Cays and Reefs in Tropical North Queensland

Snorkelling on Opal Reef

It was on one of the reefs in this area, just off Cape Tribulation, that Captain Cook ran around in June 1770, and in doing so discovered the Great Barrier Reef – the hard way.

Nowadays all the reefs are well charted and zoned by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Association (GBRMPA), which defines the activities allowed around each. Almost all the reefs and cays in this area are zoned as Marine National Park which allows snorkelling and diving but very little else, and that’s exactly what they are used for: most are visited by the day boats out of Port Douglas and Cairns.

From north to south these are:

  • Agincourt Reefs;
  • Opal Reef;
  • Norman Reef, Saxon Reef, and Hastings Reef;
  • Michaelmas Cay, Green Island (which is also a coral cay) and Fitzroy Island (a true continental island);
  • Flynn Reef, Milln Reef, Thetford Reef, Moore Reef and Sudbury Reef.

Snorkel and dive sites

Most of Australia's Great Barrier Reef coral reefs are crescent-shaped or circular, and being one to six kilometres across each has many snorkelling and dive sites around it. All the Cairns and Port Douglas tourism boats have their favourite spots and visit them in rotation and according to the prevailing weather conditions. This means that on each visit, you’re unlikely to see the same thing twice, and of course, it also ensures the reefs are not stressed unduly by large numbers of visitors.

Snorkelling any of these sites you are almost certain to see a wide range of marine animals - including the Great Eight and Maori Wrasse, Clownfish, Giant Clams, as well as a myriad of other colourful reef fish.

Divers are likely to see reef sharks as well. Turtles could be seen at any time, including from the boat when it is moored up at the outer reef. 

Read our blog, Best places to snorkel and dive in Tropical North Queensland to find out more about these amazing snorkel and dive sites.

Great Barrier Reef Blog