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How Long Is The Boat Ride From Airlie Beach To The Great Barrier Reef?

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Gabby Boucher
Updated Wed 21 Jun 2023

Airlie Beach is an incredibly special Australian town because it's within close proximity to the dreamy Whitsunday Islands and the world-famous Great Barrier ReefWhen you visit Airlie Beach, you are spoilt for choice in terms of day trips, overnight trips, and fun things to do. Though the town is more commonly known as the "Gateway To The Whitsundays", the Great Barrier Reef is another huge draw for visiting this charming little town. 

So if you're planning a trip to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays, you may be wondering how long is the boat ride from Airlie Beach to the Great Barrier Reef. This article will cover everything you need to know about visiting the world's largest coral reef system from Airlie, including travel time, tours, and recommendations.

Reefworld snorkeling

Are The Whitsundays Part Of The Great Barrier Reef?

Before we discuss how long the boat ride is from Airlie Beach to the Great Barrier Reef, you should know the different types of reefs in the areaWhen people think of the Great Barrier Reef, they are most likely thinking of the Outer Reef. Located further out to sea, the Outer Reef has larger coral gardens that grow from the ocean floor and upward. These reefs are bigger and have more hard corals, and you're more likely to see a diversity of marine life out here. 

The Whitsundays are also home to fringing reefs that are part of the Great Barrier Reef. These fringing reefs grow around the Whitsunday Islands and are home to smaller networks of reefs that have more soft corals. They also make for amazing snorkeling, but they are closer to shore and more accessible than the Outer Reef. So the Whitsundays are part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park! But if you want that classic Great Barrier Reef experience, you'd want to visit the Outer Reef

Great Barrier Reef

How Long Is The Boat Ride From Airlie Beach To The Great Barrier Reef?

The boat ride from Airlie Beach to the Great Barrier Reef is about 3 hours one way. So it's a lengthy journey, but it is 100% worth it. If you've never been to the Outer Reefs of the Great Barrier Reef before, it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Taking a day trip out to the Outer Reef starts with a beautiful, scenic journey across the turquoise Coral Sea. You'll have a few amazing hours of snorkeling or scuba diving amongst the marine life, plus meals included for most tours. 

If you want to make the most of your journey out to the reef, consider staying overnight! Sleep in an alfresco reef bed aboard Hardy Reef Pontoon with Reefsleep, or sleep in the underwater hotel room on Reefsuites. Overnight reef tours allow you to spend more quality time out at sea so you can really soak in every moment! You can also go on an epic overnight sailing tour called Kiana that visits the Outer Reef. Because it is 3 hours each way to and from the Outer Reef, a multi-day tour makes the travel time feel less significant. 


Snorkelling In The Whitsunday Islands

However, if you still want to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef but you'd prefer shorter travel time, most day tours and overnight sailing trips from Airlie Beach visit the fringing reefs. Around Whitsunday Island, Haslewood Island, Hayman Island, Hook Island, and the other Whitsundays Islands, there is some great snorkelling to be done in the fringing reefs. These reefs are only about an hour from shore and you can easily visit them on a day trip!

This is a convenient way to visit the Great Barrier Reef from Airlie Beach without having to travel too far. You'll also have time to visit the other highlights of the area, including Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet, and a number of other islands with beaches and bushwalks. 

Whitehaven Beach

Is The Great Barrier Reef Better In Cairns Or The Whitsundays?

Though you can visit the Great Barrier Reef from Airlie Beach and Cairns, it is an easier day trip from Cairns. Most travellers visit Cairns for their trips to the reef because this fabulous city has a much shorter travel time to the reef than Airlie Beach. It's only about an hour from Cairns to the Outer Reef, and there are an abundance of tour boats that depart daily. 

The difference is that Airlie Beach's Whitsunday Islands are a huge attraction as well, with sights like Whitehaven Beach and Hamilton Island drawing in travellers from all over the world. So when you book a tour from Airlie Beach, you can combine world-class tropical island views and activities with some snorkelling in the fringing reefs. Many Whitsunday Islands are within a one-hour boat ride from Airlie Beach, so you can still cut down on travel time. 

Snorkeling Whitsundays

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