One of Australia’s most remarkable natural gifts, the Great Barrier Reef is blessed with the breathtaking beauty of the world’s largest coral reef. The reef contains an abundance of marine life and comprises of over 3000 individual reef systems and coral cays and literally hundreds of picturesque tropical islands with some of the worlds most beautiful sun-soaked, golden beaches.
Because of its natural beauty, the Great Barrier Reef has become one of the worlds most sought after tourist destinations.A visitor to the Great Barrier Reef can enjoy many experiences including snorkelling, scuba diving, aircraft or helicopter tours, bare boats (self-sail), glass-bottomed boat viewing, semi-submersibles and educational trips, cruise ship tours, whale watching and swimming with dolphins.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and pulling away from it, and viewing it from a greater distance, you can understand why. It is larger than the Great Wall of China and the only living thing on earth visible from space. Each year, more than 1.5 million visitors come to experience this World Heritage–listed area that stretches across 2000km of coastline.
BEST TIME TO GO TO GREAT BARRIER REEF
The best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef is from June to October. This peak season offers some key advantages for travelers. Temperatures hover in the low 60s to mid-80s, and rainfall is uncommon, which means clearer waters and better diving conditions. Along with the ideal weather, these winter and spring months offer cheaper prices at hotels near the central and southern parts of the reef, but keep in mind that accommodations and diving excursions in Cairns tend to fill up quickly due to the influx of tourists to the region. Meanwhile, the area's low season (known locally as the wet or stinger season) takes place between November and May and brings more rain, resulting in poorer water visibility and an abundance of deadly box jellyfish.
Balmy, 70- to 80-degree days, clear waters and refreshingly cool evenings are characteristic of the region's dry season. Temperatures are a little cooler during this period (after all, it is winter and spring in the Southern Hemisphere), but they rarely dip below the 60s. To be comfortable, plan on packing some warmer layers. Since this is prime diving season, expect to encounter crowds, especially in Cairns. You may also find higher room rates at hotels in Cairns, so book in advance. If you're looking for more elbow room and cheaper accommodation prices, head south to Rockhampton or Bundaberg.
This is the Great Barrier Reef's wet season, with average daytime temperatures in the north hovering in the high 80s. Intermittent tropical downpours are common, meaning water visibility is blurred and conditions are muggy. The cloudy water not only poses a problem to divers, but it can also put swimmers in danger: Deadly box jellyfish roam the waters off of mainland beaches. To avoid any life-threatening stings, head to the southern part of the region (between the Capricorn Coast and Fraser Island), where temperatures are cooler and the water is safer. You can also rent stinger or Lycra suits to keep yourself protected while swimming. Hotel prices in Cairns are generally lower at this time, but vacationing Aussies flock to Queensland in summer and fall, so plan accordingly.
GETTING TO GREAT BARRIER REEF
International flights fly directly into Cairns Airport, while domestic flights fly onto Hamilton Island or into Proserpine (on the Whitsunday Coast) or Townsville airports on the mainland. The gateway town for many island resorts in the Whitsundays is Airlie Beach, a 25-minute shuttle bus from Proserpine Airport.
GETTING AROUND TO GREAT BARRIER REEF
The best way to get around the Great Barrier Reef is by car or boat, depending on where you plan to spend the majority of your time. If you're on the mainland, renting a car is the best way to get to and from the attractions in and around Cairns. But if you're planning to spend your vacation on one of the reef's more remote areas, like the Whitsunday Islands or Lizard Island, then catching a boat is your best bet. Because Cairns is the tourist hub of Queensland (and a convenient point from which to explore the reef), many Great Barrier Reef visitors fly into Cairns Airport (CNS). Keep in mind, though, that you'll have to change planes in Sydney or Brisbane to get to Cairns from the U.S. If you're flying directly to one of the islands on the reef, you'll likely fly into the Great Barrier Reef Airport (HTI) on Hamilton Island. This airport welcomes flights from Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne provided by carriers like Virgin Australia Airlines, Jetstar Airways and Qantas. From Hamilton Island, you can easily hop on a plane or boat to explore the reef's neighboring islands.
HOTELS NEAR GREAT BARRIER REEF
From international luxury resorts to more low-key abodes that take their cues from the abundant nature and wildlife, these are the best stays on the Great Barrier Reef.
