the underwater world. Fitzroy Island offers snorkelling and diving right off the beach and if you’re keen for a night dive, Fitzroy Island Resort offers a range of accommodation options. 


With so many options to experience the Great Barrier Reef contact the local experts who can plan and book the ultimate reef experience to suit your individual needs.  

Norman Reef

Norman Reef is visited by day boats but also has a liveaboard if you want to spend a few nights out on the Reef. Very popular with divers, the liveaboard moors directly above sites like Playground, Platetop and Caves. Caves, not surprisingly, has a long swim-through as one of its many attractions. 

  • Discover the all inclusive Day Trip from Cairns with an intro/certified scuba dive plus glass bottom boat tour.  With an option to upgrade to the VIP Club complete with private concierge onboard.
  • Stay overnight on the reef on a Scuba & Snorkel Liveaboard tour with 1, 2 or 3 night options available. 

    With so many options to experience the Great Barrier Reef, contact the local experts who can plan and book your ultimate reef experience to suit your individual needs.

Interested to know more about the Great Barrier Reef read our plan your trip pages.



Simon Mallender

Simon Mallender

Passionate eco-warrior, Simon is also a scuba diver, videographer and writer. He has produced promotional wet and dry video for a number of Australian and overseas tourism boards, as well as dive centres and cruise lines. His dive features have appeared online on Queensland Blog, Expedia’s ‘Out There Starts Here’ Blog, Wego Editor’s Desk, and in print in many inflight magazines.

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