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Upolu Cay and Reef

Updated Sat 22 Jun 2024

Upolu Cay and Reef are popular boating, snorkelling, and diving destinations located within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Offering an inner reef experience to adventure-seekers from across the globe, Upolu Reef is a spectacular place to spot abundant species of marine life and migrating sea birds. Unlike some reefs in the marine park, it supports both inner and outer reef species, giving you a diversified insight into life here on the Great Barrier Reef!

The surrounding reefs off Upolu Cay are shallow with great visibility, giving snorkellers and divers an unforgettable introductory view into the underwater world. The uninhabited cay itself offers no protection, amenities, or shade, but is the perfect place to live your best castaway life! Additionally, the soft sands provide a unique place to discover the fringing reefs from.

Upolu Cay located within the Cairns Great Barrier Reef

How to get to Upolu Cay and Reef from Cairns

Upolu Cay is located within the Great Barrier Reef approximately 32.5km northeast of the bustling mainland hub of Cairns. The popular Michaelmas Cay is located a further 9km northeast of Upolu Cay. 

A small, low sand cay surrounded by healthy coral reef, Upolu Cay has little elevation so can become completely submerged during high tides. If you reaching Upolu Cay and Reef by a private vessel, be sure to check the daily tide times before heading out on the water. 

The most convenient way to visit Upolu Cay and Reef is aboard a commercial reef tour departing from Cairns, guaranteeing an itinerary filled with sun-soaked adventures, snorkelling and diving, and professional equipment and guidance! Let’s check out our favourite Great Barrier Reef tours that cruise to Upolu Cay and Reef.

Person on a small vessel pointing at Upolu Cay in the distance

Great Barrier Reef Tours that visit Upolu Cay and Reef

Ocean Freedom

A snorkeller's favourite day trip, the luxury Ocean Freedom cruiser is the first tour boat to arrive at the pristine Upolu Cay, departing daily from Cairns at 8:00 am. Providing guests with a first-class introduction to this natural paradise for up to six hours, Ocean Freedom visits Upolu Cay and Wonder Wall, an exclusive reef on the outer edge of Upolu Reef. 

In a small group setting, reef trippers can enjoy snorkelling, a knowledgeable glass bottom boat tour, and the chance to dive deep with some certified or introductory diving. For the avid first-time divers, rest assured knowing that you're guaranteed a ratio of two divers to one instructor to ensure your safety!

Ocean Freedom vessel on the Great Barrier Reef

Reef Daytripper

Get back to nature and immerse yourself in the biodiverse wonders of the Great Barrier Reef with Reef Daytripper, a charming catamaran with the lowest carbon footprint of any Cairns snorkelling operator!

Cruising to the Upolu Cay and Reef from Cairns, Reef Daytripper offers guests the opportunity to snorkel or scuba dive and experience the thrill of sailing during their action-packed day tour. Get up close and personal with exotic marine species, hop back onboard for some sundrenched downtime, and learn all about the reef!

Reef Daytripper catamaran vessel on the Great Barrier Reef

Marine life on Upolu Reef


Nudibranches are small jelly-bodied molluscs that are a colourful and welcome site on the Great Barrier Reef! Shedding their shells in their larval stage, nudibranchs are related to sea slugs and have wildly colourful bodies and unique shapes! With over 2,000 species currently identified, they come in a huge variety, each seemingly more unique than the last. They can be small, big, ticket, flat, long, short, colourful or drab! 

Scorpion Fish

While scorpionfish are a rare animal to encounter, scuba divers who venture to the Outer Edge of Upolu Reef might get to see this elusive creature. They are also called stonefish or rockfish and are extremely well camouflaged, blending in with their surroundings. They are one of the most venomous animals in the sea and their sting is extremely painful to humans  - but divers and snorkellers need not worry as most of the time, they only sting humans if stepped on accidentally in shallow reefs! 

Blue-spotted lagoon rays

Blue-spotted rays are smaller stingrays that are often spotted on the seafloor in Upolu Reef. They range in colour from olive-green to beige but are most noticeable by the bright blue spots on their backs and blue stripes that run down their tail. While their barbed tail is capable of hurting humans, they are more likely to flee than attack when they feel threatened. You can see them by keeping an eye on the sandy ocean floor where they may be hanging out in search of food!

Sea turtles

Sea turtles are found all over the Great Barrier Reef and are often spotted at Upolu Reef. There are 6 species of sea turtles found in the marine park, any of which can be spotted at Upolu. However, during your snorkelling or diving adventure, you are most likely to see green sea turtles, which frequent coral reefs. Keep your eyes open and pay attention, they are sometimes hard to spot as they blend in perfectly with their surroundings! Always give them plenty of space; just like humans, they need air to breathe, making their way to the surface every 4 minutes or so. 

Sea turtle amongst coral formations on the Great Barrier Reef

Searching for a Great Barrier Reef tour that visits the flourishing Upolu Cay and Reef? 

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