The best Southern Great Barrier Reef snorkel spots for families
Have you ever dreamed about snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef but thought, “Eep! Too hard!”?
Wriggling into swimmers, sliding on fins and strapping on a mask to snorkel the reef may seem a little foreign at first, but once you see the amazing coral and marine life (like turtles) below the water’s surface you’ll be left in awe. That’s because the Southern Great Barrier Reef has some of the most accessible fringing reefs in Australia – with plenty of underwater action just a few fin flicks from the beach.
We’ve pulled together some of the best family-friendly snorkel sites to send you well on your way to an unforgettable family vacation.
Great Keppel Island
Located 30 minutes off the coast of Yeppoon and the biggest of the Keppel islands, Great Keppel Island offers the perfect family holiday escape. The 17 white sandy beaches around the island offer a great mix of family-friendly snorkel experiences right off the beach.
Our picks are Monkey Point and Shelving Beach – both are within protected bays. Make a day trip of it or opt for more chill time and enjoy an overnight holiday. Great Keppel Island Hideaway and Great Keppel Island Holiday Village offer a range of accommodation to suit every budget.
If you and your tribe are looking for group fun, join a snorkel safari with GKI Adventures. These guys can even take you on a kayak safari (if you prefer to keep your head above water) to explore the beautiful bays and beaches of this little-known paradise.
Heron Island‘s coral gardens and underwater pinnacles dive sites are so epic that Jacques Cousteau – the world’s most famous undersea explorer of our time – proclaimed Heron Bommie as one of his top 10 favourite dive sites in the world. Now, some of these spots are for scuba divers, BUT colourful coral can be easily found close to shore (it grows close by when environmental conditions are just right) with your snorkel gear.
If you’re a first-time snorkeller, try Shark Bay (don’t let the name put you off – it’s named after the friendly shovelnose ray) or the Gantry, just in front of the Pandanus Lounge. It’s best to snorkel at these spots three hours before or after high tide – check out tide times online or on the island.
Join a snorkel boat trip to one of three sensational snorkel spots around Heron Island where you’ll see a kaleidoscope of coloured fish and coral. BYO underwater camera and sense of adventure.
If you’re new to snorkelling, Heron Island also has complimentary snorkel lessons in their swimming pool each afternoon, so there’s no excuse to have a go.
Lady Musgrave Island
Want to snorkel in the ocean with the added benefit of feeling like you’re in a giant pool? Then Lady Musgrave Island is for you.
Her biggest asset? A HUGE protected coral lagoon, surrounded by an eight-nautical-mile long, naturally-formed coral wall. Thanks, Mother Nature! Make a day trip of it with 1770 Reef Tours or Lady Musgrave Experiences or go all Gilligan with an overnight family camping trip (there are no facilities so you need to be prepared and ready to rough it).
This is a very special part of the Great Barrier Reef with an estimated 1200 varieties of colourful marine fish and 200 species of hard and soft corals calling Lady Musgrave Island home, so don’t forget to grab a snap with turtles, clownfish (Nemo), manta rays and the trademark coral gardens and #ThisIsQueensland.
Barolin Rocks Dive Site
If you’re sans boat and looking for a snorkel site closer to the mainland, check out Barolin Rocks in Woongarra Marine Park – home to some of Queensland’s most accessible shore diving options. In less than 22 minutes’ drive from downtown Bundaberg, you and the kids can be in the water quick as a flash.
You’ll see plenty of soft and hard corals within a few metres of the shore here. Keep your eyes peeled for nudibranchs (they’re elegant underwater dragons, but don’t touch them), moray eels, turtles and wobbegong sharks. There’s also a partially enclosed rock pool here known as the Moon Pond – it’s located immediately to the south of the headland and provides an excellent entry/exit point during mid to high tides.
Lady Elliot Island
A personal favourite of mine, this coral cay is the southern starting point of the Great Barrier Reef. Day-trippers and overnight guests are spoilt with a gorgeous coral lagoon that begs to be explored at high tide.
The calm, protected waters of Lady Elliot Island are the best place on the reef to snorkel with turtles year-round and bag yourself the ultimate snorkel selfie – with a manta or reef shark of course!
Come low tide, you and the kiddies can swap your fins for reef shoes as you take on a guided reef walk of the lagoon.
More adventurous snorkellers can join a guided snorkel safari or head to the western side of the island to explore the Lighthouse and Coral Gardens dive sites. This is where you’ll see marine mega-fauna like manta rays, dolphins and whales (during their migration season) as well as the jaw-dropping corals and fish that make this place so dang special.
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