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How to pick the best conditions for your trip out to the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas
Here are some tips on how to choose the best conditions for your trip out to the reef. All reef operators in Port Douglas will endeavour to give you a fantastic experience on the reef and pick the best sites for the conditions they experience on the day. Many people are only concerned with whether it is going to be sunny, overcast or raining. For reef trip from Port Douglas the most important thing you should consider is the wind. Any day with wind conditions predicted to be less than 15 knots is pretty close to perfect conditions. 15-20 knots is still all right but expect a bit more motion on the ocean when travelling to and from the reef. 20-30 knots means that the wind is getting fairly high, and also means that there will be bigger waves whilst your boat is underway to the reef. If you have good sea legs you won’t be bothered by the movement of the boat. If you are concerned about getting sea sick, then make sure you arrange sea sickness meds from the local chemist prior to your trip. They take a bit of time to work, some people take a couple before bedtime the night before their reef trip, and then a couple more about 30 minutes before they board their boat to the reef. The tides play a big part in selecting a good day for the reef especially when the wind is getting up there. A good low tide in the middle of the day means that reef goers get some protection from the waves once they get in behind the reef. The Great Barrier Reef is called a Barrier Reef because it is acts as a barrier to the big open ocean swells. If there are low tides in the middle of the day or towards the afternoon when out at the reef it generally means that all reef sites that are in the leeward side of the wind that day are quite sheltered. During the tropical winter, May – August, the trade winds are predominately strong more often than not. Usually the stronger winds are from the South East and this is why the reef acts like a barrier. It is not all bad news visiting the reef during a tropical winter, as this is generally when the underwater visibility is at its best. You might also get to see migrating Mink or Humpback Whales. Whether it is cloudy, sunny or rainy you are always going to see vividly coloured coral and fish on your reef tour from Port Douglas. A common misconception about the reef is that you will only see beautiful colours on sunny days. Coral produces a compound that glows or fluoresces under UV light, and even when it is cloudy UV rays still penetrate the clouds. In fact the best coral viewing conditions are when it is cloudy. There is more UV light on a cloudy day and the corals appear to glow. Remember also that weather forecasts, are just forecasts… the further ahead you look at weather predictions, the less accurate they will be.
What will the weather be like for my fishing/snorkelling/diving trip I want to do?
Have a look at these great weather forecasts that we in the boating community in Port Douglas rely upon. The weather bureau has a radar which shows where the rain squalls are, the intensity and volume of rain received, plus Port Douglas local wind readings from weather buoys located at Low Isles, Green Island- right up the coast to the Torres Straits. Wind forecasts and the actual winds velocity can be two very different things. In fact, a lot of the time the weather bureau forecast higher than winds actually recorded in Port Douglas. (just in case!) It's a big area from Cooktown to Cardwell, a distance of around 600km by road. Rain really doesn’t have much of an impact on a snorkelling tour. The reason for this is that the rain tends to hug the coast where the mountain range is. Out to sea on the Great Barrier Reef you can easily see squalls. A lot of people get concerned that the corals won’t appear to be as bright or colourful if it is overcast. In fact, corals have a compound in them that fluoresces under UV light. On a cloudy day there is more UV light than infra-red (which is why you can still get sunburned on a cloudy day). So in actual fact, cloud cover makes for prefect coral viewing. The other thing to remember is that you are going to be in the water and wet anyway! Wind and tide are what REALLY affect a reef tour. Wind speed and direction has a big influence on the reef travel conditions. Stronger trade winds usually come from the South Easterly direction during our peak tourist season of June to January in Port Douglas. A low tide in the middle of the day will provide a great deal of protection as during these wind conditions the Great Barrier Reef acts like a barrier to the waves and swell. Of course the trip to and from the reef can be uncomfortable. If you are susceptible to motion sickness it is highly recommended that you organise some sea sickness medication for yourself prior to getting on a reef boat. Low Isles is a great destination during stronger wind conditions as the lagoon is in the leeward side of a south easterly. Plus the travel time is much shorter than the outer reef. There are also calm water fishing tours available during windy weather from Port Douglas. The estuary on Port Douglas provides some great catch and release sport fishing opportunities.
Will it cost me more to book my reef charter or Barrier Reef Cruise through Port Douglas Reef Charters?
No it will not cost more. Whatever the price on the brochure is, it will be the same if you book your reef tour through Port Douglas Reef Charters or direct with the operator. The benefit to you is that Port Douglas Reef Charters deals with all the reef tour operators, therefore you will receive the best impartial advice based on your individual requirements. Port Douglas Reef Charters offers excellent advice and customer service.
I will be in Port Douglas during the stinger season, can I still go to the Great Barrier Reef?
