No trip to sunny Cairns in Tropical North Queensland would be complete without a day trip out to the magnificent and world-famous Great Barrier Reef. It’s a sight to be seen and explored – but just how long does it take to get there?

Given the vast size and magnificence of the reef, you’ll be pleased to know the boat will take less than 2 hours in most cases, so you can have as much time as possible out snorkeling, diving and learning about the rich and diverse ecosystem and marine life.

Of course, the specific time you’ll spend on the boat will depend largely on which area of the reef you’re visiting, as well as the vessel you’re travelling on – for the purpose of today’s blog, we are talking about motorized catamarans – so, let’s break down the tour options into a little more detail.

Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef Tours

When you book any day tour to the Great Barrier Reef, you are going to be taken to the best snorkel and dive spots and see some spectacular coral and marine life. Your first stop will usually be the furthest away, so it will be about 2 hours on the boat if you visit the outer areas of Norman Reef or the floating pontoon at Moore Reef.

The mid reefs of Hastings and Saxon are a little closer to the mainland, so this boat ride will be about 1.5 hours from Cairns. You’ll have a blast cruising along the water, with the sun on your face, warm wind in your hair and the vast ocean sprawling around you -it’s magic out here.

Cairns to Green Island

A marine island located closer to the coast, Green Island is only accessible by helicopter or boat. A boat ride from Cairns will take no more than 45 minutes, and you’ll have stunning ocean and coastal views for your entire journey. You can snorkel or dive at Green Island, relax onshore at the white sand beaches or experience a helmet dive. There’s plenty to do here and you’ll appreciate having hours to get it all done.

Cairns to Fitzroy Island

Fitzroy Island is another tropical oasis found amongst the reef, and like Green Island, you only need to cruise along in a comfortable catamaran for 45 minutes to reach the jetty. Once you’re there, you can spend time on the island and relax on the beautiful beaches, kayak through the pristine water or snorkel on the reef that surrounds. Once you’re done with the water activities, you could hike through the lush rainforest or visit the turtles and see the amazing work being done at the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.

A 1 Day Fitzroy Island Tour or 1 Day Green Island Tour is the perfect day escape to an island on the Great Barrier Reef.

Feeling a little bit fancy?

You can arrive in style, shave off hours of travel time, and feel like a rockstar in a helicopter ride to one of the islands. This is a more expensive option, but it’s always worth a mention for those who want a truly breathtaking journey over the Great Barrier Reef.

The time spent on the boat ride from Cairns to reef may differ between tours and which part of the reef you visit, but the great news is that the boat ride is a fantastic part of the experience! Our tours will have you cruising in comfort on beautiful catamarans with friendly guides and an experienced captain, plus the views as you make your way away from the coast are spectacular.

You won’t want the boat ride to end… that is maybe until you see the vibrant reef below you and get ready to jump in the crystal-clear water.

Related article: Best Places to see the Great Barrier Reef

Explore Our Great Barrier Reef Tours from Cairns

Cameron Ward
Cameron Ward
Managing Director at Sightseeing Tours Australia

Cameron Ward began with a passion for travel and turned it into a thriving tourism business. He co-founded Sightseeing Tours Australia after starting out as a tour guide in Melbourne. Cameron delights in helping visitors get the most from their trip to Australia. Whether he's leading tours or writing about his favourite places, Cameron loves sharing his local insight with fellow travellers.

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