Saxon Reef Snorkel

by Caitlin Grace


Saxon Reef Snorkel

LOCATION Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, Queensland

DEPTH 1-22 Meters

WATER TEMP 23-30 Degrees

DIFFICULTY Easy – Medium

Some sections are a little deeper than other sites on Saxon Reef



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Saxon Reef Snorkel

LOCATION Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, Queensland

DEPTH 1-22 Meters

WATER TEMP 23-30 Degrees

DIFFICULTY Easy to Medium

Some sections are a little deeper than other sites on Saxon Reef


Saxon Reef

Saxon Reef Snorkel

Saxon Reef is home to some of the best Great Barrier Reef snorkel spots. It has calm lagoons ideal for snorkelling offering the chance to spot species like reef sharks, trevally, large cod, and moray eels. Along with Norman Reef, this is one of the go to outer reef locations for tour operators from Cairns.

What will you see?

What will you see?

  • Turtles
  • Sharks
  • Stingrays
  • Clown fish
  • Tropical Fish
  • Octopus
  • Manta Rays (Occassional)
  • Humpback Whales (Rare)
Getting There

Getting There

Saxon Reef is about 55km or a 1.5 hour boat ride off the coast of Cairns.

You will need a private boat or do a tour to reach Saxon Reef.
If in a private boat, there is only one public mooring on Saxon Reef which is a fair distance from the Fishbowl and Twin Peaks site so prior preparation is required.

If you book a trip with a Reef Tour Operator, it is important to know the mooring is owned by Divers Den, so they are most likely to visit. However the operators known to visit Fishbowl and Twin Peaks sites are Divers Den, Tusa Reef Tours and Reef Experience.

Best Season

Best Season

Best time to snorkel is September – January when the winter trade winds ease, you will on average experience calmer seas and better visibility (12-25m). The water will also be warmer, averaging 27-29 degrees. The downside to snorkelling in summer is the chance of cyclones, dangerous stingers and high humidity & rainfall on land.

Snorkelling is also possible in winter, however winds tend to average 15-25knots bringing waves and poorer visibility (8-12m). Waters are colder averaging 23-26 degrees. The benefit of snorkelling in winter is less rain onshore (so less run off to cloud the water), lower humidity, and no stingers.

Current Australian Sea Temperature


Potential Hazards

  • Depending on the conditions and the vessel, seasickness can occur and it is best to take preventative medication.
  • Stingers may be present.
  • Guides will advise on any currents to be aware of.

Recommended Gear

Gear hire and stinger suits will be available from the tour operator if required.

How Busy / Crowds

Only one boat is able to visit each site at a time, depending on the reef operator you may share the vessel with up to 100 other people.
However the broader Saxon Reef has multiple moorings and you may see other operators and their customers on neighbouring sites.


Paid parking is available near the Cairns Marina.


Costs / Permits

Reef tours vary from $200-450 for a day trip, and often leave Cairns at 8:00 and return around 4.30pm. The trips include lunch, snorkelling equipment and experienced crew. Some tours include complimentary snorkelling guides.

The information for each snorkel spot is provided by people who have snorkelled there. However, snorkelling conditions change daily. Please be aware that wind, swell, tides and cloud cover can all affect visibility and your experience in the water.

Disclosure: Please Note That Some Links In This Post May Be Affiliate Links, And At No Additional Cost To You, We Earn A Small Commission If You Make A Purchase. Commissions Go Toward Maintaining The Snorkel Spots Website.

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Tours to Saxon Reef

Best Conditions

It is best to snorkel on days with 15knots of wind or less. It is best to snorkel after a period with no rain. It is best to snorkel on days with small changes in tides, as bigger tides can create bigger currents.

Windy Map Instructions – Click on the wind icon in the top right to see other conditions such as swell, temperature, rain. To clear the four day forecast click and close the wind icon.

Facilities on Board

Tour boat facilities will vary depending on the tour company.



Car Parking





Food & Drinks

Saxon Reef – Fish Bowl Site

Fishbowl Snorkel Site is named after a natural bowl shaped sandy formation set into the main reef wall. Fishbowl site offers something for everyone.

The best shallow snorkelling can be found inside the fishbowl itself. In good sunlight the first 1-6 metres is often the most colourful, inside the fishbowl you can find a resident pufferfish, a blue tang (Dory) in a small pink coral amongst the sand at 5m, a Pink Anemone fish ( Nemo) on the bowls edge at 4m and a giant clam in the far corner. As a snorkeller you can also trace the edge of the reef wall, the fringe offering a variety of anemone fish, turtles, stingrays and cuttlefish.

The reef wall/slope offers healthy hard and soft corals, with scattered bommies down to depths of 12-15 metres. Look for resident lion fish, small stingrays buried in the sand, barramundi & flowery cod under plate corals, cuttlefish at certain times of year, octopus that live near the mooring blocks in a boulder coral and sleepy whitetip reef sharks resting on the sand.

For enthusiasts, Fishbowl dive site also boasts a rare undescribed white pygmy seahorse living in the seagrass near the mooring blocks at approximately 9m.

Saxon Reef – Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks Snorkel Site has something for everyone, with shallow sections perfect for snorkelling, and deeper sections suitable for free diving or scuba diving.

Saxon Reef is a small outer reef. The main reef wall boasts healthy soft and hard corals, impressive coral formations and colourful reef fish. If you trace the fringe of the reef wall, you will see cracks and fissures in the wall that attract schools of fish such as yellowtail fusileers and sweetlips. If you go into the shallows on the main reef about about 4m to the left of the mooring blocks are two anemones with the Clownfish.

Twin Peaks is named after a large distinctive bommie set about 20 metres off the main reef wall, with two peaks reaching almost to the surface. On top of the peaks, near the surface, there is a Clark’s anemone fish and often green sea turtles. There is a large dead giant clam resting on the sand separating the main reef wall from the peaks, this sandy patch also often has sleeping white tip reef sharks.

Between the two peaks is a valley with a large sunken log wedged in the coral. Next to the log at about 14m deep is a small overhang which often houses sleeping sharks or turtles. The nooks and crannies of twin peaks offer hiding spots for octopus and moray eels too.

Be sure to keep your eyes out to the blue deeper water, twin peaks is one of the most southern sites on the Saxon Reef, and whilst rare, does get some pelagic visitors passing through such as manta rays. During winter, humpback whales often pass by and whilst rare can be sighted in the depths off twin peaks.

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Caitlin Grace
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