Ideally located on Shute Harbour Road, Club Croc Hotel Airlie Beach is just a short walk from Whitsunday Shopping Centre and 5 minutes’ drive from the main street. It features a traditional Queenslander exterior, with contemporary interiors and modern conveniences. Most rooms offer views over the garden, pool or coastline. Drenched in tropical ambience, the hotel features limited free WiFi per 24 hours (additional access is available for an extra charge), a 24-hour reception, complimentary car parking, a sparkling lagoon pool and spa, nearby BBQ facilities and a fitness centre. Let your cares drift away with a dip in the tropical lagoon pool, spend your evening listening to live music with a drink in hand, or check out our outdoor LED TV covering major sporting games, located in the covered decking area. The property can arrange tours for you, with many departing directly outside the hotel. The property is situated just 1 km from Abel Point Marina, the main departure location for a number of activities. Nearby activities include ocean rafting, fishing, diving, snorkeling, sailing and kayaking. Additional facilities include a bicycle wash down station, foot pump, and parking for those towing bikes on trailers or bike racks. The property can also work with you to plan conferences and events.
Overlooking the Coral Sea, Rydges Esplanade Resort Cairns offers rooms with a private balcony and city, mountain or ocean views. It features 3 swimming pools, 2 tennis courts and an award-winning restaurant. Set amongst beautiful tropical gardens, Rydges Esplanade Resort Cairns offers a fully equipped fitness centre with an outdoor heated jacuzzi. Free WiFi is available in hotel-style rooms and all public areas. All air-conditioned rooms feature contemporary décor and includes a satellite TV, a minibar and tea/coffee making supplies. A hairdryer and ironing facilities are also provided. Coral Hedge Brasserie serves a full buffet breakfast and all-day dining snack menu weekly. In the evening an a la carte menu is available in the lobby bar or Saturday you can enjoy the locally famous Fire & Ice Seafood Dinner which offers a selection of fresh meats, poultry and seafood flame grilled to your order as well as traditional seafood buffet options. Rydges Esplanade Resort Cairns is located on The Esplanade, a 15-minute walk from the Cairns lagoon precinct. Cairns International Airport is a 10-minute drive away.
Experience a sense of luxury at Hilton Cairns, located on the Cairns Esplanade. Boasting an absolute waterfront location, this property is located just 2 minutes’ walk from the Reef Departure Terminal and a 5-minute walk to the CBD and Cairns Convention Centre. Hilton Cairns offers stylish rooms, all with their own private balcony overlooking mountains and rainforests, Trinity Inlet or the vibrant city of Cairns. You can relax in your room, with each including WiFi. Features at the property include a spa pool and an outdoor lagoon-style pool where guests can relax and soak up the beautiful weather that Tropical North Queensland has to offer. Free WiFi is offered in the lobby of Hilton Cairns. Guests can work out in the refurbished fitness centre. The on-site tour desk can provide guidance and arrange bookings for Cairns’ must-see attractions including the Great Barrier Reef, World Heritage listed Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. Following a busy day of sight-seeing, enjoy the convenience of the hotel’s 2 restaurants with water views. The award-winning Mondo on the Waterfront offers a unique al fresco dining experience right on the water’s edge. Try the famous fajitas or perhaps treat yourself to a decadent Mondo BBQ. Sample a selection of carefully curated Gins at Gin Social.
The refurbished Daydream Island Resort is located in the heart of Queensland's Whitsunday Islands. The stylish and tranquil retreat offers modern rooms and suites with free WiFi and a full buffet breakfast. The resort features an open-air cinema, outdoor pools and three bars and restaurants. All accommodation provides spacious rooms with a modern living area, air conditioning and a flat-screen TV with free in-house movies. Most feature a private balcony or terrace with views of the ocean, marina or tropical gardens. Interconnecting rooms for families and accessible rooms are available. You can choose from a choice of restaurants at the resort including Graze, Inkstone Kitchen & Bar and an Asian Fusion restaurant. Guests can take a stroll through Daydream's rainforest walk or work out in the fitness centre. The property also boasts over 20 free on-island activities including kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and a public fish feeding show. The tour desk can book a Living Reef Guided Snorkel, meet and feed Barry the Shovelnose Ray or experience what it’s like to be a Marine Biologist for a day, as well as Whitsunday and Great Barrier Reef day tours. Staff are able to converse in English and some in Chinese.
