The Great Barrier Reef, visited by over 2 million people every year, is one of the country’s most popular destinations. The reef system stretches over 2,300 kilometres of Australia’s East Coast making it the largest coral system in the world. It is also home to over 1,500 species of fish and over 30 different marine mammals including whales, dolphins and dugongs. Travellers come to the Great Barrier Reef to explore Australia’s coastal towns, beaches, tropical islands and experience the vast quality of the reef itself.

Activities

Thanks to the millions of annual visitors to the Great Barrier Reef, the tourism industry along the coast is thriving. This growth industry has resulted in more choices for visitors to the region, particularly in the realm of options for exploring the Great Barrier Reef. Reef visitors can choose to try snorkelling, scuba diving, enjoy views in glass bottom boats, yacht tours or explore the area by air. Watersports are also popular activities for tourists, and a variety of businesses offer kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, jet skiing, sailing, and sea walking. With so many activities, and strict tourism safety standards, the Great Barrier Reef is a safe and well serviced area to enjoy in Australia.

great-barrier-reef-reefworld Snorkelling Reefworld: Experience the Great Barrier Reef from the safety and comfort of the innovative and spacious pontoon Reefworld. Snorkel and dive in the clear waters, enjoy tanning on the decks, or learn about the reef while staying dry via semi-submarine with their reef experts.
great-barrier-reef-helicopter Helicopter Tour: Enjoy a scenic helicopter tour over the Great Barrier Reef from tropical Cairns. Capture stunning photographs as you float about the gorgeous water and reef setting.
Twin Bommies, GBR Scuba Diving: Take a four-day tropical adventure to learn how to scuba dive on the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef. This course offers gentle progression from pool to reef, and a full PADI qualification.
great-barrier-reef-semisub Semi-Submersible: Explore the reef without getting wet in this semi-submersible that gives you an entirely new perspective of the reef and the marine life that call it home.

Towns

Queensland is home to many coastal cities, which makes it unusual compared to the rest of the country. These cities, each offering a unique perspective of life on the coast of Queensland, are a mixture of modern connection, and simple isolation, making them all interesting places to visit, as well as ports from which visitors can experience the Great Barrier Reef.

great-barrier-reef-cairns Cairns: A fully-serviced contemporary city, Cairns is the perfect base to explore tropical north Queensland, from the reef to the rainforest. It is home to international standard restaurants, a wide range of accommodation, numerous shopping experiences and a quality tourism industry.

great-barrier-reef-port-douglas Port Douglas: Just 70 kilometres north of Cairns, Port Douglas is its smaller, more relaxed sibling. With good services, but more of a low-key atmosphere, Port Douglas is popular with older couples, families and scenic adventurers.

great-barrier-reef-rockhampton Rockhampton: An inland city, Rockhampton is located on the Fitzroy River just 40 kilometres from the stunning Capricorn Coast. Although not a beach town, Rockhampton remains a popular spot to see the coast and Australia’s outback.
great-barrier-reef-townsville Townsville: Most commonly known as the unofficial capital of north Queensland, Townsville is one of Australia’s fastest growing regions. Located on the north-eastern coast, it is a bustling metropolis with a beautiful coast to match.
great-barrier-reef-airlie-beach Airlie Beach: Once the backpacker mecca of the Great Barrier Reef coastline, Airlie Beach is quickly changing, and is now the gateway to Australia’s popular Whitsunday Islands chain, boasting a relaxed but well-serviced town with lots of attractions for a variety of travellers.
great-barrier-reef-cooktown Cooktown: The site of first European settlement in Australia Cooktown is rich in history and natural wonders. It is home to lush rainforests, untouched beaches, tropical waterfalls and mountain vistas.
great-barrier-reef-eum-park Emu Park: Despite being tiny in size, Emu Park is a unique coastal holiday experience, offering two beautiful beaches, all-year-round swimming, a small but vibrant tourism industry and access to the Keppel Island chain, rarely visited, but perfect for snorkelling, swimming and diving.
great-barrier-reef-mackay Mackay: Surrounded by 31 white sand beaches, Mackay is the unknown haven of the Great Barrier Reef, providing opportunities for snorkelling, rainforest exploration, diving, beach-combing and relaxation.
great-barrier-reef-mission-beach Mission Beach: With a retreat atmosphere, this booming tourist town stretches along 14 kilometres of coastline, and offers access to the Family Islands National Park, as well as many activities in the city centre.
great-barrier-reef-palm-cove Palm Cove: Enjoy a different pace at Palm Cove, a town with long sandy beaches on the edge of the Coral Sea backed by lush green mountains, where activities and accommodation are available for every holiday style.

