When your crew is a combination of scuba divers and snorkelers, and you want the best Great Barrier Reef experience possible, then an outer reef pontoon is the answer for you. Sunlover’s Moore Reef tour packs a good value punch, with pontoon, diving, snorkelling, glass bottom boat, semi-submersible, underwater observatory, touch tank, scenic heli rides, waterslide and more. Great reef location. Lots of inclusions. Just a short boat ride from Cairns. Tick, tick, tick – let’s go with our Sunlover Reef Cruises review.
Sunlover’s Moore Reef tour makes the reef accessible for all people. Divers can take guided dives (make sure you check out the soft corals under the pontoon), snorkelers are close to the action and even non-swimmers can have a reef experience on Sunlover.
Sunlover Reef Cruises has two different tours, Moore Reef (which is this review) and Fitzroy Island (which we will do another time). Moore Reef is around 50km from Cairns, which is a 90-minute boat ride with Sunlover – on arrival, the catamaran ties up to the pontoon and portable ‘bridges’ provide passenger access to and from the boat and the pontoon. The pontoon itself is permanently moored in a coral lagoon. Water access is via submerged stairs and platforms, which makes for easy entry and exit – there’s even an enclosed ocean pool which is perfect for the little people. The multi-deck pontoon has undercover tables and chairs, a sundeck with beanbags and chairs, an underwater observatory, touch tank, waterslide, lifeguard lookout station and dive deck. It’s also the departure point for all water and reef activities, with a timetable allowing you to plan your day. Most importantly, the reef here is excellent, for divers and snorkelers. Certified and introductory scuba divers are taken along a coral wall with hard and soft corals and sea fans, with an excellent swim through adding to the diversity of the dive. All dives are guided and all equipment is included in the dive price. Snorkellers can float over shallow coral gardens, which are just metres beneath the surface and teeming with a diverse array of fish and marine life.
“When we want to go to the reef with non-diving friends and family, and want to make sure they get a full reef experience, we always choose a pontoon. The inclusions are great and the outer reef delivers on coral cover, marine life, diversity and underwater visibility. Sunlover has been operating since 1991. Our last trip with them was several years ago, when we saw an eagle ray, reef sharks, green sea turtles and of course, lots of fish. This trip was just as good and now they have a 30-metre spiral waterslide, from the top deck straight down into the sea. When I read about it, I thought it was a bit gimmicky and unnecessary, but now I’ve done it – it’s just so much fun – make sure you take the time, to ride the slide.” – Julie Johnston
Our Sunlover review begins with check-in at the Reef Fleet Terminal, which is open from 8am. We grabbed our tickets and wandered over to the catamaran, getting a quick souvenir photo before finding a seat on the air conditioned mid-deck, which has comfortable couches and chairs. During the journey from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef, we participated in the dive briefing, which included an equipment and dive overview and brought us up to speed on timings for the day ahead. Our group of 5 consisted of 3 scuba divers and 2 snorkelers. On our day of travel, it was a calm 10 knot day and the boat ride to Moore Reef was fast and smooth. On arrival the divers headed straight over to the dive deck, while the snorkelers grabbed their masks and fins and set out explore the reef. For scuba divers, water entry is via submerged steps to a platform, with lines down to the sea floor below. Again, some quick souvenir photos, both in and out of the water, before we set out on our 50 minute guided dive. Highlights included seeing a large Maori Wrasse – we love these guys, the colours, size and markings – some red and yellow sea fans, dotted sweetlips, pink anemonefish, nudibranchs and a green sea turtle. It was a gentle dive along the wall with a lovely little swim-through and at the end, we stopped by to get some cool photos with the soft corals growing underneath the pontoon.
Out of the water, we found our snorkelers and had some lunch, which was a self-serve hot and cold buffet on the boat – which you could eat on the boat or the pontoon, we chose the pontoon. Lunch was a great opportunity to swap stories about what we had seen and done and afterwards, it was on to the glass bottom boat for a quick tour. Having ticked that box, it was back into the water for some more snorkelling where we found nemo (well not really, we found a barrier reef anemonefish – and not just one, at least 15 of them), cruised over abundant and vibrant coral gardens with feather stars, clams of all sizes and colours, parrotfish, rabbitfish, butterflyfish, Moorish idols, schools of chromis, the always inquisitive six bar wrasse and much larger, but always friendly Maori Wrasse. I overheard one guest comment it was ‘like being in an aquarium’ and that’s so true – a lovely showcase of the Great Barrier Reef its beauty and diversity.