Yes you can still snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. Stinger Season runs from October to May depending on local weather conditions. During the "stinger season" there are enclosures on the Port Douglas Four Mile beach. These nets prevent box jellyfish from entering the enclosure. Box Jellyfish live up to a mile offshore from the beaches. Irukandji are small jellyfish of a number of different species that inhabit the offshore waters of the Great Barrier Reef. The chances of encountering them are rare- one in 150 Million- but all reef operators have a duty of care to provide protection against the likelihood of a "sting", that is why all reef and Low Isles tour operators will insist that you wear a lycra or "stinger" suit during the summer months in Port Douglas. Here is a link to a fantastic site with more information about marine stingers http://www.stingeradvisor.com/ check out the downloads section!
I really want to try Game Fishing for Marlin. Do you organise share charters for Game fishing?
Sorry no, Port Douglas Reef Charters do not organise share charters for Game Fishing. The reason for this is that there are too many variables that can affect your end price. If you want to go Marlin Fishing, the cost usually starts around $1800 for the day.
I am worried about getting seasick, which reef tour would be best for me?
It really depends on the time of the year you are visiting in Port Douglas, the tides and wind speed. The best bet if you are worried is to visit a chemist and speak with the Pharmacist; they will be able to recommend suitable medication for you to prevent seasickness. On the day of your reef tour, eat a light breakfast and whilst on the tour make sure you get plenty of fresh air and keep your eyes on the horizon. Avoid enclosed areas like toilets or saloon. Ginger tablets are great, crystallized ginger pieces are also recommended. If you want a short boat trip and some terra firma then consider a Low Isles tour. Low Isles is great for families with young children; there is a lovely sandy beach, a protected lagoon for snorkelling which is teeming with green turtles, colourful tropical fish and giant clams.
Which reef tour operator should I do my Great Barrier Reef cruise with?
It really depends on you and what your individual needs or requirements are. Port Douglas Reef Charters are the local experts on reef tours for fishing, scuba diving and introductory diving- send us an email with some information about yourself and we will do our best to assist. The more information you give us the better we will be able to assist you. We will need to know the dates you are interested in for your boat charter, how many adults and children will be on board. If you are planning on snorkelling then we will need to know how confident you all are in the water and what your swimming ability is like. For fishing charters you need to let us know what type of fishing you wish to do whether it be bottom fishing, reef fishing, light tackle fishing, estuary sport fishing, or heavy tackle fishing for Black Marlin.
What are coral reef fin fish closures?
Coral reef fin fish closures are periods of time during which certain species of fish are not able to be fished for. The reason for the closures is that the closed periods are aimed towards the spawning periods of the fish that are not permitted to be taken. Therefore bottom fishing is generally not permitted or conducted at these times. It is not all doom and gloom though! You can still do light tackle sport fishing charters for Spanish Mackerel and Giant Trevally, and you can also fish for Black marlin on a heavy tackle game fishing charter. Closure dates.
- 19 November 2014 to 23 November 2014
- 10 October 2015 to 14 October 2015
- 9 November 2015 to 13 November 2015
- 28 October 2016 to 1 November 2016
- 26 November 2016 to 30 November 2016
- 17 October 2017 to 21 October 2017
- 15 November 2017 to 19 November 2017
- 6 October 2018 to 10 October 2018
- 5 November 2018 to 9 November 2018
What reef is the best to visit from Port Douglas?
It depends on which tour shop you go into! There are lots of marketing myths out there about the best reefs. Each boat operator has a permit for a particular reef-based upon the numbers the boats take and their impact on reef sites. Most of the large operators that take anywhere from 100 passengers to 400 passengers visit Agincourt Reef. They will have you believe that this is because Agincourt is the best reef...when in fact it is only reef they are permitted to visit. All reef tour operators have to have proper moorings at their reef site. This is because proper moorings protect the coral from damage by the anchor of a big heavy boat. In reality tour operators take you to the inside edge of an outer reef. Here you get the benefit of the crystal clear waters of the Coral Sea, but also the protection of the edge of the reef from the swell. The coral gardens here are sheltered from swell and are very colourful and pretty. To be honest I have snorkelled and dived a lot of the coast from Cairns to Cape York including Lizard Island; I have to say some of the most beautiful reef sites I have seen are off Port Douglas. When I was managing one of the best snorkel boats in Port Douglas we were lucky enough to have David Doubilet the renowned National Geographic photographer come into our tour shop. Even though he had chartered his own boat, he had heard that the reef sites on Opal Reef were the best that the Great Barrier Reef had to offer. The boat that he had chartered did not have permits for Opal reef. He did a shoot on Opal Reef and then came back to ask permission to use our sites again.
Do your boats have glass bottoms?
The boats that travel to the Low Isles from Port Douglas usually have access to a smaller boat called tender at the lagoon of Low Isles. These glass bottom boats have a clear Perspex panel in the floor of them which allows non swimmers the opportunity to see fish, coral, turtles and clams on the reef. Glass bottom boats are the best way for non-swimmers to see the reef. If you can swim or snorkel then you really don’t need to do a glass bottom boat tour. Glass bottom boat tours are really only for people that will not get into the water. On the Great Barrier Reef there is only one boat that has a glass bottom boat tours. The big boat takes between 350 and 450 people to a big pontoon. Once at the pontoon you can do the glass bottom boat tour.