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Vegan Trip to the Great Barrier Reef

Standing on the deck of a boat and approaching the Great Barrier Reef is honestly one of the most magical moments you can experience. Imagine being in the middle of choppy dark blue ocean with no land for miles & miles, yet right before your eyes is this wonderfully shallow sparkling turquoise playground, totally calm & full of marine life living amongst the coral. During my time living in Australia I’ve done trips to both the northern & southern Great Barrier Reef and found tour operators that offer delicious vegan food onboard. Check out the Great Barrier Reef Vegan Guide 2023 below!

Southern Great Barrier Reef Trip – Departing From Airlie Beach

On a recent trip to Airlie Beach, a group of friends & I booked the day cruise to ‘Reefworld’ operated by Cruise Whitsundays. The trip takes you to the company’s private Pontoon, anchored at Hardy Reef on the Outer Barrier Reef.

Reefworld Pontoon via James Vodicka
Reefworld Pontoon via James Vodicka

The journey to the reef takes about 2.5 hours with a stop at Hamilton Island to pick up more passengers, but this was a positive for us as it meant we also got a tour of the beautiful Whitsunday Archipelago with running commentary as part of the trip. En route we tucked into tea & coffee with soy milk and a huge plate of fresh fruit as we enjoyed the beautiful scenery. We also chose to book onto the certified scuba-diving experience at the reef, so we spent some of the outward journey completing our pre-drive brief with the scuba instructors.

Upon arrival, we disembarked the cruise vessel and moved onto the pontoon, a permanently anchored floating structure boasting two sun-decks, a dive centre & snorkeling platform. We then went off to do our certified dive which was incredible, we saw tons of marine life including a huge Maori Wrasse fish, better known as George to the locals.

After our dive we had certainty built up an appetite and so we headed to the buffet for some lunch. Vegan options were brilliant and I tucked into a huge plate of Singapore noodles, Moroccan couscous, honey mustard potatoes, leafy green salad and bread with chutneys (soft & alcoholic drinks could also be purchased from the onboard bar).

The afternoon was spent snorkeling the reef & lounging on the sundeck taking in the beautiful views. We also went on the free underwater observatory experience, descending into a small submersible boat that did a loop of the reef with live commentary about the different types of coral & marine life living there. Whilst on the submersible we also saw our first ever turtle! As if things couldn’t get any better, Cruise Whitsundays offered scenic helicopter flights from the pontoon, which flew you over the beautiful Heart Reef (unfortunately this was a bit out of our budget).

After four wonderful hours at Reefworld, it was time to head back to Airlie Beach. We enjoyed a plate of antipasti (olives, sundries, pickled onions & crackers) and an ice-cold can of Great Northern as we watched the sun set over the ocean and observed some humpback whales spouting as we passed by.

Northern Great Barrier Reef Trip – Departing From Cairns

In Cairns we choose to book a full day trip out to the reef with Passions of Paradise because of their great Tripadvisor reviews and the opportunity to visit two different reef locations in one day. Cairns is famously known as the gateaway to the reef – being the coastal city in closest proximity – so the journey from the Marina to the outer reef only took about 1 hour 45 minutes. During the outbound trip we enjoyed another big bowl of fresh fruit with black coffee and changed into our free wetsuits ready for arrival. Scuba diving activities were also available on this trip, but we decided to spend the full day snorkeling this time instead.

Once we anchored up at the first location we jumped straight into the crystal blue water for a snorkel. I’m a huge water baby and will swim in any ocean, but I must note that the water is definitely warmer in the northern Great Barrier Reef compared to the southern areas. Therefore, a trip from Cairns may be best for you if you feel the cold. We snorkeled for around ninety minutes in this location which was a great amount of time to see the vast array of marine life living in the reef – you could either explore on your own or follow a guide if you didn’t feel too confident.

Passions of Paradise snorkeling trip via Jess Minns
Passions of Paradise snorkeling trip via Jess Minns

Now I don’t know about you but swimming makes me STARVING so we were definitely ready for lunch and over the moon that there were great vegan options available. We devoured a massive portion of vegan hot creamy pasta with pumpkin & tomato accompanied by a vast array of salads & a soft bread roll.

After lunch we headed to our second reef location and spent another hour or so snorkeling there. The great thing about visiting two different reefs is that you got to see a bigger variety of fish species (my favourite being the clown/nemo fish!) and tons of different types of coral.

Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef with Passions of Paradise
Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef with Passions of Paradise

One the journey back to Cairns, we snacked on crackers & guacamole and sipped Heineken whilst a marine biologist presented a talk all about the Great Barrier Reef. We learnt so much about the delicate eco-system, the effect of rising see temperatures, coral bleaching & how it can be reversed.

So which trip to choose?

Both trips were very vegan-friendly & I would recommend both of them to anybody – the best one for you will depend upon what you want to get out of your day.

For warmer waters and the opportunity to see a bigger variety of fish at two different locations, choose the Passions of Paradise trip from Cairns. But if you want to scuba dive or do a scenic helicopter flight over Heart Reef it would be better to choose the Cruise Whitsundays tour from Airlie Beach.

For sun lovers, there’s more space to catch the rays on the Cruise Whitsundays reef pontoon, but for those who want to learn in-depth knowledge about the reef, the marine biology talk onboard the Passions of Paradise cruise may be more your cup of tea.

If you’re impatient or prone to seasickness, the Passions of Paradise trip gets you to the reef quicker. But if you’re an ocean lover like me, you’ll enjoy the longer journey to the reef through the Whitsundays Archipelago with Cruise Whitsundays.