Time for the sundeck and waterslide. As previously mentioned, I wasn’t really interested in the waterslide – I knew my son and his friend would love it – but it wasn’t a main attraction for me. Well – I was wrong – that waterslide is a whole lot of fun! I did it a lot more than I thought I would and it just added another dimension and experience to what was and is already a great day on the Great Barrier Reef. The slide is supervised to keep it safe and everyone from small kids to parents and grandparents were slip sliding away. Slide time. Dive time. Snorkel time. Reef time.
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This was a great day at the reef. It is a later start than some other reef tours, which I for one appreciate, while still providing you with 4 hours at the reef. The Moore Reef tour can take up to a maximum of 300 guests per day – it is normally less – but it can be that high too. I think there were around 250 people on the day we travelled. There was plenty of space on the boat for everyone, with a choice of shaded outdoor decks and sundecks and air conditioned interiors. Tables and chairs on the pontoon were at a premium and the snorkel deck was busy at the start of the day, but more spacious after lunch. The dive deck was well run with easy water access and lots of space. Glass bottom boat tours and semi-submersible tours run throughout the day and there was plenty of time to enjoy all the activities.
It’s a great value day at the reef with lots of inclusions. There are also optional extras, which include scuba diving, a guided snorkel tour, Seawalker helmet dive and scenic helicopter flight. There’s an onboard photographer taking photos above and below the water all day, and you can preview these on the return trip to Cairns with the option to purchase them. We did. A great souvenir of our day at the reef with our mates. We also purchased ice-creams and some drinks from the bar, for the ride back to Cairns.
Yes – Sunlover is worth it – although the ticket price is expensive, there are lots of inclusions, such as all of your snorkel equipment, glass bottom boat tours, semi submersible tours, entry to the underwater observatory, touch tank, waterslide, sundeck with bean bags and a hot and cold buffet lunch.
The diving on Sunlover is good. We did a 50-minute guided dive, which took us along a coral wall with a swim through and ended under the pontoon, which had its own little selection of soft corals. Please note there is no unguided diving on Sunlover.
Sunlover’s Moore Reef site is a good place to see the Great Barrier Reef. Excellent coral cover, colour and diversity. Diverse array of marine life. Good underwater visibility. Range of ways to see and experience the reef, for non-swimmers, snokellers and scuba divers.
Yes – Sunlover is a good family trip. We travelled with two 11-year-olds who had a great time. As already mentioned, the ticket price is good value with lots of inclusions and the family price – for 2 adults and 2 kids – lets 1 child travel for free.
Controversial question and there’s no definitive answer to this question, as it all depends on what you want to see and do. I would say this, the pontoons are normally on the outer Great Barrier Reef, so usually have better underwater visibility. They are usually moored in coral lagoons, so there’s lots of reef and coral to see. Islands provide the opportunity to walk and explore and you can relax on the beach. The visibility can vary, pending tides and there are usually more people on an island, than a pontoon.
Yes – Sunlover do great local specials – for people who live between Cooktown and Cardwell. At the time of writing this (October 2023) the full adult price for a full day tour to Moore Reef costs $265 or $185.50 for locals. Full fare child price $155 or $108.50 for local child price. You will need to show local ID.
Lots of inclusions in the Sunlover Moore Reef day tour.
Sunlover’s Moore Reef day tour, to and from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef, operates 365 days a year. Travel is on a spacious catamaran with indoor and outdoor seating. The multi-deck pontoon has undercover tables and chairs and a sundeck with beanbags and chairs. A hot and cold buffet lunch is included in the ticket price and is self-serve on the boat. You have around 4 hours at the reef, which is plenty of time to do all of the activities. This trip is suitable for people of all ages and abilities and on the day we travelled, guests were a mixture of families (with kids of all ages), tour groups and older guests. Check-in commenced at 8am and you return back to Cairns around 5.30pm. Ice creams and beverages are available to purchase on the boat, which is extra to the ticket price.
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