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Visiting the Barrier Reef from Your Cruise Ship

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by Kat May (subscribe)
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Published October 30th 2016
Tips to enjoy your visit to view the Barrier Reef
The marina in Cairns is where the small mini cruise stay aboard Barrier Reef boats leave from, as well as the numerous day trips to reef pontoons and island trips for diving and snorkelling. These reef trips leave in the morning and stay out on the company's pontoon on the reef for the day. Unfortunately, if you have only a one day ashore at Yorkeys Knob, where the cruise ships anchor offshore, you will not have time to go on any of these. The cruise lines monopolise trips to the reef by cutting short the day and making sailing time at 5pm or so, which means being back at the Yorkeys Marina around 4pm.

shore excursions, Cairns, Yorkeys Knob, cruises,
The marina at Yorkeys Knob where the tender boat will take you. Image by Out and About.

So if you do want to see the coral and the delightful aquatic life, you will have to go with the ship's tour excursion if you wish to visit a reef pontoon and go snorkelling to explore the reef. The coral can also be viewed from a semi-submersible submarine and these are a lot of fun. This is a fun activity to do if you do not want to go in the water. At Yorkeys, there are some boats that go out to the reef, but these have been hired by the cruise ships for the day. A day out on the Barrier Reef is a must do if visiting Australia from overseas, so if you are never to return here, then it would be best to go with the cruise line's shore excursion.

shore excursions, Cairns, Yorkeys Knob, cruises,
Viewing the Barrier Reef is a special outing you won't want to miss. Image courtesy of

Ask the tour desk on board exactly what is covered on the excursion. You may need to hire a lycra suit or have a snorkelling lesson to give you some tips. I would recommend not going in the water during stinger season which starts in late September and extends right through the summer. Under no circumstances should children be allowed in the sea water in Far North Queensland over the stinger season. A stinger causes partial temporary paralysis and for a child this can go up to the lungs and kill a child as it can impair their breathing. I have been bitten by a stinger at a spot in south NSW and the pain was excruciating. The small stinger wrapped the long blue tentacles around my ankle while I was walking along the edge of the beach and made several bites. I couldn't walk on my leg. The pain and paralysis went up to my thigh but was gone after 24 hours. This is not an experience you would want to have happen while you are cruising.

If you are walking along any of the main Cairns beaches you will see bottles of blue dyed vinegar at the entrance to the beach. A squirt of vinegar is the only thing that will release the stinger from the skin. Another health consideration is you can get severe sunburn while floating on the water, so it is best to enquire about the lycra suits that protect your skin. These are lighter and much easier to put on that a wetsuit. The Autumn and Winter months are the best time to go out onto the reef.

Of course, if money is no object and being short of time, you could enquire about helicopter tours over the reef. You can find out more details on the official tourism website.

shore excursions, Cairns, Yorkeys Knob, cruises,
Cruising the Great Barrier Reef is a wonderful experience, however your tourism options can be limited. Image by Out and About.

Many people could be disappointed after coming so far and finding they cannot get to the reef or it is not as accessible as they thought. Do your research and find out what is included on your shore excursions. If you decide not to go out to the reef, the region has many more activities to enjoy for your day ashore at Cairns.
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Why? To see the reef is one of the world's wonders.
Where: Yorkeys Knob is a suburb north of Cairns.
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