You want to experience the Great Barrier Reef, but it is so large that you can only experience a bit of it. Which part do you visit? What company do you use to book your trip? There are so many outfits that choosing one can be a daunting chore. We wound up booking an all-day tour of Green Island and Norman Reef with Great Adventures, a very experienced and reliable company when it comes to reef tours.
Great Adventures has its own wharf along the harbor, very close to the main wharf in central Cairns. My friend and I wanted to choose a clear day to take an all-day tour, so we did not buy our tickets until the morning of the tour at the ticket booth at the wharf. You can always purchase tickets ahead of time with the company direct or with any reputable travel agency or tour company in town. The nine-hour tour of Green Island and Norman Reef is a splurge at about 90 US dollars, but it is worth it for a memorable experience within a given amount of time.
The catamaran has plenty of air-conditioned interior seating and some outdoor sundecks. Reflecting the great number of Japanese visitors, the on-board safety and promotional videos are presented in English and Japanese. The personable staff is very helpful while passing out goodies or dispensing tour and safety information. Throughout the journey, you can get snacks like tea and cookies, bite-size cake squares, and cheese and crackers. There is a small gift booth on board, selling t-shirts, postcards, and videos.
The first stop is at Green Island, a lovely 6000-year-old coral cay located about halfway between central Cairns and the outer reef. The small but popular island, which receives an eye-popping 200,000 annual visitors, is a national park along with its surrounding reef. On our tour, there is only a brief two-hour stop here. Great Adventures and other companies also sell longer tours for day trippers who want to spend more time here, or one can stay overnight here at the Green Island Resort. If you are here for the brief stopover, you have time to take a swim in the sea, frolic on the white coral sand beach, hang around the grounds of the resort, or take a hike around the island. The Green Island Resort bills itself as being "environmentally sensitive", with an outdoor pool, shops, bars and snack stands. If you take a hike around, you will see wildlife like birds, butterflies, geckos, and even strangler figs. You will see colorful fish and corals in the shallow blue waters surrounding Green Island. On the island there is an old Underground Observatory, some institution called Marineland Melanesia (sounds like a disease!) that is fun for kids, and even a helipad.
(read continuation in "Great Adventures Norman Reef" section below)