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The Best Airlie Beach Great Barrier Reef Tours

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Gabby Boucher
Updated Wed 14 Jun 2023

Airlie Beach is one of the best places in Australia for visiting the Great Barrier ReefThough the city of Cairns is known as the Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Airlie Beach is another one of the top Aussie towns for planning a trip to the world's largest coral reef system. 

Airlie Beach is most famous for its proximity to the Whitsunday Islands, which includes famous sights like Whitehaven Beach and Hamilton Island. Scattered throughout these islands are the fringing reefs, which are smaller coral reefs that are part of the entire Great Barrier Reef system. On most overnight sailing tours in the Whitsundays, you'll get to snorkel in these fringing reefs. 

But to see the heart of the Great Barrier Reef where wildlife flourishes even more, you'll want to visit the Outer Reef. Luckily, there are some excellent Airlie Beach Great Barrier Reef tours where you can spend a day or even a night out on the reef. 

Snorkeling reefs

Best Airlie Beach Great Barrier Reef Tours - Day Trips

There are a number of excellent day trips to the reef from Airlie Beach! These tours are ideal for travelers who are short on time and only have one day to spare. But you'll get to spend the day hanging out on a stable reef pontoon with some chances to snorkel or scuba dive amongst the marine life!

CW: Great Barrier Reef Tour From Airlie Beach

This is the most popular Airlie Beach Great Barrier Reef tour! Spend the day on Hardy Reef Pontoon and go snorkeling or check out the underwater aquarium. For extra charge you can add on scuba diving, guided snorkel tours, or a scenic flight. If you want to spend a full day on the reef, this is a classic option. 

Reefworld pontoon

Explore: Full Day Outer Reef From Airlie Beach

Sail to the stunning Bait Reef on a stable catamaran and visit two reef sites for snorkeling or scuba diving! You can also take an intro dive if you're new to scuba, as there are experienced instructors on board. Bait Reef is the closest outer reef site to the Whitsunday Islands, so you won't have to travel as far and you'll have more time for exploring the underwater world!

snorkeling with fish

Best Airlie Beach Great Barrier Reef Tours - Overnight Trips

If you have at least one night to spare, definitely consider spending the night out on the Great Barrier Reef! There is nothing more magical than watching the sun rise and set over the reef, and you'll get many more chances to snorkel or dive on a longer reef tour. 


Head to the same reef pontoon as the CW day trip, but have the added bonus of your own private outdoor reefbed. Enjoy delicious meals, access to the underwater observatory and snorkel/dive gear, glass bottom boat and scenic flight add-ons, and the chance to sleep right on the Great Barrier Reef!



If you'd prefer to sleep inside in a real hotel room, you can do so with Reefsuites! This luxury underwater hotel gives you the chance to snorkel and dive in the Great Barrier Reef all day and then sleep in your own cozy hotel room. Wake up to the sights of the marine life and enjoy delicious meals and amazing sunsets. 



Most Whitsunday sailing tours stick to the islands, but Kiana is the one overnight sailing trip that visits the Outer Reef! Choose between a 3-day or a 5-day sailing tour that takes you to various reef sites for snorkeling, diving, and exploring. 


Best Airlie Beach Great Barrier Reef Tours - Scenic Flights

The third way to see the Great Barrier Reef from Airlie Beach is on a scenic flight! If you don't have the time to spend the day snorkeling or diving in the reef, a scenic flight is a quick, easy, and affordable way to see this world wonder. Viewing the reef from the air also lets you see this magnificent location from a new perspective!

OR: Scenic Flight To Heart Reef

Soar over the incredible Whitsundays Islands and get an aerial view of the famous Heart Reef! You can't snorkel at Heart Reef, so a scenic flight is the only way to get an amazing view of this special place. Combine a flight with an epic Ocean Rafting boat tour so you can see the reef from the air, land, and water!

Heart Reef

GSL: Scenic Flight To Heart Reef

Another top-rated scenic flight option! Fly over Heart Reef, Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet, and more iconic sights of the Whitsundays! This is a great option for travelers who are short on time and money. Scenic flights are surprisingly affordable and you'll get to enjoy once-in-a-lifetime views!

Whitehaven Beach

Air Whitsundays: Seaplane Panorama Tour

Combine the Great Barrier Reef and Whitehaven Beach into one epic tour! Fly to the reef and land on a private pontoon so you can snorkel in a secluded lagoon and ride on a glass bottom boat. You'll also get to land on Whitehaven Beach and spend some time there as well. 

Scenic reef flight

Helireef Great Barrier Reef Tours

With a variety of different helicopter tours, you'll get to combine jaw-dropping flights with snorkeling and scuba diving at the Hardy Reef Pontoon. Have time on board the pontoon so you can get in the water and mingle with the marine life, and have the chance to view the reef from the sky in a comfortable helicopter!

Ready to book your trip to the Great Barrier Reef from Airlie Beach? Call us at +61 74914 2425 or live chat with us online and we'll help you plan your adventures!

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