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What Is The Best Value Reef Tour In Cairns?

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Jessica Munro
Updated Fri 16 Feb 2024

Saxon Reef

Labelled the unofficial capital of Tropical North Queensland, Cairns offers a portal to one of the most magnificent underwater wonders — the Great Barrier Reef. With many flocking to the city all year round and numerous tour operators vying for your attention, it can be tricky to find the best value reef trip to spend your hard earned dollars on. So if you’re on the hunt for a great deal, I’ll share with you a stand out choice, along with a bonus suggestion, especially if you’re looking for a tour that gives you the most bang for your buck!


All Aboard The Reef Experience

Humphead Parrotfish

Hands down, if you’re looking for an inclusive reef trip package that provides incredible value for money while travelling on a tight budget, then Reef Experience will be one of the first options that you’re looking for. Let’s explore all the reasons why it’s considered the most cost effective reef day trip departing from Cairns, and all the inclusions on offer.


Free return coach transfers from Cairns City

Reef Experience Coach Transfers

Image Credit: Reef Experience

If you’re staying in the Cairns City centre, return coach transfers are included to and from your accommodation to the Cairns Marlin Marina. Taking the stress out of trying to find your own way or being late if you get lost!


The BBQ Brekkie Roll

Reef Experience BBQ Brekkie Roll

Image Credit: Reef Experience

Fuel up for the day ahead and enjoy a yummy BBQ bacon and egg roll as you set off towards the outer reef! Don’t worry if you’re vegetarian or have other dietary requirements, you’ll be taken care of, too. Just make sure to advise staff at the time of booking. All produced is locally sourced and prepared fresh by the onboard chef.


Marine Biology Presentation

Marine Biology Presentation

On your way out to the first reef site, sit back and relax inside the air-conditioned cabin while learning some interesting facts about the diverse marine life living on the Great Barrier Reef. One of the crew members will share a presentation of things you might see while snorkelling and diving!


Free Introductory or Certified Scuba Dive

Scuba Diving

Probably considered the highlight inclusion, given that almost every other reef trip will cost you extra to scuba dive. All passengers who meet the medical requirements and are over the age of 12 can join in on a free introductory or certified dive. This is the perfect opportunity if you’ve always wanted to give scuba diving a go! Certified divers benefit also with all scuba gear included to enjoy exploring with a guide or at your own pace.


Glass Bottom Boat Tour

Glass Bottom Boat Tour

Not big into diving or snorkelling, but still want to have a gander at what treasures live beneath the surface? If the weather permits, you can jump aboard a glass bottom boat tour with friendly marine biology experts who will point out all the interesting creatures and corals you see.


Guided Snorkel Tour

Guided Snorkel Tour

What if you're interested in going for a snorkel, but aren’t exactly the most confident of swimmers? Well don’t fret! The crew host guided snorkel tours throughout the day with a flotation station for support, should you feel you need it. They can also provide buoyancy vests and noodles to ensure you feel safe while enjoying the beauty of the reef.


Delicious BBQ Buffet lunch

BBQ Buffett Lunch

After working up an appetite snorkelling and diving at the first reef location, tuck into a buffet style bbq lunch made fresh onboard as the captain transports you to the next reef spot! Feast on a variety of options with delicious salads thrown in for good measure, too. Again, if you have special dietary requests, these will be catered for if you have advised the team prior to your trip!


Afternoon Snacks With A Cheeky Drink

Fruit Platter

With all the activities done for the day, sit back and relax as you cruise on home to Cairns. Nibble on a light snack of fresh fruit, cheese and crackers with a glass of bubble in hand. The perfect way to finish off a stellar day of witnessing the delights that make the Great Barrier Reef so famous.


Variety of Reef Locations

Saxon Reef

Reef Experience is fortunate to have a selection of 5 spectacular reef locations they can visit. Each day, the captain will assess the two most suitable for diving and snorkelling based on the conditions for the day. 

Breaking Patches

Breaking Patches is a shallow reef patch located just west of Michaelmas Cay and about 40 kms Northeast from Cairns. Marine life you may spot at this site include: butterfly fish, parrot fish, blue spotted lagoon ray, white tip reef sharks, sea cucumbers, hydroids, angel fish, spaghetti coral, elephant ear coral, boulder coral and Christmas tree worms.

Norman Reef

70 kms off the coast of Cairns, Norman Reef is the furthest Outer Barrier Reef location that Reef Experience visits. Known for its incredible visibility, snorkellers and divers can expect to see nudibranchs, reef sharks, bronze whalers, giant Maori wrasse, groupers, and a vast assortment of colourful tropical fish.

Saxon Reef

Not far from Norman Reef, Saxon Reef sits about 55 kms Northeast of Cairns. The shallow lagoon of the Fish Bowl boasts a variety of marine life such as white-tip reef sharks, diagonal-banded sweetlips, barramundi cod, lagoon rays, Christmas tree worms and dozens of species of wrasse, parrotfish and butterflyfish.

Lagoon Ray

Hastings Reef

Shaped like a horseshoe, Hastings Reef is a patch located about 50 kms from Cairns and is classified as an “Outer Reef”. Commonly seen species of marine life include: steephead parrotfish, schools of surgeonfish, rabbit fish, reef squid,drummer fish, black snapper, giant clams, angel fish, coral trout and green sea turtles.

Jorgensen Reef

Located northeast from Cairns, “Jorgies” has a range of interesting walls, gullies, small caves, overhangs and a sandy patch where you’ll find sea cucumbers, blue spotted rays, giant clams, white tip reef sharks and schools of damsels and fusiliers.


Upgrade to the VIP Top Deck Club

Reef Experience Top Deck Club

Image Credit: Reef Experience

Enjoy a more personalised service, private seating and your own personal valet for the day when you upgrade to the VIP Top Deck experience. Making for an even more memorable trip to the North Queensland Tropics!

Top Deck Highlights

  • Skip the queues
  • Personal valet
  • Private in-water guide (both snorkelling and scuba diving)
  • VIP seating in the top deck club lounge
  • Dine in style for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea
  • The crew will cater to you

*Requires a minimum of 2 people. 


Tusa Reef Tours 

Tusa Reef Tours

If you have a bit more budget to spend, Tusa Reef Tours is another excellent option that offers an incredible all-inclusive package. From the moment you step onboard, the crew treat you to an experience that has it all covered. From breakfast baguettes, multiple intro or certified dives, table service buffet lunch and unlimited beverages, you can fully enjoy the best the reef has to offer without worrying about any additional expenses. 


Variety is the spice of life. And when it comes to selecting the best value reef tour in Cairns, Reef Experience or Tusa are both considered stand out choices for their value-packed, all-inclusive offerings. So, whether you're into diving or simply snorkelling, it’s the most cost-effective way to fully experience the magic of the Great Barrier Reef and encounter an awe-inspiring underwater world!


Ready to explore the Great Barrier Reef on a tour that gives you the most bang for your buck? Jump on a live chat with our online travel experts to help you book the perfect trip!

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