Islands

Within the confines of the Great Barrier Reef are hundreds of tropical islands and atolls. Not all of these can be easily accessed by the general public, but popular locations include:

great-barrier-reef-daydream Daydream Island: One of the few inhabited islands in the Whitsundays, Daydream Island is just 5 kilometres from the mainland and home to a small rainforest and three beaches surrounded by blooming tropical reef.
great-barrier-reef-green Green Island: A small tropical cay just 45 minutes from Cairns, Green Island is an easily accessible location offering snorkelling, rainforest walking and a world-class resort.

great-barrier-reef-great-keppel Great Keppel Island: Following the island’s resort closure, Great Keppel Island is rarely visited spot with 17 white sand beaches, coral reefs and a range of simple accommodation options.
great-barrier-reef-hamilton Hamilton Island: At the heart of the Whitsundays, Hamilton Island is a luxurious getaway offering a variety of resort-style accommodation options in tropical island surrounds.
great-barrier-reef-hayman Hayman Island: A resort-lovers destination since the 1940s, Hayman Island offers a 5-star hotel at the most northernly point of the Whitsunday Islands.
great-barrier-reef-lizard Lizard Island: Australia’s northmost island resort, Lizard Island is an isolated island home to a variety of inner and outer reef experiences, 24 white sand beaches, and lots of lizards.
great-barrier-reef-south-molle South Molle Island: Another island in the Whitsundays, South Molle Island is home to stretches of cool forest, clear ocean waters and a high-class resort.
great-barrier-reef-fitzroy Fitzroy Island: A place for experiencing both sides of the reef, from luxury resort to long rainforest walks and those long white sand beaches, Fitzroy Island offers a bit of everything.
great-barrier-reef-low-isles Low Isles: A coral cay surrounded by tropical reef, the Low Isles have little infrastructure and lots of natural beauty, and are regularly serviced by tourist cruises.

great-barrier-reef-michaelmas Michaelmas Cay: A large sandy cay, Michaelmas is popular with snorkelers due to the abundance of nearby reef, but also with birdwatchers as it is a nesting ground for seabirds.

great-barrier-reef-whitehaven Whitsunday Island: The crowning jewel of the Whitsunday Islands group, Whitsunday Island is home to the 7km long Whitehaven Beach, and is popular with campers and sailors.

Tips

  • When to Visit – The Great Barrier Reef can be visited throughout the year, however its tropical location means there are other things to consider when visiting beyond the weather. North of the town of 1770 and Agnes Water, jellyfish become quite common between the months of October and April, in what is officially Far North Queensland’s ‘wet season’. Species of jellyfish found include the poisonous box jellyfish. Although stinger suits and precautions can be taken, many visitors choose to avoid swimming during these times to save themselves the risk.
  • Wildlife Concerns – The Great Barrier Reef is a living ecosystem, and is home to a diverse range of animals. Some of these animals, such as sharks and stingrays, can be considered dangerous to humans, and should not be approached, provoked or otherwise annoyed, for your own safety.
  • Protecting The Reef – The Great Barrier Reef isn’t just important to Australia, it is important to the world. When visiting, all precautions should be taken to protect the reef for future generations. Simple steps visitors can take include not collecting rocks or shells, not touching or harming sea creatures, not touching or standing on coral, and not littering or disposing of waste on the beaches or in the water.
  • Nearby Attractions – Although much of far north Queensland’s other offerings are overshadowed by the popularity of the Great Barrier Reef, there is so much to see in this part of the state. Other attractions include the amazing Daintree Rainforest, which include Cape Tribulation and Mossman Gorge, as well as the Atherton Tablelands.

great-barrier-reef-map

Transport

The Great Barrier Reef is more than 2000km long, so visitors will need to pick an entry point. It is possible to fly into Cairns, Townsville, Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island, with shuttles, coaches or car hire available to reach other coastal towns from which the Great Barrier Reef is accessible.