Centrally located at the northern end of Cairns iconic waterfront Esplanade, Riley, a Crystalbrook Collection Resort features 311 stylish rooms and suites, three restaurants and bars including Cairns’ highest rooftop bar, Rocco, an expansive lagoon pool and private beach, the stunning Eléme Day Spa, functions and events spaces for up to 400 people and a 24-hour fitness centre. This 5-star property is set a short distance from attractions such as the Centre of Contemporary Arts, the Cairns Performing Arts Centre, and Cairns Hospital. The property is a 10-minute walk from the Great Barrier Reef Departure Terminal and a 7-minute drive from Flecker Botanic Gardens. The nearest airport is Cairns Airport, 5 km from the property. Most of Riley’s contemporary rooms and suites have spacious balconies. Family rooms have two bedrooms and two bathrooms, while suites and rooms have a mix of urban, resort and sea views. Each room features its own Apple iPad control centre complete with healthy living apps, a 55-inch Smart TV, Staycast by Google for video streaming, access to hundreds of complimentary movies and box sets, blackout blinds, a rainforest shower head and Nespresso coffee machine with recyclable pods. All public and in-room areas are equipped with free Wi-Fi. Breakfast is served daily at the property. Enjoy modern dining at Paper Crane restaurant and bar or indulge in 24-hour in-room dining from 6 November, 2018. Greenfields and Rocco, Cairns’ highest rooftop bar, will be open for guests to enjoy at the property from December 2018. You can lounge poolside in a cabana or at Riley’s man-made beach, or do laps in the lap pool. There is also a 24-hour fitness centre at the property. Watch one of 200 free recent release movies or stream straight from your in-room Apple iPad. You can also book your trip to the Reef or beyond from the interactive lobby tour space.
Situated directly on Four Mile Beach, this boutique hotel in Port Douglas features beach and ocean views. All suites have a large private balcony or terrace. Free WiFi is available. Located at the quiet end of Macrossan Street, Port Douglas Peninsula Boutique Hotel is an adult only property and offers stylish accommodation just 100 m from shops and restaurants. Daily breakfast is included and served poolside each morning. All adult only suites offer cooking facilities, flat-screen TV, DVD library, iPod docking station and in-room safe. The private bathroom features a large twin bath, walk-in shower and bathrobes. Hi Tide Restaurant serves modern Australian cuisine with an international twist and is the only restaurant and bar overlooking Four Mile Beach. Cocktails are available throughout the evening. Guests can relax by the pool with a book from the hotel’s library or enjoy a tour arranged by Peninsula's attentive staff.
Featuring elegant rooms with a spa bath and a balcony overlooking Cairns or Trinity Inlet, Pullman Reef Hotel is only 250 m from Cairns Esplanade. It features a casino and 4 bars with live music. The modern air-conditioned rooms have flat-screen cable TV and a tea and coffee maker. Each room has a large bathroom with luxury C.O. Bigelow toiletries. Cairns Wildlife Dome, with koalas, wallabies and crocodiles, is located in the hotel complex. Pullman Reef Hotel Casino is 5 minutes’ walk from Cairns Convention Centre, and 15 minutes’ drive from Cairns Airport. Pullman Reef Hotel features a rooftop swimming pool, spa pool and sauna. The tour desk can arrange activities such as diving and snorkeling, and day trips to the Great Barrier Reef. The award-winning Tamarind Restaurant features Thai-inspired fusion cuisine. Flinders Bar & Grill offers light meals in a casual setting, while Café China serves authentic Chinese food.
The 5-star Shangri-La Hotel offers luxury accommodation with stunning views of the Cairns Marlin Marina. It features an outdoor swimming pool and free Wi-Fi internet access. Shangri-La is located just a 10-minute drive from Cairns Airport. The Great Barrier Reef Departure Terminal and the Pier Shopping Centre are located within 3 minutes’ walking distance. All rooms feature a private balcony overlooking a tropical garden, Trinity Bay or Marlin Marina. Flat-screen satellite TV and comfortable bathrobes and slippers are included. Other features include a laptop safe and minibar. Guests at The Marina Shangri-La can work out at the well-equipped fitness centre They can also make use of the complimentary shoeshine service, or get travel advice from the tour desk. The Backyard is a vibrant, relaxed venue with a distinct local North Queensland personality. The bar staff can share their local area and knowledge. With a choice of seating areas at the bar, on the deck or garden, guests can enjoy uninterrupted views of the waterfront, watch the boats or relax and take in the marina views and mountain range beyond. The outdoor bar is the service point of the garden area, giving customers a unique outdoor experience year round. The venue features innovative drinks and creative dishes.
Cairns Colonial Club Resort has affordable accommodation, 10 minutes’ drive from the city centre and Cairns Airport. It features 3 lagoon-style pools, and a man-made beach. Cairns Colonial Club is set on 11 acres of award-winning tropical gardens. Facilities include a resort shop and tour booking office and a guest lounge. A variety of dining options, hot breakfast served daily and a selection of refreshing cocktails are served at the refurbished Thirsty Flamingo Poolside Bar & Dining. Cairns Colonial Club Resort is located less than 2 km to Flecker Botanic Gardens and Lily Creek.
