Best Time Of Year To Snorkel The Great Barrier Reef, Australia?

by Jeff
(Salt Lake City )

I am getting mixed advice about the best time of year to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. Some say April/May, some say September/October. Opinions please...

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Apr 18, 2016
We went in March 2016
by: Gerald

We just got back from a trip there last month (March). I think It's a good time to go. The water was very warm. We had to wear stinger suits but did not mind as they kept us from getting sunburned.

Here is a link to the pictures from our trip.

Apr 20, 2016
Thanks
by: Jeff

Thanks for input Gerald. Nice pix!!

May 29, 2016
Questions
by: Anonymous

Gerald, where exactly were you snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef?

Jeff, where are you planning to go?

May 29, 2016
South
by: Jeff

Due to reports of bleaching in north we're thinking central to south reef and specifically Heron Island, at least for a week.

Mar 12, 2017
Lady Elliot Island - South Great Barrier Reef
by: Jackie

We have just returned from a week on Lady Elliot Island (only accessible by light aircraft from Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Redcliffe in Brisbane or Coolangatta on the Gold Coast.

Sadly new reports advise of further coral bleaching events affecting the northern GBR between Townsville and Cairns.

Lady Elliot Island is at the southern most tip of the Great Barrier Reef and has not suffered from coral bleaching and has no stingers. It is a laid back rustic eco-resort so not an upmarket resort with free wifi, gourmet food or luxury accommodation etc., but that's why it's so good. Water was 27°C. The lagoon is tidal and swimming or snorkeling is only possible about 2.5 hours either side of high tide.

Most of the fish here are small, heaps of butterflyfish, Picasso Triggerfish, some reef sharks, rays, tom toms (like a trumpet fish), clams and the highlight is TURTLES. We had several 40 minute sessions with different small turtles - watching it eat, swim, chomp coral, come right up to us to have its back rubbed etc. The coral is not particularly colorful but there were some vivid patches of purple, green and blue.

On the other opposite coast near the lighthouse is the deeper reef which can get rough in bad weather. It's not tide dependent here except for currents so check with the dive shop or make it a gentle drift snorkel. The marine life is bigger here - still identifying a lot of our fish (been a long time between snorkeling trips) but lots of larger schools of fish, black and white tip reef sharks, range in sizes of turtles (not all as friendly as in the safety of the lagoon), a few angelfish, morays, stingrays, eagle rays, surgeonfish, tangs, a few batfish etc.

The other highlight was our 1 hour snorkel safari that cost $30pp. The small boat goes about 5 minutes off shore to lighthouse bommie area in the hopes of seeing Manta Rays. Within 5 minutes we were watching them swim right towards us then gracefully change direction and then return. They were on and just below the surface to about a depth of 10 feet and we had several different encounters. Had we gone again the next day we would have had a similar experience but were too tired from so much snorkeling. We did go again the following day and again saw mantas feeding and passing right next to us then reboarded the boat to another area and saw turtles, Maori Wrasse, sharks, eagle rays and lots of schools of large fish.

Lady Elliot Island a different experience from other parts of the Great Barrier Reef but enables you to stay at a resort and watch the turtles come up the beach on high tide & lay eggs at night and see the babies scamper down the sand to the sea. The buffet food was hearty, drink prices were fine, accommodation is clean, basic and provides everything you need.

Our summer is also our cyclone season so the weather could have been horrendous, but it was perfect. Traditionally our winter is more likely to be fine and sunny, but no guarantees anymore. Manta season at Lady Elliot Island is our winter - water about 19°C.

Mar 12, 2017
Thanks for Lady Elliot Info
by: Jeff

Jackie, sounds wonderful. We are booked there this October. Can't wait.

Mar 12, 2017
Lady Elliot Island
by: Jackie

Be sure you have done your research on Lady Elliot Island and know what to expect. We loved it. Although they provide free snorkel gear I am so glad we took our own.

LEI has very little soft sand (removed when the guano was harvested many years ago) so some beach footwear if needed. It is essentially shingle at best to large pieces of coral. The entry/exits to the snorkel areas in the western side could be rough on bare feet and was often surging a bit so our dive boots were handy at these times.

What type of unit have you chosen? We had reef unit #9 with a great lagoon view from the deck. A turtle laid eggs next to our unit the night before we arrived and opposite our unit during our stay so reef units and the few airconditioned 2 bedroom suites have this advantage. There are usually 3 units per block but some have their view blocked by vegetation.

Let me know if you want any info. TripAdvisor also has useful reviews. I haven't done mine yet.

For those who don't know, LEI is also a bird rookery so there are thousands of birds and the smell might put some off. You don't notice it after a while. If it might be a problem then consider Heron Island.

Lady Elliot is one of the few islands with snorkeling from your beach with no need for a boat.

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