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The Best Time to Visit the Great Barrier Reef in 2024

The Best Time to Visit the Great Barrier Reef in 2024

What's the best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef?

The optimal time to explore the Great Barrier Reef is between June and September. During these months, the dry season ensures clear underwater visibility and warm, sunny weather, providing perfect conditions for snorkeling and scuba diving.

This period also aligns with the migration of unique marine species like minke whales, enriching the experience with exceptional wildlife sightings. Additionally, the consistent warm temperatures in nearby Cairns indicate comfortable conditions for enjoying both the reef and its surrounding areas.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World for a reason. This extensive coral reef system, visible from space, is home to thousands of fish and coral species off the coast of Australia.

There is no other place on Earth to be able to snorkel with tropical fish and explore over 1,000 miles of coral reef system. The reef is also a popular destination for scuba diving, especially since you get to dive with turtles and other species.

Even if you don’t want to get wet, just taking a boat tour over the Great Barrier Reef is a must-do when you visit Australia. But when is the best time to visit? We’ll show you this and more below.

Overall Best Time to Visit the Great Barrier Reef

Scuba diver swimming along some coral with fish swimming around during the best time to go to the Great Barrier Reef


The overall best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef is during the peak season, from June to September, when water conditions are at their best around the reef.

When planning your trip to the Great Barrier Reef, the conditions underwater are almost as important when planning your trip as those on dry land, if not more so.

You want to go when the visibility is the best so you can make the most out of snorkeling or scuba diving. Queensland, the state nearest the Great Barrier Reef, has a tropical climate along its northeastern coast.

That means that temperatures are consistently warm all year round, but the precipitation changes from season to season. June to September marks the dry season, when there isn’t as much rain.

Cairns is the city closest to the Great Barrier Reef, so looking at its climate is the best way to prepare for what conditions you can expect out on the reef. According to the official Tourism Australia website, average temperatures in the winter range from the low 60s to the high 70s.

The weather is warm and sunny, but not so hot that it’s unbearable. It’s important to visit during the dry season because that is when visibility in the water is at its best.

When there is a lot of rain, the runoff clouds the water, making it more difficult to see. During the dry season, visibility goes on and on, making this the best time for scuba diving or snorkeling. The winter dry season from June to September is also the best time to go on a boat tour of the reef.

Since there is very little chance of rain and storms, water conditions are guaranteed to be tranquil for going out on a boat. Thanks to migration patterns, this is also the best time to see wildlife around the Great Barrier Reef.

Besides the standard species of tropical fish, you can also see beautiful creatures such as minke whales, which come to the reef in June and July. Other whale species are also in these waters during Australian winter.

Cheapest Time to Visit the Great Barrier Reef

Turtle swimming by a coral reef with divers above for a piece on the best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef


The cheapest time to visit the Great Barrier Reef is during the off-season of November-May, but you can also find good deals during the peak season if you are savvy.

Cairns, the main gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, fills up with passionate divers every dry season, but it empties out during the wet summer season.

Between November and May, when demand is much lower, you’ll find that hotel rooms and vacation homes in Cairns itself are much more affordable than during high season. Many organized tours also lower their prices.

However, you can visit during the winter dry season and save money as long as you stay elsewhere on the Queensland coast. While winter is the high season for Cairns, it’s the low season elsewhere on the coast.

Staying in a town a bit further down such as Rockhampton allows you to save money, and you can either commute to Cairns or take tours from those towns to the reef (they just take longer).

The least expensive times to fly to Australia tend to be at the beginning or end of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, in May and early June, then again from late July to September. This may be the high season for Cairns, but it’s the low season for the country.

Least Busy Time to Visit the Great Barrier Reef

Tropical island on the Great Barrier Reef pictured at sunset while boats float on the bay

Christopher Meder/Shutterstock

The least busy times to visit the Great Barrier Reef are at the very beginning of the dry season (May-June) and at the very end (September-October).

The dry season lasts from May to October, but visitor numbers peak in June, July, and August. If you visit before or after that time, you can still enjoy the best that the reef has to offer, but without the crowds.