Cairns Sunshine Tower Hotel is ideally located just 3 blocks from the city centre and 10 minutes' drive from the Cairns International Airport. The hotel has a beautiful backyard with a large sun deck, an outdoor swimming pool, heated spa and barbecue facilities that can be used free of charge. The hotel's location is the perfect starting point for exploring the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest and Atherton Tablelands. The rooms are decorated in a tropical style, and all have air conditioning, tea/coffee facilities, a fridge and a private en suite bathroom. Get advice at the tour desk before exploring the area. Guests also enjoy free WiFi and free secure car parking.
THINGS TO DO IN GREAT BARRIER REEF
The 2,300-kilometre (7,546 miles) Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world. Home to diverse marine life of the most vivid colours, experiencing the Reef is a life-changing adventure, whether you do it in luxury or on a budget. See the Reef by scuba, snorkel, glass-bottom boat, jet ski, semi-submersible, sail boat, from the air or even skydive to completely immerse yourself in this wonder of the world.
Hire a mask and snorkel to explore the island’s colourful reef. Magnetic Island is just a 25-minute ferry ride from Townsville. This is just one of the many places from which you can access the Reef and there are just as many tourism operators eager to help you experience this underwater wonder.
Create the perfect romantic surprise for a loved one by flying over the world-famous natural wonder that is Heart Reef. This scenic flight is just one of the tours offered by Air Whitsunday and GSL Aviation with the white silica sand of Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island is also on the menu. It’s a great opportunity to see from the amazing beauty of the Great Barrier Reef.
See the sights without getting wet at this educational, interactive coral reef aquarium. Perfect for young children and non-swimmers who want to understand the majesty of the coral kingdom, Reef HQ boasts a Turtle Hospital, where sick and injured turtles are rehabilitated. It also offers sleepovers, where you can observe the nocturnal habits of reef creatures.
Race to the Reef from Port Douglas in just 15 minutes aboard a 500-horsepower speedboat. The Reef Sprinter offers 14 guests at a time the chance to snorkel vast coral gardens and witness the abundant fish life of the Low Isles. The whole tour takes only two-and-a-half hours.
Visit the Reef in style on board Passions of Paradise 25-metre (82 feet), high-performance catamaran. Sailing daily from Cairns to Michaelmas Cay and exclusive Paradise Reef, you can dive and snorkel the Reef among the turtles and colourful fish, or just lie on the deck and soak up the sun. You can even join a glass-bottom boat tour at Michaelmas Cay.
You’ll take home bragging rights and lifelong memories when you see the Great Barrier Reef from this mind-blowing perspective. Skydive into the most picturesque drop zone in the world and experience the greatest reef thrill there is. The experienced tandem instructors will handle the parachute, so all you have to do is enjoy the incredible view.
Join a sleepover on the Reef aboard the luxurious Reef Encounter, a superb, 35-metre (114.8 feet) catamaran based at Cairns. You’ll enjoy gourmet meals and a spacious stateroom with private bathroom and air-conditioning. Enjoy two days diving, snorkelling, fishing and glass-bottom boat tours without having to return to land. Add to the excitement by joining Reef Encounter by helicopter.
Snorkel right off the beach or scuba-dive 20 sites just minutes away by boat from Heron Island. It takes only 20 minutes to walk around Heron, and you can revel in both sunrises and sunsets over the water. Turtles lay and hatch here between November and March and both events are amazing.
Explore, relax, enjoy – you can do it all on Hayman Island, located in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. Wake up to incredible natural beauty before taking advantage of a range of services and activities, including bushwalks, snorkelling, private dining and wildlife experiences. If that’s not enough, how about a massage while you float in the sea?
Wade into the man-made Living Reef and hand-feed the de-barbed stingrays. Experienced marine biologists will explain the life cycle of these amazing creatures, as well as show you local coral and how to handle starfish and sea cucumbers. Daydream Island’s 2,650 square-metre (28,524 square-feet) Living Reef is home to more than 140 species of marine fish and 83 species of coral.
PLACES TO VISIT & THINGS TO DO IN GREAT BARRIER REEF
A visit to the Great Barrier Reef can be an emotional and unforgettable experience. Whether you fly over it, cruise on top of it or dive or snorkel one of its many famed sites, the size and beauty of this natural wonder will stay with you forever. With so many potential things to do in the Great Barrier Reef the array of choices can sometimes seem overwhelming, Turisti-info put together a list of recommended tours, cruises, activities and more to help you get the most out of planning your Great Barrier Reef itinerary.
