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What is the difference between diving and snorkelling in Cairns and Airlie Beach?

Diving and snorkelling in Cairns and Airlie Beach may be a different experience, depending on what kind of tour you end up doing. The real question is what if the difference between diving and snorkelling on the Outer Reef and Inner Fringing Reefs.  While both Cairns and Airlie Beach visit both of these types of reef, Cairns has more tours with the Outer Reef, while Airlie Beach has more tours with Inner Reef.

The Outer Reef is what is more often associated with the Great Barrier Reef and sits far off shore from the mainland and islands. Fringing Reefs are reefs that are off shore from islands, “fringing” the island itself.

The Outer Great Barrier Reef, where most Cairn’s tours visit, often larger number of bigger fish than the inner reef but often has many of the same species. With sharks, rays, clownfish and Maori Wrasse, you’ll not want for diverse and colour fish and corals all around you. It is out in the open ocean, so there are no beaches or islands around, just you, your mates and the boat to break up the horizon! Since they are on the Outer Reef the water levels tend to vary greatly with huge drop offs and huge bommies. Often times the boat will anchor or moor close to the reef so you can snorkel directly off the back of the boat.

The Inner Fringing Reef, as most of the tours so in Airlie Beach (with the exception of a few who venture to the outer reef) are reefs you will find off of the 74 Whitsunday Islands. Guests are treated to many of the same species as the outer reef with the perk of being close to beaches and shorelines. You’re more likely to see sea turtles on the fringing reefs than on the outer reef since there tend to be sea grass beds near the islands, which are a major food source for turtles. Since you are close to islands in the fringing reefs, you may find runoff after heavy rain, but this is usually a non-issue with the movement of the tides clearing out the water rather quickly. The protected bays of the islands provide calm places to snorkel almost all year around, and since there are many places to pick from, tour operators are able to pick and choose where to go based on the tides. You will often drop anchor just off of the shore and use a smaller boat to ferry you back and forth to the reef.

Both reefs of the Inner and Outer Great Barrier Reef are beautiful, diverse and full of life. The largest difference is the landscape above the water, with the Outer Reef having an unbroken horizon and the Inner Reef off the coast of one of the many islands that call the Great Barrier Reef home.

Both Cairns and Airlie offer both Inner and Outer Reef experiences, making both destinations ideal for those who want an immersive underwater experience!

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