Kids will love the Great Barrier Reef, at any age! Cairns has a range of fantastic, family-friendly Reef trips available, departing from Cairns’ Marlin Marina daily. Popular destinations include Green and Fitzroy Islands, or the outer reef pontoons, which have enclosed swimming areas for the little ones.
Remember the days pre-kids when you were able to partake in all of your hobbies without having to worry about little people! Well SCUBA diving in Cairns is not a total write off and there are opportunities to travel, and dive, with kids as long as you plan it. Remember kids and water activities work well together and the rare many options for very young to teenagers.
If you are focusing on diving with your family then plan to get your kids trained to scuba dive as part of the family adventure holiday, so that they can come diving with you. Though PADI will train a 10 year old to dive in many jurisdictions, 12 is the minimum age here in Queensland.
So, let’s look at what’s on offer.
Day trip dive and snorkel boats
Day trips depart around 8.00 – 8.30am and you go out and back in a purpose-built dive and snorkel vessel and return later that afternoon (5pm). Bear in mind some of these trips take up to 80 people
Not ideal for very young children, but for teenagers and young kids that are confident in the water, it’s not a bad option.
Most have 3 -5 hours at the Reef so if you are a diving couple with young child, then one of you can dive (a buddy will be arranged for you) whist the other sits snorkels or swims with your child. Then swap out for the second or third dive.
Introductory diving is available for those 12 or older.
Most boats have flotation devices, and child sized masks and fins.
Day Trip Pontoons
If you just want to relax and partake in some snorkelling and maybe dive, and the larger dive boats don’t take your fancy then there are some good options which take you to a fixed pontoon. Out of Cairns there are Great Adventures and Sunlover that can take up to 250 people!). Not really for me, so I prefer Reef Magic. Bearing in mind I have a 10 and 8 year old at time of writing, this option suits me as well as it does for friends with older kids. It’s like a marine park with underwater observatory, glass bottom boat and semi-submersible (like a submarine where you sit below the surface).
Reef Magic has a shallow platform area for small kids and a touch tank are where Crew show the kids marine beasties like sea stars and sea cucumbers. Feeding the fish and snorkel tours are available so its safely supervised. Life vests and noodles are available so for those not strong on swimming it’s a good option too. Kids can watch the divers and helmet divers from here too.
If you are not a strong swimmer then the above activities are good as well as helmet diving . Here you put a large fibreglass helmet on which has a clear face screen and you literally walk as a group with a guide looking at the marine life. It’s very safe, and secure and non swimmers get to see the underwater works. This is also suitable for kids, hover age limits apply.
Masks, buoyancy vests and snorkels come in kids sizes on Reef Magic, Great Adventures and Sunlover.
Reef Magic and the other pontoon trips all offer Introductory diving, snorkelling within well supervised and roped off areas with lifeguards on patrol, as well as guided tours. Glass bottom boats, semi submersibles and underwater observatories are on all 3 operators.
Diving with kids
The minimum age to try SCUBA Diving and helmet diving in Queensland is 12 years old. In some parts of the work is possible to get certified at 10 years old, but obviously conditions apply. So, if you have a child who is under 12, and already certified, they can still dive, but it must be with a dive professional (which may add to the cost) or with a parent or legal guardian who is a certified diver.
Medical conditions apply and its best to check the medical declaration to make sure no conditions may prevent them from diving.
Some over night trips like Kangaroo Explorer will not allow kids under the age of 11. However, Ocean Quest is more family friendly and will allow all ages to come but of course you will need to supervise your child at all times.
On Ocean Quest babies and kids up to the age of 3 can come on for free and stay in the parents cabin (bear in mind there are no cots or high chairs provided so you would need to take a travel mattress etc.). Over the age of 3 kids have to pay full price and again must be supervised at all times by a parent. As there are 5 dives per day including a night dive it’s easy to swap or and take turns diving.
Note child sized masks and snorkels are limited. Buy a cheap one at a supermarket prior to coming on board.
Visiting offshore islands
Green Island and Fitzroy Island offer a great variety of activities including diving from small boats to snorkelling off shore. Only an hour trip on fast boat you can get off and spend time on the walks or beach. Both have beach hire and are suable for families for all ages.
Whilst the scuba diving is not as good as the Outer Reef it does offer opportunities for all ages.