8 of the best snorkelling sites in Queensland
It’s easy to see why visitors from all over the world flock to the Great Barrier Reef. Colourful coral cays teeming with life, the chance to encounter marine animals found nowhere else on the planet, and the guarantee that no two days (or hours) are the same. Read this guide to the best snorkelling sites in Queensland, and prepare to say hello to some of the world’s most fascinating underwater locations and creatures (no previous experience necessary).
And the best bit? All you need to experience it is a mask and snorkel.
1. Float among the turtles at Heron Island, Gladstone
Step off the beach and straight onto the reef to float effortlessly amongst the reef fish, eagle rays and loggerhead turtles. Be sure to keep a lookout for the local loggerhead turtle Big Ben – he’s kind of hard to miss.
More adventurous swimmers can hop aboard a short boat tour and explore the nearby Heron Bommie, home to wrasse and moray eels, or swim among the vibrant anemones of the Coral Cascades.
Budding conservationists can even take a tour of the University of Queensland’s Heron Island Research Station and see for themselves how researchers are preserving the Reef for future generations.
2. Explore a sunken harbour at The Wrecks, Moreton Island
No, you’re not looking at the site of a mass shipwreck, but an artificial harbour off the coast of Moreton Island, made by deliberately sinking old ships.
The local marine life have adopted it as their unofficial home, making The Wrecks a pretty spectacular beach snorkelling spot. Expect to rub shoulders with yellowtail, kingfish and lionfish, as well as moray eels, turtles, dolphins and stingrays.
Moreton Island’s close proximity to Brisbane (just an hour’s boat ride from the city) makes it the perfect destination for a weekend reconnecting with nature. Pack your camping gear and pitch your tent just behind the sand dunes, then divide your time between swimming, snorkelling and cruising the beach highways in your 4WD.
3. Make friends with the manta rays at Lady Elliot Island, Bundaberg
Lady Elliot Island, on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, is known as the ‘Home of the Manta Ray’ – and with good reason. A snorkelling encounter with these gentle giants is almost certainly on the cards – particularly if you visit during the winter months when they flock to the island on mass.
But that’s not the only reason to choose Lady Elliot for your next snorkelling adventure. With underwater gardens that begin as soon as you step off the beach, a sheltered lagoon and coral outcrops perfect for little explorers, it’s one of the best family-friendly snorkelling sites in Queensland.
Prefer to navigate deeper waters? Visit the coral ledges on the island’s western side to swim alongside dolphins, mantas, hawksbill, green and loggerhead turtles. For even more turtle-spotting action, visit during the nesting and hatching season (November through to April) and watch one of nature’s most incredible shows play out before your eyes.
4. Meet potato cod and minke whales on the Ribbon Reefs, Port Douglas
The Ribbon Reefs are a long and winding stretch of 10 individual reefs, located one and a half hours from Port Douglas in Tropical North Queensland. These spectacular reefs are beloved by both snorkellers and divers who come for the spectacular drop off over the Coral Sea trench and the incredible 30m water visibility.
Snorkel your way around shallow lagoons rich with coral, unicornfish and parrotfish or head to the famous Cod Hole site for a selfie with the friendly potato cod. If you visit during June and July you might even be lucky enough to swim with dwarf minke whales. (Queensland’s the only place in the world where humans can interact with these rare creatures).
5. Snorkel with marine biologists at Agincourt Reef, Port Douglas
If you’re seeking an outer reef experience that the kids can enjoy too, Agincourt Reef, also off the coast of Port Douglas, is one of the best snorkelling sites in Queensland.
For maximum kid appeal, choose a family-friendly operator like Quicksilver Cruises – the tour includes a visit to their pontoon, complete with snorkelling platforms and an underwater observatory for those who don’t want to get wet. Amateur scientists can even take a marine biologist guided snorkel tour and learn all about the reef’s delicate ecosystem.
6. Take a day trip to Fitzroy Island
Just a 45 minute cruise from Cairns lies picturesque Fitzroy Island – a mixture of pristine rainforest, open woodland and sheltered beaches fringed by coral reef. It’s almost entirely national park, making it one of the most untouched islands in the Great Barrier Reef.
Head for the calmer waters of the island’s southwest coast and while away an afternoon exploring Welcome Bay and Nudey Beach (both offer great snorkelling and are easily accessible to day-trippers). If you’ve got time to spare, pay a visit to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre and Reef Restoration Coral Project to see conservationists at work, or take a walk to the lighthouse in between snorkel sessions.
7. Escape to Lady Musgrave Island, Bundaberg
Nature lovers, say hello to your new spiritual home: Lady Musgrave Island. A 1,200-hectare lagoon encircling an uninhabited coral cay, Lady Musgrave is just 90 minutes by boat from Bundaberg or The Town of 1770.
Protected from the current and with fantastic visibility all year round, the lagoon is home to 350 varieties of corals and 1,300 species of tropical fish, making it a bit of an all-rounder when it comes to snorkelling.
As an added bonus, an encounter with the local turtles – who wait at ‘cleaning stations’ to have algae and parasites picked off their shells by little cleaner fish – is almost guaranteed.
8. Visit an underwater art gallery at Hayman Island, The Whitsundays
For the best beach snorkelling, head to Blue Pearl Bay on the island’s north-western coast, where you might even meet Priscilla, the resident giant Maori wrasse. Feeling more adventurous? Take a boat ride to the pontoon at Hardy Reef and snorkel among clownfish, rays and a friendly 2m long groper that patrols the pontoon in hope of a free feed.
While on Hayman, pay a visit to the unique underwater artworks located just offshore. The Ngaro Sea Trail is part of the Whitsunday Reef Recovery and Public Art Project and includes sculptor Adriaan Vanderlugt’s 3m long aluminium sculpture of the iconic Maori Wrasse.
After more Queensland snorkelling inspiration? Learn how to do the Great Barrier Reef on a budget or discover more of the Great Barrier Reef’s best island snorkelling spots.