Cairns and Airlie Beach are both great areas for backpackers and adrenaline junkies to base themselves in to visit the Great Barrier Reef. Whilst Cairns is a more popular location, Airlie Beach also has a lot to offer for travellers on a budget.
Travel to the Great Barrier Reef is not cheap but there is only one Great Barrier Reef and it is money well spent. If you are a backpacker on a tight budget you can find cheap hostels and backpacker accommodation in Cairns, Airlie Beach and Townsville to access cruises out to the Great Barrier Reef.
If you visit Cairns you have an enormous choice of cruise operators from large ferry transfers to Green Island, tours to the outer reef platform, sailing tours and trips to Fitzroy Island.
For the best value for money, a tour to the Outer Great Barrier Reef platform is to be recommended. These tours will take you out to the platform where you can snorkel or dive. The reef platform also has an underwater observatory, glass bottom boats tours for coral viewing and semi-submersible vessels also. You will find that morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea will also be catered for on the full day cruises. If you have a few extra dollars to splurge then you can also take a short helicopter flight from the reef platform over the reef to get a bird eye view.
If you are a keen diver then you will want to splurge and choose a dive boat a tour that caters for divers such as Quicksilver or Silverswift departing from Cairns or Port Douglas.
For those who want to just get a taste of the reef on and visit an island then Fitzroy Island and Green Island are great budget friendly options. Green Island is 45 minutes away on a ferry with several transfers available throughout the day. The island is surrounded by fringing reef for snorkelling and a rainforest on the island. The island can become crowded at times and the snorkelling is not as good as other sites offshore.
Fitzroy Island is another island alternative that surprisingly doesn’t get as many visitors as Green Island. You can reach Fitzroy Island by ferry and swim and snorkel in crystal clear waters off the beach. The island has a water sports centre so you can also dive, kayak and stand up paddle board. The quality of snorkelling here is quite good and visitors enjoy the stunning secluded beaches and bays. You will be sure to spot a turtle or two here in the calmer, protected waters.
The benefit of these tours is that you can visit several sites, kayak and also have guided walks on several of the islands including the famous Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet walk. These tours are also budget friendly when you factor in several days worth of entertainment, accommodation, meals and alcohol that is included.
Overnight tours are not for everybody and so there are many day cruise options as well. Ocean Rafting do half day tours to Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet in a high-speed raft. The journey is half of the excitement of the day. You may also choose to island hop and simply spend the day on Hamilton or Daydream Islands. Other water sports are available depending on your budget such as sea kayaking and jet skiing.