We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Reef tour options and suggestions

Which Cairns hotels are on sale?
mm/dd/yyyy mm/dd/yyyy
See hotels
Level Contributor
34 posts
3 reviews
Save Topic
Reef tour options and suggestions

We are going to be at the Cairns area for 5 days with a 3 yr old starting 11/8. We like to do an outer reef cruise. A pontoon at the destination would be nice for the child. Looks like my options are QUicksliver to Agrincourt reef, Reef magic to Moore reef, Sunlover to Arlington reef, Great Adventure (to Moor reef?). Do I miss any? I would appreciate if some experts could give an comparison of these tours. Some of us wants to try an introductory dive, so nice diving is desired. We got seasick, so calm trip and calm condition while on the pontoon is must (Should we be concerned about sea condition this time of the year?). Not being too crowded is nice, but not required, preferablly staying away from the tour groups.

We also want to do another tour to islands or cays. We acturally wanted to stay on Green Island for couple nights, since it sounds like a great place for chilrend and the snorker who is afraid of deep water. But I read so many negative reviews on the forum, especially with day trippers crowding the island, destroying the reef. , I question if this is the best choice. How is the snorkel off green island, I am not expceting something as spectaular as in outer reef, but don't want to look at dull, dead reef either. Shhould I go ahead with Green Island, or look at day trips to Lower isles, or other small cays, would prefer a shorter trip to get to the island.

We haven't decided where to stay yet (Between Cairns and Port Douglous), I think that will be determinted by what reef tours we take.

Currently, we scheduled one day for the Daintree. From what I read, Kuranda itself is very touristy. We are not into shopping, etc., more into natural adventures, is it a good idea to skip Kuranda. I suppose I would got my taste of rain forest from the Daintree trip, I might be missing the cable car over rain forest expereince.

Since we are not the tour group type, we would prefer to self drive, are we really going to miss out a lot? I would try to get some nice maps and books at local bookstore. How is the driving condition. We have driven in the US and Europe, driving on the "wrong side" might be the only concern. Do we need a 4x4. We like to see more, but with a young child, we probably won't be doing the real tough driving either, therefore not paying for the extra unless it has big advantage.

Can we rent the car in the airport and return in the city before heading out to the islands?

Thanks you, I have read lots of very helpful comments, look forward to your expert views

Sydney, Australia
Destination Expert
for Sydney, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Airlie Beach, Whitsunday Islands
Level Contributor
18,953 posts
184 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: Reef tour options and suggestions

Starting at the beginning..

Who you choose your reef trip with will very much depend on where you stay..it's about an hour between Port and Cairns.. Out of cairns and Port D Quicksilver has the biggest boats and most sophisticated site.. it is also the operator of choice for the tour buses etc and with 300 people flapping around I don't feel you get the best out of your trip. From Cairns Reef magic would be my pick becuase it's not so well known and a bit more intimate. There are other operators out of Port D but it's probaly best to consider them when when you deicde where you are staying.

I have never been tempted to stay on green island or even daytrip so i wont comment on it.

The person who probably will get the most out of kuranda Skyrail is your 3yo..You can skyrail up and back nd avoid kranda centre totally... but why not have a little look around anyway..

Driving is easy (except between Port D and cairn where there is a stretch a bit like HWY 1 very curvy).. there is very little traffic and well made roads..but almost everything out of cairns is single carriageway. Unless the weather is really wet a 4WD is not worth th extra. You don't need one. Take the car out to the Atherton Tablelands..

Yes you can hire from airport and return intown..maybe a one way charge but I wouldn't think it was much..

Level Contributor
1,347 posts
2 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Reef tour options and suggestions

We last went with Great Adventures out of Cairns back on Christmas day 1995 so my advice might be outdated but we had a great day.We thought we'd try something different and have Christmas lunch on the reef and it was very well organised anf first class.

Green and Fitzroy Islands do get their fair share of day trippers but which part of the reef doesn't,it's so popular.

Hire a car and self-drive,go at your own pace which is good with children as there is no set times to be back on buses etc.A 4WD is not necessary.

Level Contributor
34 posts
3 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: Reef tour options and suggestions

Thank you both for your suggestions. Tablelands was not on my original plan, but after reading about it, sounds like a wonderful idea. Do we do it on a separate day from the daintree forest? Our plan right now is:

Day 1, rest, get famaliar with the local environment

Day 2, Daintree, river cruise, etc.

Day 3, outer reef cruise (I think Reef Magic sounds better than Quicksilver)

Day 4, Tablelands? Or Kuranda

Day 5, to Green Island and stay overnight

Day 6, Return to Cairns and fly out?

Given this plan, we probably should stay around Cairns. Does it make sense to you?


