Although you can snorkel or dive the Great Barrier Reef all year, learning about seasonal weather 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 86°F and an average minimum of 69°F. The water temperature is also consistent at 75-84°F 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.

Visiting in the winter (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 70s. With minimal rain, the water visibility is ideal for snorkeling 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.

Visiting in the summer (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 snorkeling 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 fertilized, creating a glitter effect which is magical to swim through.

The sea temperature in summer averages 84°F, 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 low (°F)  

Average high (°F)  

January 

90

75

February

88

75

March

86

73

April

84

72

May 82 68
June  82 64
July 79 63
August  81 64
September 82 66
October  84 69
November  88 72
December  88 73

 

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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