Kids to the Great Barrier Reef – taking babies and children to ‘find Nemo’

Image of reef walking on Lady Elliott Island, Queensland Australia
Reef walking from Lady Elliott Island (not with megaphones! – they’re ‘coral viewers’)

I’ve seen the Great Barrier Reef in lots of different ways – from the air (in a seaplane), from a boat, from an island, on foot (yes!), snorkelling, in a semi-submersible, and of course if I was a little more accomplished I could have also seen it from a dive.

There are lots of ways and places to access the Great Barrier reef – but here are my tips for getting there with babies and children.

Image of Heart Reef in the Whitsundays, seen from our sea plane out of Airlie Beach, Queensland
Heart Reef in the Whitsundays

We actually took small person No.1 in a seaplane over the Great Barrier Reef when she was only teeny (4 1/2 months old!). I am not sure she remembers it 🙂 We had a great view though. We flew out of Airlie beach over the reef by the Whitsundays. The ‘iconic’ view from here is of ‘heart’ reef. It’s shaped like a heart, and adorns pretty much every brochure you’ll see of Australia somewhere!

Small person No.2’s first experience of the Great Barrier Reef (aged 6 months) was out of Port Douglas, on the lovely catamaran Sailaway to the Low Isles. This is the way to see the reef with children and babies –  in comfort and luxury, let me tell you. Plenty of room on the yacht to sit comfortably, a smooth ride, and only an hour to get there. Then with a lovely little island to explore, paddle from the beach, and snorkel straight off the shore you’re in kid-friendly heaven (there were ‘Nemo’ clown fish literally metres from the waters edge in easy wading distance to go see). There were older kids on our trip too (teenagers) and they seemed to also be having a great time – they could head off for an independent snorkel and leave Mum and Dad to relax.

Image of Lucy and the family on the wonderful Sailaway catamaran with Low Isles behind, Queensland Australia
The family that loves Australia cruising past the Low Isles (behind us) on Sailaway

Another option for enjoying the reef with babies and children (especially if Mum and Dad want to dive or snorkel at the same time) is to take a Nanny with you. This isn’t as daft as it sounds. We met the fabulous Fay who runs Busy Bees Babysitting who has gone out on dive boats (we’d recommend Poseiden in Port Douglas) to look after babies and kids in between dives. The other (perhaps more sensible 🙂 ) option is to leave your precious small people in the very capable hands of Fay or one of her great team of ladies while you have a grown-up day out on the Barrier Reef. We used Busy Bees twice while we were Tropical North Queensland and both times was very impressed and very happy to leave our little bubs who love Australia with them.

Image of Fay and Erin from Busy Bees Babysitting with small people in Port Douglas, Queensland Australia
Fay (left) and Erin from Busy Bees Babysitting with our little treasures! Port Douglas

A lot of the boats that take day trips out to the Great Barrier Reef moor up at pontoons and in my mind this set-up is better suited to bigger children as there’s not a lot of ‘running around’ space (and certainly no paddling!) options. It’s also often quite a long boat ride out to these. Also be aware the bigger boats are very much like ferries when you’re on board – you sit in your seat and wait ’til you get there. Quicksilver would be an example of that. That’s why I like to head to an island (like the Low Isles) or Green Island.

Image of Lucy and small persons on Reef Rocket to Green Island out of Cairns, Northern Queensland Australia
It’s only 45 minutes on the ‘Reef Rocket’ to Green Island from Cairns. Take a seat, relax!

While staying in Palm Cove, we took baby and small person on a day trip to Green Island on our last holiday, and while I will say it’s not the luxury, relaxing, small group experience of Sailaway, it’s certainly a good and very easy way to see the Great Barrier Reef with children. We took the faster and later departure on the Reef Rocket which I would recommend as it’s a smaller boat (the Big Cat is definitely a ‘ferry’). This also means your journey out of Cairns is only 45 minutes. Once you’re on Green Island there is tons to do and see. There is snorkelling off the beach, semi-submersible tours (great with little kids who haven’t mastered snorkelling), ice cream shops (essential!) and lots of facilities and paths you can push a buggy on across the little island. Yes, it’s not ‘adventurous’ but really, sometimes the easy way is good enough 🙂

Image of small person on semi-submersible reef trip on Green Island, Queensland Australia
‘G’day fishes’ – in the semi-sub from Green Island

My tips for a day on Green Island: take your own food if you can, or get lunch on the island not on the Green Island Big Cat (the buffet is not worth the walk back along the jetty for, and frankly, I don’t want to eat my lunch on a ‘ferry’ when I could picnic on the beach!). Do the semi-sub tour as it’s a fab way to get up-close to the coral and marine life of the barrier reef without getting wet. Head to the beach that’s through the ‘village’ not the one right by the jetty – it’s very picture postcard perfect for an extra few minutes walk.

Another island option where it’s possible to explore the Great Barrier Reef on foot is to take a day trip to Lady Elliott Island. We did this day trip with a flight out of Bunderburg, (but you can also fly from Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine coast). In fact it’s pretty much the most southerly part of the Great Barrier Reef you can visit. Again, it’s a resort island but with a pool, a lagoon off-shore, glass-bottomed boat trips and the ‘walking the reef‘ option when it’s low tide in the lagoon. If you have time try and stay a few days though – it’s a lovely low key Great Barrier Reef resort and it’s definitely children-friendly

One more day trip I’ve not done, but it looked good, was Calypso Dive trips from Mission Beach/Dunk Island to the reef, as this was just a 1-hour trip so not too much travelling time. I have added it to my list for next visit! But if you’re headed there let me know if it’s a good day out to the barrier reef with children please. They even teach kids to dive!

So that’s my little round up of Great Barrier Reef adventures for you, all of which I’d recommend you can take babies and children on. Obviously I’ve not been on every trip there is to the Great Barrier reef, but then there’s still plenty of time… let me know if you find Nemo – we did 🙂

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