Dallas, Texas
Level Contributor
33 posts
3 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: Reef tour options and suggestions

- Definitely avoid the Quicksilver daytrip, or any other large GBR tour. You will find yourself surrounded and trapped by hundreds of other tourists. It isn't fun. Also avoid the GBR tours to Green island as they are also overcrowded with tourists. If you do stay a night at Green Island keep in mind that for most of the day you will not even be able to see the water or beach because of all of the day trippers. The snorkeling itself is good but not great.

- You will really enjoy the Daintree if you are interested in natural adventures as I am. What a beautiful place! Some of the lodges in the middle of the forest (like Silky Oaks) are just amazing. The tours to Cape Tribulation are also great. Kuranda is touristy - very touristy; however, the Skyrail is worth it. Take the Skyrail up to Karunda and the train back.

- As for driving, they say don't worry about the 4x4 unless you head north of the Daintree River; but, I found that there are difficult roads everywhere if you get off of the beaten track; therefore, I would suggest a 4x4. This region is a very difficult drive if you are not used to the "wrong" side of the road. The drive from Cairns to Port Douglas is especially dangerous - very dangerous.

Level Contributor
2,046 posts
Save Reply
5. Re: Reef tour options and suggestions

I wasn't going to reply to this post, because I thought everyone covered it all very well. but now,I must put in my 5 cents worth...

You don't need a 4x4, unless you are planning to go further north than Cape Tribulation and with only a day from Cairns for any of your sightseeing trips, you won't get the time to do it, even if you wanted to.

The roads are not dangerous, however the Cairns to Port Douglas stretch is rather winding, but if you follow the traffic and keep on your side of the road and not try to take pictures while you're driving, you will be OK. The are slow lanes intermittetly which allow you to slow down, pull over and let the passing traffic follow on,use them and there are also plenty of spots to pull over for photo opportunities which are all marked for your interest in advance.

Level Contributor
34 posts
3 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: Reef tour options and suggestions

We just returned from our Australian trip and wanted to share some expereince about the trip. I wanted to thank everyone who gave us advice on this site, these are extremely helpful in helping us decide what to do.

We really enjoyed the trip. The weather was nice, the Australians are very friendly, in fact, I didn't meet a single Australian who is not nice, courteous.

The highlight of our stay around Cairns was Green Island. I was discouraged by the negative comments before the trip. I wish I had planned for a longer stay on the island. It is the ultimate island expereince with less than 100 people on the entire island after dark, 5 * accomodation, 5* food. We can go snorkel anytime just off the beach, we saw turtles, shark, ray and lots of beautiful fish. The day trippers isn't a big problem as they are on the island for only a few hours, and weren't into my path. I almost had the reef to myself while all the day trippers eating their lunch. When I was ready to eat, I can order and get my food in <10 mins in the grill while the day trippers waiting in their buffet line. I had to say a day trip to the island completely missed the point of the visit. An overnight stay is the way to go and strongly recommended.

We went with Reef Magic for the outer reef. It was nice, very fun, friendly crew. I wish I had stayed one extra night on Green Island, and take the outer reef trip from there. That way, I would spend less time on the boat and enjoy more island time.

We didn't join any tour for the rainforest and tableland. Self drive was prefectly OK. We got used to driving on the wrong side rather quickly, although both the driver and the navigator were very focused or nervous during the entire drive. Doing daintree and Cape trib on the same day is a little too much, especially after breakfast with the birds. We end up having to skip many nice boardwalk. The best way is probably spend a night in the cape area if there is enough time. We learned that there are lots of national park board walks and private walks along the way. The best is probably get a good map from the hotel and plan on where to walk before getting on the road. Sometimes the private walk is just 1-2 km before the national park walk, so one has to be careful not be misled. I found most tour groups went to the same places we went. They probably have gone to a few priviate places that no one has access to, but I probably wouldn't care much either. The freedom of going as I wish seems worth it.

We spent another day driving to Kuranda, then Antheton tableland. Kuranda is better than I expected, perhaps because we got there before the tour buses and traines got there, so the place is much serene and charming. The town of Antherton is a big disappoitnment. It has no charm what so ever. The only attraction in town is a man made crystal cave. But the drive from there back to Cairns is absolutely beautiful. We got to see a few really nice fig trees on the way. The drive is very winding, but we saw some quite amazing scenery with each of those sharp turns.

Hope this is helpful for those who wanted to venture out on their own without tour groups, trains or cable cars. I think you could see most of the things the tour groups see without being tied to a group. I do notice one really neat tour group called wait a while. They seem don't come out until late of the day and focus on seeing wild life. Since I wouldn't want to drive those roads in the dark on my own, going with them would be a nice option. Their groups is very small with a knowledgeable guide. They do take the time looking for animals.

We stayed at the outrigger. The location is the best, very conveneit to everything,including the reef terminal. The hotel itself is very plain, nothing strikes me, but very functional.

Happy travel!