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

Although you can snorkel or dive the Great Barrier Reef all year, learning about seasonal weather variations and marine life may help you decide when to plan your trip.

Far North Queensland has a tropical climate and boasts some of Australia’s best weather. There are two distinct seasons along the reef: dry/winter (May-October) and wet/summer (November-April).

Temperatures are steady throughout the year, with an average maximum of 30°C and an average minimum of 21°C. The water temperature is also consistent at 24-29°C throughout the year. (The air and water generally get warmer the further north you go.)

No matter when you visit, it's best to give yourself a two or three-day window in case the weather takes a turn on the day of your Great Barrier Reef tour.

Dry season (May-October)

  • Pros: reliably good weather, whale watching and manta rays
  • Cons: bigger crowds

Winter is the dry season, so expect clear skies and pleasant temperatures in the low 20s. With minimal rain, the water visibility is ideal for snorkelling and diving the reef. You’ll also dodge stinger season which coincides with the summer months.

Whale watching season is from June through September/October. Every year, hundreds of humpbacks make the epic journey from Antarctica to give birth and nurse their calves in the warmer waters along the East Coast. There's a good chance you'll spot a whale as you sail out to the reef.

Manta rays can be seen along the reef year-round, but there are larger numbers in winter.

One of the downsides of the winter is that it's busier. The peak months are June and July (during the Australian winter school holidays), so flight and accommodation prices may shoot up around this time.

Wet season (November-April)

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

Summer is the wet season, which means hot, sweaty weather, frequent, albeit brief, downpours and occasional thunderstorms. Temperatures linger in the low 30s, but humidity can make it feel hotter.

The rain can cause the water to become murky and create stronger currents, so if you want reliably good snorkelling conditions, the dry season may be a better option. That said, summer is low season so there are fewer boats on the water and accommodation can be cheaper.

Turtle nesting season is from November to March on the southern Great Barrier Reef, with the opportunity to witness female turtles laying eggs on the beach at night. The first hatchlings emerge in early January, and watching them scuttle down to the ocean is an unforgettable experience.

If you visit the northern Great Barrier Reef between November and December you might witness the natural phenomenon of coral spawning. During this annual event, coral polyps release millions of sperm and egg bundles to be fertilised, creating a glitter effect which is magical to swim through.

The sea temperature in summer averages 29°C, so it feels like you’re jumping into a bath, not the sea! However, the summer also coincides with the stinger season. Although there are jellyfish all year, the warm water brings potentially lethal Box and Irukandji jellyfish. Their stings are extremely painful and potentially fatal, so wearing a stinger suit is recommended.

Average temperatures along the Great Barrier Reef

Month

Average high

Average low

January 

32°C

24°C

February

31°C

24°C

March

30°C

23°C

April

29°C

22°C

May

28°C

20°C

June 

28°C

18°C

July

26°C

17°C

August 

27°C

18°C

September

28°C

19°C

October 

29°C

21°C

November 

31°C

22°C

December 

31°C

23°C

Wondering when to wear a stinger suit on the Great Barrier Reef? Read our guide on stinger suits
Want to learn more about the Great Barrier Reef? Return to Great Barrier Reef FAQs

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