When is the best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef?

When you’re planning a trip to one of the seven natural wonders of the world, you’re going to want to pick a good time to visit. The good news is Tropical North Queensland has a tropical climate and boasts some of Australia's best weather. There are only two distinct seasons along the reef – dry season (winter) from May to October and wet season (summer) from November to April – and temperatures are fairly consistent throughout the year with average highs of 30°C and lows of 21°C. As well as thinking about the weather, you might also want to think about the type of marine life you want to see (and avoid – like jellyfish). For example, if you'd love to see whales, winter is the best time to do this.

No matter what time of year you visit, try to give yourself a two-day window to do a Great Barrier Reef tour, just in case the weather isn’t good on the day you originally planned to do it. 

Great Barrier Reef weather

Summer is hot and muggy with average highs ranging between 30-32°C and frequent thunderstorms, while winter is mild and dry. The water temperature averages a very pleasant 24-29°C throughout the year, and it generally gets warmer the further north you go.

MONTH

AVERAGE HIGH (°C)  

AVERAGE LOW (°C)  

January 

32

24

February

31

24

March

30

23

April

29

22

May 28 20
June  28 18
July 26 17
August  27 18
September 28 19
October  29 21
November  31 22
December  31 23

 

When is the best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef?

The prime time to visit the Great Barrier Reef is between May and October when water temperatures are pleasant for swimming, rainfall is low and underwater visibility is high. You can still have an awesome time outside of these months, but there are a few things you may want to consider.

Visiting the Great Barrier Reef in winter

  • Pros: reliably good weather, whale watching, manta rays 
  • Cons: busier (winter is peak season)

Winter is the dry season, so expect pleasant temperatures, blue skies and reliably dry weather. The lack of rain and thunderstorms means the water visibility is great, so it's a good time to swim, snorkel and dive along the reef. You'll also dodge stinger season which coincides with the hotter, wetter months. One of the downsides of visiting in winter is the higher number of tourists – the peak months are June and July during the winter school holidays, so you'll probably find that flight and accommodation prices shoot up around this time.

In terms of marine life, winter is a great time to see large numbers of majestic manta rays, humpbacks and dwarf minke whales. Whale watching season runs from May through September when these gentle giants migrate from Antarctica to give birth and nurse their calves in the warmer waters along the East Coast. If you're lucky, you might spot a pod as you sail out to the reef.

Visiting the Great Barrier Reef in summer

  • Pros: coral spawning, fewer tourists, turtle hatching  
  • Cons: thunderstorms, stinger season, risk of poor visibility 

Summer coincides with the wet season along the Great Barrier Reef. This means you’ll be dealing with hot and sweaty weather and frequent tropical downpours. The Great Barrier Reef is also prone to thunderstorms and the occasional cyclone. If you want reliably good underwater visibility, summer might not be the best time as rain and storms can cause the water to become murky.

It’s not all bad though. The rain is a much-welcomed reprieve from the heat and the sky often clears after a big downpour. And if you want to see sea turtles (including gorgeous baby sea turtles!) you have a good chance following the hatching season that runs from January to March. You might also get to see the natural phenomenon of coral spawning that happens every year when corals polyps release millions of sperm and egg bundles to be fertilised – it looks and feels like you're swimming through millions of sparkling glitter particles. 

The sea temperatures in summer average 29°C (so it feels like you're jumping into a bath, not the sea!), but unfortunately you won't be able to leave the wet suit at home. The warm water means one thing: stingers. While marine stingers are found along the Great Barrier Reef all year round, the potentially lethal jellyfish species – Box and Irukandji – enter the waters from November through May. Their stings are extremely painful and can even be fatal, so you need to take precautions either by wearing a stinger suit or only swimming in designated stinger net enclosures (or both).

Read more about when you should wear a stinger suit at the Great Barrier Reef

Return to Great Barrier Reef FAQs

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