Cairns Whale Watching – Reef Magic Review

Cairns Dive Adventures Trip Review

Whales are magnificent creatures and most people feel an affinity with these gentle giants of the deep. It is wonderful to see them in their natural environment, enjoying the “warm” waters of the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef off Cairns, during the Antarctic’s cold winter months. This half day tour provides a wonderful opportunity...

Cairns Whale Watching – Reef Magic Review

Trip Review By: Julie

Reef Magic Cruises are the only Cairns company to provide dedicated whale watching tours. During a limited season [July to September], these half day tours depart Marlin Marina twice daily, providing visitors the chance to witness majestic Humpback Whales breaching in the waters of the Coral Sea. Tours cost $99 for adults and $79 for children with a whale watching guarantee (if there aren’t any there on your day, come back on the next available tour, for free). This is a great way to get close to the whales, when you don’t have your own boat or means of transport.

Our whale watching tour commenced with check-in at the Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal at 9am. Boarding the comfortable Reef Magic Cruises Whale Watching catamaran at Marlin Marina, we had a choice of seats in the air-conditioned interior, or on the top sun deck. Complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits were available at the downstairs bar and after helping ourselves, we took a seat upstairs.

Departing on schedule at 9.30am the Reef Magic Cruises captain welcomed everyone aboard and provided a tour briefing and weather conditions report. He advised wind conditions would be less than ideal, with approximately 20-25 knots in the open water and suggested if anyone was affected ‘by the motion of the ocean’ then now would be a good time to take take a ginger tablet (70 cents) or Travel Calm ($3), available for sale at the bar.

As we headed out of Trinity Inlet, a safety demonstration was provided and the captain talked a little about the Humpback Whales and their annual migration from Antarctica. Cairns reef day tour boats, heading to pontoons and the Outer Great Barrier Reef had reported seeing whales earlier today, so Reef Magic Cruises made its way to the waters between Fitzroy and Green Islands, where they had last been seen.

The trip out took approximately 45 minutes and given the windy conditions, the ride was very comfortable and smooth. We spent about 15 minutes off Fitzroy Island before seeing our first Humpback Whale. This first character was very shy and other than a few moments when it looked like there would be some above water action, the whale stayed just out of sight beneath the waves.

Reef Magic Cruises then started to move through the waters off Cape Grafton and it wasn’t long before we came across another whale, this time a mother with her calf. Again, this pair was fairly shy, although the mother did thrill us with one breach and some tail slapping and fin waving. The calf stayed by its mother’s side and other than the release of air through its blow-hole, it remained a mysterious grey shadow to whale watching guests.

Shortly thereafter, two large male Humpbacks made their way over, probably intrigued by the movements of the whale mother and the sounds of our engine. These two guys were a little more forthcoming with some whale action for their adoring crowd, with a few more breaches, about three (3) spy hops (where the head comes up out of the water) and lots and lots of fin waving.

These whales were about 10km offshore from Cape Grafton, inside the Great Barrier Reef, in the waters between Green and Fitzroy Islands. Reef Magic Cruises hovered around in this space for a quite a while and before we knew it, it was 12.15pm and time to head back to Cairns.

The waters were still quite unsettled and the winds had picked up, but again, on the return journey I was more than impressed with the speed and comfort of Reef Magic’s 22m whale watching catamaran. We have done many trips to the Great Barrier Reef and this is by far one of the most stable, comfortable vessels we have been on in the high seas.

Our cruise ended back at Marlin Marina at 1pm, with all guests disembarking. A professional photographer had been on board during the trip and some passengers purchased some souvenir photos of their Cairns whale watching trip at $10 per image.

Top Tips

  1. If you suffer from motion sickness, definitely take some preventative medicine.
  2. Remember to apply sun block: you may not notice it while watching the whales, but the sun is still hot and burning on the open water.
  3. Take a zoom lens on your camera, the whales are generally a minimum of 100m away from the boat at all times.
  4. If you don’t have a good lens, then don’t worry about getting photos, just enjoy the trip and buy a souvenir picture at the end, at $10 each they are very reasonably priced.
  5. If you do not see a whale during the trip (in the first year they boasted a 99% success rate) then you are welcome to join the next available tour for free.

THE VERDICT: Whales are magnificent creatures and most people feel an affinity with these gentle giants of the deep. It is wonderful to see them in their natural environment, enjoying the “warm” waters of the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef off Cairns, during the Antarctic’s cold winter months. This half day tour provides a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with the Humpback Whales, as they frolic in the waters off Cairns. The assurance that you can go again for free if you do not see them, makes for good peace of mind.

Cairns Whale Watching Tours

Cairns Whale Watching Tours operate seasonally, between July and September. These half day tours depart at 9.30am and return at 1pm. Up to 99% success rate at seeing whales. If unlucky, can go for free on next available tour.

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Cairns Underwater Camera Hire Service

Spend over $550.00 AUD on your Great Barrier Reef tour with us and receive the latest Digital Underwater Camera Hire. Take amazing High-Resolution images and 1080 HD Video. Only when you book online thru our website. 

Not available for any tours to the Islands as fine white sand damages the seals on the cameras and makes them leak!

You need to come into our shop located on the Cairns Esplanade the day before departure to pick up the camera before 5:30 pm. You also need to supply your own SD Camera Card and drop the camera off back at our shop before 5:30pm.


Please Remember there is no other way to collect our cameras! All passengers must come into our shop the day before departure day before 5:30 pm.