GSL Aviation Great Barrier Reef Scenic Flights


I love the water, I must have been some kind of marine animal in a past life (water signs do feature in my horoscope). So when I go out  to the Great Barrier Reef for a snorkel or dive, once I am in the water you can’t get me out. Most Australians live in costal regions thus living by or close to water. We go nuts for water sports, boating, fishing, surfing, swimming… you name it, we get amongst it. Not everyone feels the same love of water as us Aussies do.The thought of stepping off a boat into open water with all sorts of unknown marine life below makes many people’s skin crawl. The thought alone that there are sharks (even though friendly ones) anywhere in the vicinity makes many peeps want to crap their pants.

So you have come half way  around the world through multiple time zones on multiple aircraft to the land Down Under all the way to the heart of the Australian tropics to Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. You can’t swim or you don’t want to… you don’t want to go out on a boat all day, in fact you hate boats… the sea makes your stomach churn.. crowds freak you out… semi-sub small boats make you feel horribly claustrophobic… BUT… YOU WANT TO SEE THE REEF!!! How can this be done?!?

The answer is quiet simple…a scenic flight OVER the reef gliding so close you can almost touch it, all without getting a droplet of water on your skin.

The Fabulous people at GSL Aviation Cairns operate a fleet of fixed wing aircraft on a variety of different flight options over the Great Barrier Reef close to Cairns and Port Douglas.On this day my colleague and I were to partake in their 40 minute “Reef Hopper” scenic flight.

Loads of people come to Cairns to take a helicopter scenic flight. As amazing as this is, it costs a small fortune and you’re not guaranteed a window seat anyway. A fixed wing craft like GSL’s fleet is almost half the cost of a helicopter flight! It  includes a transfer to and from your hotel in the Cairns CBD AND everybody has a window seat to get your all important Insta shots.You also get down to around 150 meters over some reef systems… so close you’re able to see the marine life and smell the salt.The money you save on the flight can be put towards other holiday things… like that extra cocktail by the hotel pool.

The Included transfer will take you to check in to the GSL desk at the General Aviation part of Cairns Airport.After the safety briefing video (in English and also Mandarin)we are ushered out to the aircraft. We were in an aircraft with around 8-10 people. Lucky me got a seat next to our pilot, Andrew.Cue excited face!

A couple of iPhone photo’s of inside and outside of the aircraft. 

We got to wear cool headsets to be able to communicate with each other and listen in on air traffic control.

After sitting on the tarmac waiting for a few jumbos to land we finally were underway tracking north over Machans Beach and my home at Yorkeys Knob. With stunning views over our shoulders of Cairns we made our way out to Green Island. Green Island is over 6000 years old and one of it’s kind. Once a  reef system come sandy cay,eventually  it grew rainforest over time (thanks to the birds)and is only 45 minutes away from Cairns by boat. Because of it’s distance from the mainland Green Island is popular with international tourists so at any given time it can be extremely crowded. So what better way to avoid the crowds than to fly over it!


Andrew circles the island so everyone gets a good unobstructed view. A surprise came next, we lowered down to around 150 meters altitude over Arlington Reef. We were so close to the surface of the water. On this day we had amazing visibility due to such calm glassy conditions. I spotted a pod of dolphins, a large turtle, plenty of giant clams and a large fish (probably a Maori Wrasse). We kind of wished you could just jump out of the plane into the big blue for a refreshing dip. The colours were spectacular, the aquas and light blue hues, purples of the clams,yellows of some corals… just beautiful you wish you could bottle it.The photo’s don’t do it justice.

Heading further north we flew close to Hastings Reef, Michaelmas Cay and on to Upolu Cay. You could see the Reef boats loaded with all their customers moored at their reef sites below. We weren’t in with the masses, we were the kings and queens of the sky!

Before you knew it we are making our approach back to Cairns. Coming into Cairns is a sight to behold… quiet thrilling to land on such a large runway in such a little craft. It’s all part of the experience, taking off and landing is part of the thrill.