I posted this question previously on the Cairns forum but as I have had no replies, I am trying here with hopes that I can get some suggestions and answers. Looking for some help in advance planning for a trip in October 2014. We are looking at renting a car to do the Pacific Coastal drive from Sydney up to the Great Barrier Reef and then would finish the trip with a flight for a few days in Ayre's Rock area before returning to Sydney and homeward. We have previously been to the Surfer's Paradise area and Brisbane in October and the weather was lovely so we were thinking this could be a good time of year to return to Aus. I have also read that snorkeling at the GBR in late September or October should be good. GBR is a must do for me for this return so I want to make sure that we go at a time of year that will be favourable conditions. Can you experts confirm for me that late September or October is a good time to go? Also would you suggest Cairns or Port Douglas as a base for 1 or 2 snorkeling day trips. Hubby will not snorkel but would accompany me on the boat and hopefully be able to see something from the surface as I understand much of the reef is close to the surface. Do any of the snorkel tour operators offer non-snorkel options? I would particularly love to see colourful coral and some of the splendid staghorn type coral formations that I have seen in Bali before. For now my main questions are:
Do you think late September and October will be a good time of year for snorkeling conditions GBR (would be a bonus to see humpback whales too)?
Given our itinerary to drop the rental car off and fly out of Cairns to Ayre's Rock, would Cairns be the best location to base for 1-2 snorkeling tours?
What GBR location would be recommended for colourful coral including the staghorn types?
What tour company would you recommend for myself as the snorkeler and my husband the non snorkeler who would still like to see some of the reef from above and possible would swim a little?