How to do the Great Barrier Reef

Visiting the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is on most traveler bucket lists. The GBR is not just for divers or backpackers or adventure seekers. We visited as a family with young kids and had an amazing day on the Great Barrier Reef with kids. We have all heard how climate change and ocean acidification are threatening our coral reefs throughout the world. The concern for the world’s largest barrier reef that extends 2,300 km down the coast of eastern Australia is paramount. In fact, the GBR has experienced three mass bleaching events in the past five years. We had been to the reef as backpackers 15 years ago and since then have snorkeled and dived in many parts of the world.

 We weren’t sure what we would find this time on the Great Barrier Reef. Would we see a sick and bleached reef or would we see a thriving, colourful reef full of marine life? When we travel with our kids we travel not just for enjoyment, but to learn together as a family about our earth – its resources, its cultures, its wildlife. Visiting the GRB as a family allowed us to experience this incredible marine wonderland, but also to prompt discussions about climate change and the threat to the world’s oceans. A great Netflix documentary to compliment your trip is Chasing Coral, which will make you realize why visiting now is a good idea. For us our primary purpose in holidaying in Cairns in tropical north Queensland was to experience the Reef. Yes, there are so many other amazing things to do in the area, but the driving reason for our visit was the Reef. Don’t be intimidated by visiting the Great Barrier Reef with kids. Let’s walk through how to organize your trip and what to expect.

First of all, be prepared to shell out some money to visit the Great Barrier Reef. This was by far the most expensive activity we did while in the Cairns area, but it was worth every penny. Plan to spend $500-600 AUD for a family of 4-5. Most companies have a family rate (2 adults, 2 children) that will save you money. You can go to some islands closer to Cairns, which are wonderful day trips, but please make sure you go out to the Outer Reef while here.

You are going to be overwhelmed with choices for which company to choose for your Great Barrier Reef kids tour. I spent hours reading various reviews and weighing the pros and cons of each. We ended up doing two day trips with two different companies: Passions of Paradise and Sunlover Reef Cruises, both of which were perfect for families. You will need to book in advance to reserve your spot and transfers from your hotel can be organized.

The first thing you will notice when comparing Great Barrier Reef cruises is that some go out to a pontoon (a floating activity centre). These have larger boats and offer a wide range of ways to experience the Reef. Sunlover goes out to Moore Reef where you spend over 4 hours on the pontoon exploring the Great Barrier Reef.