In Cairns, Townsville, Airlie Beach and Port Douglas, visitors will find a range of options to get out onto the reef, ranging from boat trips to scenic flights.

History

The history of the Great Barrier Reef is uneventful until the beginnings of European exploration. Before this time, indeed estimates say up to 40,000 years before, Aboriginal people lived and fished up and down the coast in their nomadic and seasonal lifestyle without great effect.

The earliest sighting of the reef was on June 6th 1768 when Frenchman Louis de Bougainville approached from the east, near Cooktown. Then in 1770, Captain James Cook sailed the length of the reef on the Endeavor, evening striking it just north of Cape Tribulation.

It wasn’t until 1801 that the full extent of the reef was known when Matthew Flinders undertook several years of surveys that covered the entire Australian coastline, even walking on what he then called the “extensive barrier reefs”.

Over the years, the Great Barrier Reef was visited by many people, the evidence of which lays in the 30 historical shipwreck sites along the reef. It remains one of Australia’s more popular tourist destinations, and more important ecological sites, worth protecting for future generations of Australians and visitors.

Interesting Facts

  • More than 2 million people visit the Great Barrier Reef every year, and generate between $5-6 billion in tourism dollars.
  • The Great Barrier Reef contains over 900 islands.
  • From space, you can still see the Great Barrier Reef, which is larger than the United Kingdom, Holland and Switzerland combined.
  • The Great Barrier Reef is home to 30 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, six species of turtles, 17 species of sea snake and 1500 species of fish. In fact, around 10% of the world’s total fish species can be found within the Great Barrier Reef.

11 Reviews

  1. alina
    alina
    Ukraine 26 Comments
     -  09 Dec 2017

    The first full day in Cairns (if there is strength and desire) I recommend dedicating excursions to the Great Barrier Reef.

    There are really a lot of colorful corals on reefs, many different beautiful fish, including large ones, there are not dangerous reef sharks. In addition, we saw sea turtles – amazing! From the side we watched as the whales tumbled around us, fountains started.

  2. TheKiwiTraveller
    TheKiwiTraveller
    New Zealand 60 Comments
     -  14 Oct 2017

    I have been to Port Douglas several times with snorkelling/diving trips out to the Reef. Definitely one of the best places to see the Reef from. The trip out to the reef is always choppy so take the calming pill they offer. I have only used smaller boats as I feel the large more stable boats don’t allow you to snorkel where you want.
    The beach is lovely and the sea is warm but don’t shelter from the sun under a coconut tree! There was a building code of nothing being higher than a palm tree.

  3. Ellie
    Ellie 40 Comments
     -  07 Oct 2017

    The Great Barrier Reef is one of the natural wonders of the world and it’s not hard to see why.

    The close encounters I had with the beautiful marine life whilst snorkeling was nothing short of mind-blowing, I even got to swim with a sea turtle!
    I spent a full day out on the Reef with a friend on a boat based from Cairns called Reef Experience. The only negative aspect of my trip was getting out to the Reef from the mainland via the bumpy shipping channel. If you are prone to sea-sickness just take some travel calm about half an hour before your boat trip and you will be fine. Day trips prices start from approximately $200 which includes snorkeling, food, and refreshments. It is extremely easy to get out to the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns, there are a plethora of different boat trips you can book easily from any tour desk in the city.

  4. Indotraveller
    Indonesia 41 Comments
     -  04 Oct 2017

    I used the service of Reef Adventure to sail here. I did a dive once and a snorkeling twice. I saw colorful fish and turtle. If you are lucky, you can see sharks. I recommend diving rather than snorkeling though you never dive before. The staff will assist you.

  5. Jen11
    Jen11
    Germany 60 Comments
     -  02 Oct 2017

    You can´t leave Australia without visiting the Great Barrier Reef, which is the biggest reef in the world. I did a scuba dive tour (my first scuba dive at that point) and it was really nice. You can see so many different beautiful fish and coral, and my highlight was seeing a clownfish (Nemo). I only did a one day tour, but if you have the money, snorkel and dive at least 2-3 days there.

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