With over 3,000 individual reef systems, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral system. Famously, it’s one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and is the only life form that can be seen from the moon.
Thriving aquatic ecosystems are filled with tropical fish, colorful coral, sea turtles, whales, dolphins and porpoises. Just a few of the fish species include clownfish, red bass, red-throat emperor, snapper and trout. The Great Barrier Reef has over 6,600 species of flora and fauna, which includes 1,500 species of fish, 4,000 species of molluscs and 400 kinds of coral.
To see the Great Barrier Reef, most people start off from Cairns in far north Queensland – in particular the two Cairns’ resort towns Palm Cove and Port Douglas – as well as Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays and Townsville. Here are just a few of the great ways that visitors can enjoy the stunning beauty of the Great Barrier Reef.
There are so many great places to snorkel that lots of visitors struggle to pick one. Although you can just snorkel off the beach from many places, to really see the best that the Great Barrier Reef has to offer, it’s worth getting a boat trip out to the more remote islands.
Quicksilver cruises run a variety of cruise options both to the Outer Great Barrier Reef and the Low Isles. The outer Great Barrier Reef tours are for those who want to see as much as possible. It takes a little longer to get out there, but you’re rewarded with ample marine life. Jump on a catamaran and get taken to the edge of Australia’s Continental Shelf on the Agincourt Reef tour. You can choose to dive, snorkel or stay dry and view the reef from a semi-sub, which is one meter underwater.
The Low Isles tours done on a sailing boat, take you to a remote, uninhabited coral island with a sandy beach. After hopping off the boat, you can explore the island and snorkel right off the beach.
If you think snorkeling is just skimming the surface, take the plunge and dive to get right in amongst the teeming fish and colorful coral. One of the best things about diving in the Great Barrier Reef is the sheer diversity of dive spots.
Day trips to places like the Inter Reef Gardens, Green Island, Michaelmas Cay and Fitzroy Island are very popular, as are excursions out to a mooring or pontoon on the edge of the reef. But if you want to spend a bit more time out at sea, there’s always the option of an overnighter. Live-aboard boats take you out for multi-day trips so divers can really maximize the reef. This often works out as a cheaper option for those doing dives on multiple days and it allows for more dive time because less time is spent traveling.
There are plenty of ways that a non-swimmer can enjoy the Great Barrier Reef, including reef walking. If you’ve never heard of it before, it’s just as it sounds – walking in the reef. There are daily, guided tours on Heron Island where the island’s Activities Officer takes groups out. It’s best done at low tide when you can see clams, coral formations, fish and sea cucumbers.
Cruising the skies in a helicopter is perfect for those who prefer to stay dry. Seeing the Great Barrier Reef from above allows you to get your head around the sheer expanse of it. You’ll also be able to get a birds-eye view of tropical islands and sandy beaches as far as the eye can see.
Great Barrier Reef Helicopters has a fleet of 18 helicopters that fly out over the reef on a daily basis. They operate out of Cairns CBD, Port Douglas, Cairns Airport and Horn Island in the Torres Strait.
If you want to go all out, opt for a personalized tour. The Solitary Sand Cay trip is something you’ll never forget – you land on a totally deserted dessert island in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. Or there’s the Tropical Rainforest Waterhole tour where you have lunch overlooking a waterfall in the heart of a tropical rainforest.
An alternative to a helicopter is a seaplane flight. It offers a unique experience as you take off from and land on the water, which allows you to get closer to the reef. The Sandy Cays trips take you out to the ‘cays’, which are small, sandy, low-elevation islands that seem to just pop out of the water – essentially a sandbank way out at sea. The Sandy Cays seaplane trips take you out on one of these to enjoy a beach picnic on your very own ‘private island’. Or you can do a day trip and spend an afternoon exploring Green Island, which has both a rainforest and thriving reef.
Overnight Sailing Trip
Another way to enjoy the reef without getting wet is to go on an overnight sailing trip. There are numerous options, which vary in the length of time you’re on board and the type of boat you go on. And for those who do want to get in the water, there are often snorkeling and diving options, too.
Enjoy a two-day and one-night trip on the Rum Runner, a world cruising yacht, where you can sail out to Flynn, Milln and Thetford Reefs. You can stay on board and enjoy the scenery or hop in for a dive or snorkel. Both the Santa Maria and Coral Sea Dreaming offer three-day, two-night trip out to Thetford, Moore and Briggs Reef. You can even have a go and help sail the boat. Vagabond, too, offers two-day and one-night trip but out to Elford as well as Moore and Thetford Reefs. There’s ample space on Vagabond for those who want to chill out on the deck and enjoy the sun.