Although humidity levels are higher and there is some chance of rain, the weather is still nice. During the beginning of the dry season, you can spot migrating species of whales such as humpback and minke whales.

There still aren’t as many tour operators running in May, but the season opens formally in June. Visit in early June for the full tourism offering, but before the crowds get here. You can have your choice of boat tours.

The end of the dry season (Australian spring) also has its benefits. If you visit in November, still part of the shoulder season, you can see the coral spawn.

During this time, the coral mass release their spawn, filling the water with tiny dots. It’s a beautiful opportunity to see the reef replenish itself, and there aren’t that many crowds around.

Worst Time to Visit the Great Barrier Reef

Murky grey water pictured during the worst time to visit the Great Barrier Reef with grey coral


The worst time to visit the Great Barrier Reef is during the wet season, from late November to May, when the conditions for diving worsen.

Wet season around Cairns brings plenty of rain on the heads of anyone who wants to vacation there. This makes getting out onto the Great Barrier Reef a bit unpleasant since the rain and humidity are constant.

The visibility is also worse underwater due to the rain and runoff. Getting out onto the reef during this time can also be downright dangerous. November to May is stinger season off the coast of Cairns, which means that jellyfish spawn around this time.

The official Australia tourism site warns about the risks as some jellyfish are deadly. You don’t want to risk getting into the water without protection. Many businesses operate seasonally in Cairns and the surrounding area, and they shut down during the wet season.

You’ll have far fewer options for boat tours and other organized excursions. If you can only come during this time, you can still visit the Great Barrier Reef, your experience just won’t be as good.

Opt for a boat tour instead of getting into the water. Only get into the water with the right protection, such as a stinger suit (many beaches have stinger nets to prevent jellyfish from getting close to swimmers).

Rainy season is also the best time to visit some attractions on land, such as the Cairns Botanical Garden or the rainforests along the Queensland coast. The rains mean that the forests are lush and the waterfalls are full and rushing.

Trust me when I say this is the worst time. I visit in the heart of the off-season, February, and happened to catch a pocket of nice weather between two monsoons, but there was nothing to do.

Port Douglas was completely closed down and aside from a few bars, most restaurants were closed down. Would I go again? Yes. Would I pick a better time to visit? Absolutely, since I didn’t feel like we left Cairns having fully experienced Australia.

Things to Consider

Sunrise at Palm Cove in Port Douglas in Cairns during the overall best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef

Darren Tierney/Shutterstock

Here are some other tips to help when planning for the Great Barrier Reef:

  • Book boat tours ahead of time during high season. Popular tours fill up quickly, so make sure that you reserve excursions that you want to do in advance.
  • Obey rules about touching the coral. Touching the coral can damage the extremely fragile ecosystem and hurt you as well. Follow the rules about keeping the ecosystem safe, such as not littering and not feeding the fish.
  • Protect yourself from stingers. Stinger-proof wetsuits are a must when diving during stinger season. If you get stung, seek medical attention immediately, as these stings can be life-threatening. Always swim within the nets, and ask a local if you’re unsure when stinger season is.

Frequently Asked Questions

Aerial view of a dive boat above the Great Barrier Reef pictured during the spring, the best time to visit


Still have questions? We’ve got the answers to help you find the best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef:

When should you avoid the Great Barrier Reef?

Avoid the Great Barrier Reef during the wet season, between November and May, when there are more jellyfish around.

What months can you swim in the Great Barrier Reef?

The months between May and October offer prime swimming and snorkeling conditions over the Great Barrier Reef thanks to the warm weather and safe conditions.

When is the best time to go to Cairns?

The best time to go to Cairns is during the dry season, between May and October, since the main appeal of this town is its gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.

Can you swim in the Great Barrier Reef all year?

You can technically swim in the Great Barrier Reef every month, but you will need to wear a wetsuit during the wet season for your own safety.

So, What’s the Best Time to Visit the Great Barrier Reef?

The best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef is during the dry season, from May to September, for the best visibility and water conditions.