WHITEHAVEN BEACH AND HEART REEF
Whitehaven Beach is a seven-kilometre (4.3-mile) stretch of pure white silica sand, with Hill Inlet at one end. Tourists come from all over the world to marvel at its beauty. It's in the same area as the Great Barrier Reef's Heart Reef, a beautiful coral arrangement in the shape of a heart. You'll see them both on a half-day adventure with Air Whitsunday. You'll take off in a seaplane from Airlie Beach, soaring over the Whitsunday Islands and circling over Heart Reef for photos before landing on the water at a nearby coral lagoon. You can jump from the plane into the water and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef before taking off again and flying to picturesque Whitehaven Beach for a champagne lunch. After lunch you'll be returned to your accommodation.
Regarded as one the best dive sites in the world, the wreck of the SS Yongala sits on the sandy ocean floor 28 metres (92 feet) below the surface. It's in an area of the reef off the coast of Townsville, a tropical city south of Cairns. The 110-metre (360-foot) ship sank in 1911 and is now home to turtles, sea snakes, giant trevally, groupers, manta rays, sharks and thousands of tropical fish. You can take a day tour with Adrenalin Dive from Townsville or Magnetic Island , a popular local holiday destination just off the Townsville coast. Alternatively, Yongala Dive departs from Alva Beach, located a 15-minute drive from the town of Ayr. The two-dive tour is best suited to SSI- and PADI-qualified divers and all equipment is provided.
The Low Isles near the beachside town of Port Douglas is one of the most sheltered snorkelling destinations on the Great Barrier Reef. Boat tours depart for the Low Isles daily from Port Douglas (a lovely beach town about a one-hour drive north of Cairns) with several tour operators, including Aquarius, Sailway Port Douglas and WaveDancer. You’ll receive a full safety briefing and all the equipment you need (including floatation devices) on the 75-minute journey to the islands. The snorkelling area is very safe and much of it is in shallow water. Look for sea turtles on or near seagrass. Lunch is provided and you can even hire an underwater camera.
Each year from November to January, nesting sea turtles, including endangered loggerhead turtles, come ashore at night to lay their eggs at Mon Repos beach in the city of Bundaberg (just over a four-hour drive or a one-hour flight north of Brisbane). Then, between January and March the hatchlings leave their nests and race down to the sea. Both spectacles can be witnessed in intimate nighttime tours on the beach. Tours are accompanied by an environmental scientist who offers insights into the fascinating life cycle of these gentle creatures.
Just off the coast of Bundaberg you'll find Lady Elliot Island, a 42-hectare (103-acre) coral cay that sits on the southern stretches of the Great Barrier Reef. This is the closest Great Barrier Reef island to Brisbane and can be reached via an 80-minute flight aboard Seair Pacific. Flights also depart from the Gold Coast, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. Once you've arrived on the island, which is renowned for its high-visibility water, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy. You can snorkel right off its beach with huge manta rays that can have a "wing span" of up to seven metres (23 feet) or enrol in a diving course at the PADI Dive Shop. Stay overnight in the 41-room Eco Resort, tariffs include buffet dinner and breakfast in the beachfront dining room.
Dwarf minke whales visit the Great Barrier Reef every year, and you can swim with them in June and July on tours that operate from Port Douglas and Cairns. When the whales are spotted, you'll jump into the water, hold onto a surface rope and simply wait for them to approach. These friendly, curious creatures almost always do. Day trip operators include Marine Encounters, Spirit of Freedom, Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, Silversonic and Poseidon Cruises.
Have a deserted island on the Great Barrier Reef all to yourself when you take a day tour to Vlasoff Cay. Taking off from Cairns, your helicopter pilot will fly over the Great Barrier Reef before landing at the sandy islet with snorkels, flippers and a gourmet picnic for you to enjoy. The serene setting is yours for the next 90 minutes to wander, beachcomb or dive in the warm water for a swim or a snorkel, before the return flight back over the reef to Cairns.
One of the best ways to get the reef all to yourself is to take part in the Reefsleep Experience. Cruise Whitsundays takes small groups of visitors to its Reefworld platform moored on the edge of Hardy Reef for a full day of snorkelling, diving, boat and helicopter rides. And unlike all of the other day trippers who head home at about 3pm, Reefsleepers get to stay behind. In the afternoon guests can submerge in the reef again. Come evening, it is time for a barbecue, and possibly a night dive, before everybody on board tuck themselves into their designated swags (a low tent with an in-built mattress, designed for the Australian outback) under the star-filled sky. Reefsleep departs from Airlie Beach, Daydream Island or Hamilton Island.
Great Barrier Reef Submarines lets visitors explore the beauty of the reef in a three-man mini-submarine, just 45 minutes on a fast catamaran from Cairns. Taking a mini-sub ride is less hassle than suiting up for a snorkel or dive. Two guests just jump in the mini-sub with the guide and then launch straight from the beach. In minutes you are submerged among the coral, tropical fish and sea turtles of the Great Barrier Reef.
