How to See the Great Barrier Reef Without Snorkeling?

By Josh •  Updated: 05/07/21 •  7 min read

The Great Barrier Reef is a phenomenal diving destination for sea-adventurers throughout the world. Stretching over 2600 km, this coral reef is home to millions of aquatic plants and animals. That being said, can you see the Great Barrier Reef without snorkeling?

It is entirely possible to enjoy a trip to the Great Barrier Reef without having to swim into the great depths. You’ll find multiple land trips arranged by the local tour facilities that don’t include snorkeling or swimming. In fact, the resorts alone can fully cover your enjoyment needs with their special shenanigans and fun activities. 

So many people keep themselves from booking a trip to the Great Barrier Reef because they think that it’s only for swimmers and divers. Let’s break those misconceptions today and find out about all the great activities you can do at the reef without getting yourself wet. 

Air view of the Great Barrier Reef in the Whitsundays, Queensland Australia.
Great Barrier Reef in the Whitsundays from the air

How to See the Great Barrier Reef Without Swimming?

If you suffer from major seasickness like me and can’t ever go for a snorkeling trip, don’t get disheartened. Here are a few amazing non-swimming activities you can sign up for at the Great Barrier Reef to enjoy yourself to the fullest! 

Flying to The Whitehaven Beach

Whitehaven Beach resides in Whitsunday Island along the coast of the Great Barrier Reef. In addition to the overwhelming scenic beauty, Whitehaven Beach is famous for its seaplane trips to the Great Barrier Reef. 

It’s quite poetic really if you think about it. So what if you are unable to swim? The sky will be open to you so that you may glide over the reef and take all of it in for what it’s worth. 

To arrange for this seaplane trip, you will need to contact the Air Whitsunday Seaplanes and book a trip in advance. Whichever package you go for, the seaplane will take you on a scenic route over the beautiful blue reef. 

After an hour-long tour over the reef, you’ll land on the crystal white beach. You can then walk on the beach for the rest of the day and take in all of the ocean’s glory. Or, you can contact the authorities beforehand and arrange for a private picnic for your beloved ones. 

Either way, the fact that it will be an unforgettable experience is pretty much guaranteed.

Helicopter Rides Over the Reef

If you loved the seaplane idea, wait till you hear about this one. Soaring over the sky is probably the best way you can truly enjoy the beauty of the reef without having to take a dip.

Cairns is the most accessible way to get to the Great Barrier Reef, and that’s where your journey in a helicopter will start from. However, you can book such services at Port Douglas as well. 

In a helicopter ride, you get to experience the ins and outs of the reef while taking breathtaking pictures at the same time. Again, if you are an experienced pilot, you can customize the ride and take it to the sky yourself. 

There are landing pads throughout the nearby coral cays where you can land and indulge in a little picnic before coming back to the resort. And to book such rides, just ask for a relevant brochure from the resort manager and then select the packages accordingly. 

Semi-Submersible Tours

Another way to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef without getting yourself wet is to go for semi-submersible tours. In this tour, you get to experience the reef from a divers’ perspective by submerging into the shallow depths. 

And don’t worry, it’s completely safe! In fact, the whole deck will only be a meter below the water the whole time. You can watch and take pictures of all the beautiful creatures around the reef while sitting inside an air-conditioned room yourself. 

So far, the best way to go on such a trip is to book one via the Quicksilver Cruises. They usually depart from Port Douglas for a trip out in the ocean. Alongside the submerging experience, they offer an assortment of seafood meals and mini helicopter rides as well.

Pontoon Trips

A pontoon trip is similar to a normal boat trip except for the fact that it is much more stable due to the buoyant floats. So, if you suffer from extreme motion sickness, a pontoon trip is exactly what you should sign up for.

On a pontoon trip, you get to experience the reef from both the upper and below deck arena. As a result, you can see the Coral Sea inside out without having to swim out in the waters.

Many pontoons come with exclusive snorkeling activities as well which you can go for just as easily. 

If there’s one thing that you’ll find in abundance in the Great Barrier Reef, it’s these pontoons. You don’t even have to book such a tour in advance. Just reach out to the local tour facilities and they will help you to book a customized pontoon tour right away. 

Another reason why pontoon trips are the best – you get to spend the night out in the ocean and take in the moonlit view of the coral reef. Sleeping under the starry sky while the lively water softly brushes against you; that’s as memorable of an experience as it possibly gets.

Preparing for A Non-Snorkeling Trip To The Great Barrier Reef

Well, it’s safe to say that you won’t need full-on diving gear on a non-snorkeling trip out in the ocean. Jokes apart, let’s take a look at some of the stuff that you should indeed bring on a trip like this. 

  1. Sunscreen & Sunglasses

Many might laugh at this recommendation but they have no idea how the rate of skin cancer is skyrocketing every year. Whether it’s a helicopter ride or a submerging one, you’ll be exposed to the sunlight for a long time. And that exposure can end up being fatal one way or the other.

So, make sure to bring proper sunscreen and sunglasses before you go on a day-long trip out in the Reef. Furthermore, check in advance to see whether you’re allergic to sunscreen or not. And don’t purposefully get over-exposure from the sun just to get a better tan. 

  • Water Bottles + Glucose + Saline

Even though there will be proper arrangements of food and water in the deck by the tour facilities, it’s best to bring some essentials of your own. Such essentials include freshwater, glucose, and saline of any sort.

It’s merely a precautionary measure to bring extra water so don’t get too hyped up about it. And as for the glucose and saline, they will help you to rejuvenate yourself if you start to feel too dehydrated under the sun. They are great for preventing sea sickness as well. 

  • Urgent Medication

Finally, this one’s extremely important if you have a certain medical condition that you need to take care of personally. This includes an epi-pen, allergy medication, inhaler, odomos, etc. 

Again, if you suffer from extreme motion sickness, you should bring proper medicine for it in advance. That way, you can control the situation before it gets worse.

On the other hand, odomos will keep the mosquitoes away if you plan to spend the night out on the reef or the beach. The same goes for epi-pen and allergy shots as they can end up saving your life from a random insect bite. 


So, can you see the great barrier reef without snorkeling? By now, you already know that the answer is, undoubtedly yes! Just make sure to exercise proper precautions as always, and that’s all you need for the experience of a lifetime.

Thanks for reading and wish you a wonderful and memorable trip.


Josh is a loving dad and husband, writer, business owner, and someone who loves to explore the world. He last travelled to Australia to visit Sydney, Brisbane, and Cairns and am looking to head back soon to see more! He is a huge fan of hiking, drawing, and so much more!

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