Of Reef Sharks & Corals: Wavelength Marine Charters (A Review)

I’m not normally one to write reviews, but the one thing everyone who visits Australia does is visit the Great Barrier Reef- as I spent (literally) hours/days researching where to go and what tour operator to go out on the reef with, growing slightly obsessed with getting it right, I thought the least I could do would be to share the results. I should add that I’m not affiliated in any way with Wavelength, just in case anyone suspects me of accepting bribes or free snorkels.

A visit to the Great Barrier Reef is on the bucket list of nearly every visitor to Australia. In the areas of Port Douglas and Cairns, colloquially referred to as FNQ, or Far North Queensland, there are a multitude of tour operators who will take you out on the reef, so it’s important to consider what sort of experience you are after when picking an operator, considering this day trip will cost you a small fortune- at $150-200 per person, it’s important to get this right. My family and I were after a small group trip and quality snorkelling, and Wavelength Marine Charters offered this in spades. (www.wavelength.com.au)

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Why Choose Wavelength

Small group tours (maximum 30 passengers) make the day more personal and intimate- as the old saying goes, size matters.  So many operators take out hundreds on each boat, feeling more like a cattle call than a snorkelling adventure, which Wavelength really was.  On a previous trip with another operator, which took out hundreds of eager reef-goers, the reef felt more like swimming in a fishbowl, and I could only take so many flipper kicks to the face from an oblivious swimmer distracted by a fish before I lost patience. Kicking back would have been the obvious rebuttal, but my politeness prevailed.

 Snorkelling Wavelength doesn’t offer scuba diving, and don’t have facilities on board for divers, so I know this trip won’t suit everyone with their heart set on diving. The sites visited were incredible, and we saw sea turtles, reef sharks, and a vast array of parrot fish, clown fish, giant clams, and incredible reef formations throughout the day. The crew couldn’t have been more helpful, friendly, or accommodating, and made everyone feel really welcome. Most of the reef and marine life is very close to the surface of the water (it needs sunlight to grow) so can be easily as a snorkeler.

Clownfish abound on the reef (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
Clownfish abound on the reef (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

All equipment is provided, and instruction is given for those new to the ‘sport’, including life vests and floatation aids (aka pool noodles.) Wetsuits are also provided, and may be required by the crew if you’re there in “stinger season”, which occurs during the summer months. A guide takes underwater photos throughout the day, which you can later purchase- or not.

Education & conservation Throughout the day, the on-board marine biologist offered guided snorkel tours of the reef sites, and they also have a lunch time talk on the importance of conservation- the reef’s health has been rapidly declining over recent years, so this is an important message for visitors to hear. By taking out small boats, varying the sites they visited, and avoiding the large anchored pontoons favoured by other operators, Wavelength works hard to limit the environmental impact on the reef.

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Not a bad view- heading to the reef

Why not to choose Wavelength

Cost Of all the Port Douglas reef operators, Wavelength is one of the more expensive at $225 per adult and $165 per child. Personally, I think it is worth it, for the great staff, and intimate experience with the reef, but if you are on a tight budget it may not be for you.

Diving For many people, the only way to experience the reef is by doing a dive- as Wavelength only caters to snorkelers, you’ll need to go with another operator if you want to dive.

Non-swimmers Many of the larger reef operators, which can take out hundreds of passengers at a time, offer viewing platforms for non-swimmers and semi-submersibles for reef viewing without getting your feet wet. As Wavelength is small, the only way to really see the reef is by getting wet, so if you don’t want to get in the water, perhaps look at other operators.

Back at the marina- also not too shabby of a view.
Back at the marina- also not too shabby of a view.

On the day

A day out on the reef is full on- Wavelength was punctual in picking us on from our hotel around 7:30, and we were home around 5pm. After boarding the boat, it’s about a two-hour journey each way out to the reef, and we spent about an hour at each of the three reef sites we visited. In between, morning tea, a filling lunch of pasta, Asian noodles and deli sandwiches were served, followed by an afternoon tea, with hot drinks and fruit available all day (soft drinks and beer were an additional charge.)

Verdict Wavelength is an amazing company, and I much preferred the personal and quality experience of Wavelength, especially the guided snorkel tours and marine biologist talks, over a larger operator. If you are after a full day of reef snorkelling with an operator who genuinely seem to care about protecting this special place for future generations, go with Wavelength.

Helpful tips

1. Put on sunscreen before you leave your hotel in the morning, so it has time to fully absorb into your skin. This will accomplish two things: (a) stop you from getting burned- the Australian sun is intense and (b) help protect the reef, as chemicals from your sunscreen are no bueno for the marine life.

2. You’ll be out in the direct sun all day, intensified by the reflection off the water- bring a hat and remember that even on cloudy and overcast days, you can still get a nasty burn.

3. If the winds are high or conditions aren’t right, Wavelength may have to cancel their day’s outing- try to reserve your trip on one of the first few days of your holiday, so that if you do have the misfortune of being cancelled, you’ll still have enough time left in your holiday to go out.

4. If you can’t make it up to Far North Queensland, great snorkeling can be found across Australia, although perhaps not as majestic as the Great Barrier Reef- but try these Sydney snorkeling beaches.

What to bring

Towel, sunscreen, wide brimmed hat, camera, money, if you wish to purchase drinks or photos, long sleeved shirt (in case you get too much sun)

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