Green Island, a coral cay about half an hour offshore from Cairns, is home to the Seawalker experience, in which visitors can walk along the sea floor wearing a diving helmet. The helmet is shaped like an old-school metal diving helmet, fully enclosing your head in a bubble, and connected to the surface through an air hose. But unlike the old metal helmets, the Seawalker helmets are almost completely clear, offering unrestricted views of the amazing sea life of the reef. This is a great way for non-swimmers to experience the underwater wonders, and for those who wear glasses, because they can be left on inside the helmet.
Taking the helmet walk one step further is this novel way to explore the reef, aboard the Scubadoo, a small yellow motorised scooter with a large viewing dome that acts like a diving helmet and is supported by a float from the surface. Just climb on the scooter at the pontoon, just off the coast at Cairns, put your head in the dome and off you go. The scooters are easily manoeuvred and a guide dives alongside you for the whole journey.
Vlasoff Cay is a small streak of sand in an ocean of blue. This tiny sand island appears only at low tide and is the perfect setting for a castaway picnic. You can be dropped off at your own stretch of Great Barrier Reef sand by helicopter or chartered boat and left alone with a picnic hamper and a bottle of champagne. This is the ultimate in reef romanticism, with not even a tree to spoil your 360-degree view of this natural wonder of the world. You can swim, snorkel or just relax on your own private - and temporary - island. Helicopters depart from Cairns.
There is nothing quite as indulgent as chartering your own private yacht - especially when it comes with its own crew. Low Isles is a spectacular island teeming with bird and marine life, just off the coast of Port Douglas. You can recruit a group of friends and cruise around onboard the Aquarius, a luxury sailing vessel with a huge upper deck on which you get to enjoy a seafood buffet. Then just jump off the side for some of the best snorkelling on the reef.
Seeing the giant living wonder that is the Great Barrier Reef from the sky gives you an understanding of just how immense it really is. The different shades of ocean blue, the secluded islands, and the patterns of the coral beds all laid out before you as you hover above is something you're bound to never forget. You can cover more of the reef from the air than you can ever hope to discover at sea level. For more information visit operators such as Air Whitsunday.
If you are an adrenaline junkie and want to have a spectacular birds-eye view of the Great Barrier Reef, the sky is the limit – literally. Skydiving at Mission Beach is a unique opportunity to witness the reef, surrounding beaches as well as the rainforest as you fly from 4570 metres (15,000 feet) above. The exhilarating freefall experience is available with Skydive mission Beach who have expert sky masters ready to guide you on the ultimate adventure. Mission Beach is roughly two hours from Cairns, so you can self-drive or book a shuttle bus through Skydive Mission Beach.
The amazing blues of the ocean that blankets the Great Barrier Reef is not the only visually incredible display on offer in the region; look inland and you'll soon come across the vibrant greens of some of the oldest and most beautiful rainforest in the world – the ancient and World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest. Regardless of whether you choose to divide the day between the reef and the rainforest or spend your time exploring this wondrous green ecological playground, the Daintree will doubtlessly leave an impression on you that will last a long time. Brimming with wonderful wildlife and lush surroundings that make this area of far north QLD one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world, you'll find some of the last vestiges of the most ancient rainforest where a combination of primitive animals, plants and an indigenous culture still thrive to this day.
Pristine rainforest, crystal-clear rivers and breathtaking scenery are just a few of the reasons to take a whitewater rafting trip on the beautiful Russell and Barron Rivers, located just a short distance inland from the Great Barrier Reef. As some of the most popular rafting destinations in the world, these two great waterways offer unequalled chances for an affordable, exciting and exhilarating day out. A series of different rapid courses ranging from grades one to four ensure that there is something available for people of all experience and skill levels, and most packages also include a relaxing picnic lunch. All rafting trips are guided by skilled guides who will show you the best ways to negotiate the rapids while maintaining a premium on safety so that you can simply enjoy the feeling of excitement without ever feeling a true sense of danger. Whether travelling as an individual, couple, or group, whitewater rafting near the Great Barrier Reef is an experience that will serve to make you feel more alive!
The great heights that hot air ballooning will send you to will provide amazing views not only of the Great Barrier Reef itself but also the incredible natural surroundings that make up the geography of this tropical north Queensland region. Ascend into the skies above Cairns and experience the sheer wonder, romance and silent serenity of the far north QLD bushland, golden sand beaches and stunning azure waters. After you've experienced the reef and the rainforest up close, a hot air balloon ride is the next best thing to do at the Great Barrier Reef – a breathtaking experience that cannot be missed!
