Snorkelling The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981 and has been labelled one of the World’s seven natural wonders. It's also one of the most popular tourist destinations in Australia due to the incredible snorkelling and diving experiences on offer.

There are many islands in this area available for you to visit and enjoy this amazing place. Below we take a look at some of the most impressive and popular spots.

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Moreton Island

There are many beautiful islands to visit along the Great Barrier Reef system. If you are coming from the south why not stop first at Moreton Island in the Gold Coast. Although not technically part the Great Barrier Reef it is still a very interesting place to visit and has some of the best snorkelling and dive spots in the area. Moreton Island is only one hour from the Queensland capital Brisbane, and is the world’s third largest sand island.

In 1963 15 decommissioned barges and dredges and flat boats were sunk just offshore of the island. The idea was to create an artificial harbour for the local residents. The Tangalooma Wrecks are now home to 175 different species of reef fish including Yellowtail, Kingfish, Moray Eels, Turtles and Dolphins just to name a few. These fish are totally oblivious to humans, teaming with such amazing sea life, Moreton Islands crystal clear waters are ideal for the novice as well as the seasoned snorkeler.

Getting There:

Moreton Island is located 40 kilometres offshore from Brisbane. You can get there by Ferry or boat, with vehicle ferries and barges running daily. For visitors without a vehicle, you can chose you destination on the island and book your transport to the corresponding departure point. It is always better to book ahead.

Lady Elliot Island

Located at the southernmost tip of the reef, Lady Elliot Island is around 85 kilometres north east of Bundaberg and has an area of nearly 45 hectares. It is within the “Green Zone” of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park” where important breeding and nursery areas are protected.

The snorkelling and diving there is just fantastic, with underwater gardens just off shore. For the less experience there is a calm lagoon located on the eastern side of the island which has plenty of coral outcrops, starfish, sea urchins and various small reef fish for you to see.

Located at the southernmost tip of the reef, Lady Elliot Island is around 85 kilometres north east of Bundaberg and has an area of nearly 45 hectares. It is within the “Green Zone” of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park” where important breeding and nursery areas are protected. 

The snorkelling and diving there is just fantastic, with underwater gardens just off shore. For the less experienced there is a calm lagoon located on the eastern side of the island which is home to plenty of coral outcrops, starfish, sea urchins and various small reef fish.

On the other side of the island there is Lighthouse and Coral Gardens where the water is deeper and you have the chance to swim with a variety of sea creatures including reef sharks, whales, dolphins and a variety of turtles.

Lady Elliot Island is also known as the “Home of the Manta Ray” so you will almost certainly see one of these beautiful, and completely harmless rays. It is best to go in the winter months as they are known to congregate in large numbers at this time of the year.

Getting There:

There is a small eco-resort on the island as well as an airstrip with daily flights from Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Brisbane and the Gold Coast. There are also scenic day tours available should your time to visit this beautiful island be restricted.

Did you know?

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest single structure made by a living organism.


It can be seen from outer space and stretches for over 2400 kilometres. The reef itself is made up of over 2900 individual reefs, and there are 900 islands in an area of nearly 344,400 square kilometres. This gigantic living mass is located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland on the eastern seaboard of Australia.

Great barrier reef

Magnetic Island

8 kilometres off shore from Townsville is the incredible Magnetic Island. A mountainous island some 52 square kilometres round has literally become a suburb of Townsville itself. There are about 2,100 permanent residents living on the island and it is a popular place for a weekend get-away.

On the island is a National Park and bird sanctuary that covers around 27 square kilometres. Within the park are walking tracks that lead you to many tourist interest points like old World War II forts.

Magnetic Island also features two self-guided snorkelling trails. These trails are marked by white surface and subsurface floats and are easy to follow for those who know what they are looking for.

Nelly Bay is the ideal spot for beginners, just 100 meters off the beach it features information cards that guide you through the underwater garden of lettuce, cauliflower, boulder and staghorn corals. These reefs are the home for shoals of clownfish and giant clams.

The Geoffrey Bay trail also offers the snorkeler the chance to see the wreck ”SS Moltke” and part of a sunken World War II fighter plane.

Getting There:

Sealink Passenger ferry service offers up to 17 daily crossings to Magnetic Island, from their terminal on Sir Leslie Thiess Drive, on one of the high-speed catamarans they operate. The trip only takes 20 minutes from Townsville. Bookings are not essential as you can purchase your ticket directly from the terminal or on-board the boat should the terminal be closed.

Fantasea Cruising has the “Riverside Arcadia” catamaran that will take you and your car across to the island. It operates from 6am – 6pm weekdays and 6am – 4pm weekends. It is essential to book ahead for this service. The terminal for this service is located at Ross St, South Townsville.

Orpheus Island

Orpheus Island is 110 kilometres north of Townsville and is a National Park like its neighbour Pelorus Island 800 meters to the north. It is known for its huge clam field outside the Research Station that was the remnants of an abandoned clam-farming experiment. When it is low tide you can see these fascinating creatures squirting seawater. 

The island also features one of the most colourful coral outcrops of the entire Great Barrier Reef. Known locally as Bommies, the coral area on Orpheus Island is home to 1000 different types of reef fish and 340 variety of hard and soft corals.

You can reach the outer reef in a little over an hour where you will see green turtles, manta rays and reef sharks. Between June and September you will have a great chance of spotting migrating humpback whales.

Note that there are no roads on the island.

Getting There:

The only way to get to Orpheus Island is by private or charter boat. The closest boat ramp to the island is at Taylors Beach which is 25 kilometres from the town of Ingham. Another ramp is located at Lucinda as well as a charter boat service.

Lady Musgrave Island

Lady Musgrave Island is surrounded by a 1200 hectare lagoon which is home to around 350 species of corals and approximately 1300 types of reef and tropical fish.

The lagoon is protected from the current making visibility clear as day all year round. You can encounter the harmless leopard shark and whitetip reef sharks here as you swim in the shallows. There are also rays and the vivid blue starfish, sea cucumbers and anemones, all stuck on the surfaces of the beautiful coral gardens.

You will also come across turtles who wait to have their shells cleaned of parasites and algae by little cleaner fish. Theses turtles also nest on the island in the summer months.

The island is quite small consisting of only 14 hectares.

Getting There:

The best way to get to Lady Musgrave Island is by ferry from the Lady Musgrave Island. This is the closest mainland port to the island. One thing to remember is that there are no services on the island, so you need to take everything that you may need with you. The most important thing of all is to bring water. Remember that the journey will be far more expensive should you chose to stay on the island overnight so check before you commit to the trip.

You can also depart from Bundaberg Port in Burnett Heads on the Lady Musgrave Experience.

Time to Plan Your Snorkelling Adventure!

There are so many other places of interest on the Great Barrier Reef, we have only highlighted 5 of them here.

Don’t forget the Whitsundays -  Hayman Island in particular is very popular with visitors from all over the world. This island is the closest to the mainland of the Whitsunday group, and offers so much for the snorkeler to appreciate. There is Blue Pearl Bay where you will experience the beauty of hard and soft coral and an abundance of sea life. Its shallow waters are home to green turtles, giant clams and a host of reef fish. You can also visit the outer reaches of the reef from Hayman where you can snorkel off the pontoon at Knuckle Reef Lagoon.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of Mother Nature’s precious gifts to us and should be respected by all that visit this beautiful place. However you get there and whatever island you chose to visit, the most important thing is to relax and enjoy all the things that this very special place has to offer.