Port Douglas provides another natural departure point to experience the joys of the Great Barrier Reef, and the Outer Reef, in particular, is in its own class; brimming with vibrant coral gardens and diverse marine life, it makes for one of the best snorkelling destinations in the entire world. These cruise will take you aboard a speedy, wave-piercing catamaran all while in air-conditioned comfort to the highly regarded Agincourt Reef – a jewel-like ribbon reef on the very outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef proper that showcases a series of unsurpassed coral formations, colourful marine creatures and an outstanding level of underwater visibility. A spacious activity platform awaits that allows you to participate in a huge range of reef activities including snorkelling and diving, semi-submersible viewing, fish feeding presentations and much more.
WHERE TO EAT IN GREAT BARRIER REEF
You may have dined on the water’s edge, but dining on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef is something completely new entirely. Within this region is the chance to feast on local flavours, picnic on a sand cay, and have your very own daily catch prepared by a hatted restaurant. The region is famed for its collection of vibrant coral and tropical fish, but the culinary adventures it offers on land will leave big city restaurants in the dust. Try it for yourself the next time you’re up this way. Here are the best dining experiences and restaurants of the Great Barrier Reef.
Nu Nu Restaurant, Palm Cove
If you’re based in Palm Cove you’re in luck, and not just because it’s so perfectly located for exploring the rainforest as well as the reef. Just up the road from its idyllic shoreline is the iconic Nu Nu Restaurant. Since opening, this restaurant has gained national recognition for a creative menu showcasing regional produce and forgotten flavours of North Queensland. So committed to sourcing fresh ingredients, Nu Nu even makes their own artisanal sourdough using a starter that was born in 2000. Dishes of whole barramundi, line caught reef fish and palm hearts from Innisfail offer a taste of the tropical North on a plate, all before waterfront views of the Coral Sea.
Orpheus Island Lodge offers all-inclusive private island accomodation, right in the centre of the Great Barrier Reef. Just 28 guests at a time have the privilege of waking up to the sounds of the reef and enjoying every main meal by the water. This naturally eases the burden on the island’s hatted restaurant. With only the freshest seasonal produce in their arsenal (they harvest from the island’s own veggie garden as much as possible), they offer an ever changing tapas-style lunch and a four-course dinner every night. They’ll even prepare an indulgent picnic hamper to accompany adventures to nearby Island Beaches. When it comes to protein, Orpheus sources their fresh prawns, Moreton Bay bugs, and lobsters from local fisherman, including their own guests. Given its seclusion, Orpheus is a popular destination for keen fishermen wanting to try their luck in the tides. If your efforts prove fruitful, the kitchen team will prepare your fresh catch for dinner that night.
The northernmost island resort on the Reef, Lizard Island is an ideal getaway for couples who share love of food. They offer a comprehensive suite of dining experiences to round out a day of snorkelling on deserted beaches, from beachside picnics to drinks in a world class wine cellar to a degustation dinner. Pride of the island is the Salt Water restaurant. We can’t tell you exactly what to order because the menu changes daily. We can say that Salt Water’s offerings are dictated by the produce sourced from the surrounding waters and northern hinterland. Expect the freshest North Queensland seafood combined with flavours of Asian, Modern Australian and European cuisine, complemented by a premium drop from the island’s cellar. And with 180 degree views over Watsons Bay and Osprey Reef, it doesn’t matter where you sit.
Sitting 40km off the coast of Cairns, Vlasoff Cay is a floating stretch of sand stranded in the middle of the Reef. It can only be reached by watercraft or, for those feeling a little more opulent, helicopter. But no matter how you get there, you’ll soon be floored by the cay’s aquamarine waters and near-white sand; the perfect spot for a picnic. There are plenty of companies that will deliver you and a boozy brunch to this shard of paradise, GBR Helicopters, Nautilus Aviation and Helitours North Queensland included. Expect heaped plates of fresh tropical fruit, local seafood, champagne, and the glorious reef before you. Just remember to bring shade and SPF.
While the Great Barrier Reef is home to some of the nation’s most opulent resorts, qualia is its most famed. Their focus on sustainability and ethical practices is felt in every aspect of the resort, and no more so than their restaurant Pebble Beach. If the waterfront views don’t draw you in, the menu will. Executive chef Mark Jensen utilises ingredients with an ethical edge. Seasonal produce is sourced sustainably, and locally where possible, from like-minded producers all across the country. The resultant dishes give a snapshot of the diversity of Australia’s produce and cuisine. To get a full picture of what this looks like, opt for Pebble Beach’s six course tasting menu.
Floating just off Airlie Beach, a night at the Whitsundays’ ReefSuites is one of the most incredible ways to experience the reef. This underwater hotel is the first of its kind, bringing you closer than ever to the thousands of fish, rays, and marine mammals swimming around the heritage-listed waters. Just one look through the floor-to-ceiling windows of your suite is all it takes. All meals are served on the upper deck of the Hardy Reef pontoon. Whether you’re eating breakfast overlooking the water, or digging into dinner beneath the stars, it’s all but impossible to imagine anything more idyllic.
WHERE TO SHOP IN GREAT BARRIER REEF
There’s nowhere better to escape the everyday and unwind than Port Douglas, one of the best day trips to Cairns or place to base yourself for a getaway of both relaxation and adventure. But getting flat out on perfect beaches, snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, or cutting through clear waters on a yacht aren’t the only way to relax and recharge. A touch of retail therapy goes a long way, and the shopping in Port Douglas in Great Reef Barrier is plentiful and diverse. A spot of shopping in Port Douglas should be top of your list. The local art, jewellery, fashion, and homewares on offer are the ideal reminder of your time in this beautiful slice of Queensland, or a unique gift for that lucky someone.
Tucked away from the main street on the corner of Owen and Warner Streets, Deep Whole Foods is a specialty grocer and health food store, offering up a tightly curated selection of whole food staples, as well as coffee, teas, juices, and paleo and gluten-free snacks. Whether you’re after bone broth, locally made kombucha, kimchi, or some high-quality organic dark chocolate, you’ll find it here.
Track down the perfect gift for that special someone at With Sugar, a store brimming with unique gifts and special pieces to suit any taste or budget. From eco water bottles and coffee cups through to jewellery, locally made beeswax candles to board games, and toys, there’s something for everyone. Don’t leave Port Douglas without poking your head into this fantastic gift shop.
As the name suggests, you can certainly while away the hours at this charming Port Douglas book shop, and not only because half of the store is also a cafe serving up coffee, tea and sweet treats. Inside While away you’ll find a book lover’s utopia – beach reads, heavy coffee table tomes, fun kids activity books – and plenty of gorgeous toys and greeting cards for all occasions.
A stalwart of Port Douglas’ shopping scene, Ginni Boutique is an essential stop for the discerning fashion lover. Here you’ll find original, quality pieces ideal for travel by Australian designers including Moss & Spy, Lisa Barron, Megan Salmon, Maiocchi, 7 Sister, and Andiamo, as well as a selection of European designers. If you’re on the hunt for evening or races wear, Ginni is the boutique for you.
Take a bit of the spirit of Port Douglas home with you when you pick up an original artwork from Ngarru Gallery. Specialising in indigenous fine art, Ngarru showcases one of the finest collections of high-end indigenous art in Queensland, while also promoting a number of aspiring and up and coming artists. As well as paintings, you’ll find artefacts, sculpture, and weavings, and art-inspired giftware. The staff are passionate about indigenous art and their expertise is on show from the minute you walk through the door. They’ll take the time to guide you piece by piece through the gallery so you’re sure to find something that resonates. Ngarru Gallery is in the centre of Port Douglas on Macrossan Street, and open each day from 10am.
Treat a special someone back home, or pick up a memento you’ll always treasure at Wicked Willie’s, a Port Douglas jeweller with a legion of loyal fans. Open since 1994, this jeweller specialises in pearls, including freshwater, Broome and Tahitian, and precious and semi precious stones, and can hand-make bespoke pieces in store. Meet the friendly team and take home an original design.
In a town where they take relaxation seriously, what better souvenir to take home than a locally designed and made swimsuit, with prints designed by local artists? Swimwear brand Tahitian Lime is the brainchild of Sydney-born sisters, Prue and Brooke Needham, who launched their label in 2016 and now call the sunny shores of Port Douglas home. Born from a love of the ocean, their proudly bright, bold, Australian designs are made with textiles sourced in Italy, and include swimwear, clothing, and accessories.
Just along from Tahitian Lime, you’ll spot the captivating carnival style lights of Aloha Lucy, the perfect Port Douglas shopping stop if you’re looking to take home a bit of beach-side chic. Home to stunning lightweight bohemian beachwear and accessories ideal for a night out by the water, this boutique is a must.
Tucked in behind the sophisticated waterside cocktail bar, Barbados, and owned and run by the same local couple, Martinique Island Style is a treasure trove of unique, luxury fashion, jewellery, and homewares and a must for lovers of design. No shopping trip in Port Douglas is complete without picking up a new piece from this refined collection of furniture and accessories and bringing a touch of the Tropical North Queensland back to your place.
Whether you’re hitting the beach or looking to dress up for a day out on a yacht, the experienced team at menswear store Captain & Crew has your look sorted from head to toe. Stocking labels for boys and men, you’ll find high end international labels and staff who go above and beyond to meet your needs.