5 Ways to Visit the Great Barrier Reef
Australia is blessed with an abundance of awe-inspiring natural wonders but perhaps its most precious gem is the Great Barrier Reef. On an Australia holiday, there’s nothing better than booking a trip to discover the vivid colours and the incredible biodiversity of this mammoth underwater wonderland.
About the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is the most expansive coral reef on the planet. Located off the east coast of Australia, in North Queensland, the reef covers an area of more than 344,000 square kilometres. Comprising almost 3,000 individual reefs and more than 900 islands, this staggering feat of marine architecture is a sight to behold.
It’s no wonder the vast majority of travellers to Australia are keen to visit the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef is accessible from many parts of the Queensland coastline and there’s a vast array of tours and excursions to choose from, including overnight adventures and day trips from Cairns.
As well as enjoying jaw-dropping views of glistening golden sands and crystal clear waters that harbour kaleidoscopic reefs beneath, visitors to the reef can also learn about the incredible marine life that resides in the warm turquoise waters.
Home to over 1,500 different species of fish, more than 130 shark species and six of the world’s endangered species of turtles, this is a truly spectacular wildlife haven.
For those planning to visit this amazing place, there are options to suit every holiday itinerary. Here are some of the best ways to visit the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
1. Snorkel the reef
Deep beneath the tranquil, rippling surface of the Coral Sea lies a convoluted, complex network of corals that provide a home for thousands of different marine species. From the deck of the boat, it’s possible to get an impression of the scale and beauty of the watery expanse but it’s difficult to appreciate the splendour and the significance of the reef from above the waves.
To snorkel the Great Barrier Reef is a great way to delve deeper without embarking on a full-scale diving trip. Visitors can spot bright, vivid fish darting in and out of the vibrant coral and it might also be possible to see larger species and to catch a glimpse of turtles.
The Great Barrier Reef Day Tour is a trip from Cairns which includes five hours out on the reef. As well as snorkel hire, guests can also enjoy lunch, morning and afternoon tea and the chance to go out on a glass-bottom boat and marvel at the creatures and colours lurking below.
The boat will travel to the Outer Reef, locating a perfect base for safe, sheltered swimming and snorkelling, and guests can enjoy fish feeding, informative marine biology talks and semi-submersible tours. There will also be time to relax and soak up the sunshine before heading back to the shore.
If your perfect trip to Australia includes a chance to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, a day tour is a great way of including this. They are ideally suited to anyone who is eager to explore the reefs and there is a safe swimming zone for children too.
2. Learn to scuba dive on the reef
For those that have always wanted to learn to dive, there’s nothing quite like the opportunity to give it a go on the iconic Great Barrier Reef.
Surely the best way to experience it in all its glory is to dive below the surface for a closer look, especially for those that have an interest in marine biology and seeing sea creatures up close.
This Dive on the Reef day trip from Cairns is ideal for beginners and those who want to go on and gain a PADI certificate. There’s an option to complete two dives on the day or to enrol in a five-day course. The day trip is perfect for travellers who don’t have the time to get their full dive certificate but want to experience the unique adventure of gliding through the waters surrounded by coral sculptures and underwater companions.
After boarding an exclusive 29-metre catamaran, visitors will be taken to three carefully-selected locations out on the Agincourt Reef. Guests will be treated to interactive demonstrations and provided with safety information before beginning the introductory dive. Lunch is included and there are hot water showers on board.
Diving the coral reefs that surround Australia’s golden coastline is a once in a lifetime opportunity and this informal, relaxed tour is the perfect way to sample the treasures of the underwater labyrinth without possessing extensive experience in diving.
For those that can’t get enough of diving after this trip, there’s a chance to sign up for further instruction, which takes place on the live-aboard vessel, M V Kangaroo Explorer.
3. Fly over the reef
It’s difficult to appreciate the scale of the Great Barrier Reef when you’re aboard a boat or swimming and splashing in the blue-green waters. A helicopter experience provides a much better insight into the size of the reef, offering a bird’s eye view of the water and the coral structures that lie beneath.
Having arrived at the Cairns City Helipad, travellers will climb aboard for the flight of a lifetime. A scenic 30-minute journey lies ahead, with nothing but incredible views for company. As the blades rotate and the engine purrs, guests can enjoy panoramic views of sparkling beaches, dense, tropical rainforests and bright blue waters that are punctured by darker areas of coral.
The helicopter will fly over the beautiful island idyll of Green Island and the stunning spot of False Cape before heading back to the city.
Helicopter tours are a fabulous way to appreciate the mesmerising beauty and the vast scale of the Great Barrier Reef, while enjoying the thrill and the adrenaline rush of soaring high in the skies. Enjoying a vantage point several hundred feet in the sky also affords breathtaking photo opportunities.
4. See the reef without getting wet
For those who are keen to explore and experience the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet, a day trip to Green Island comes highly recommended. This exotic slice of paradise lies just 15 miles from the coastline, making it an ideal base for leisurely, languid day trips.
After boarding a luxury catamaran at the Reef Fleet Terminal, guests will travel to Green Island, enjoying stunning views of the reef en route. On arrival, there’s a choice of activities, including a semi-sub coral viewing tour and the option to splash around and swim or snorkel for those who don’t mind getting wet.
The crew will put on a fish feeding display to entice nearby residents to the boat and there’s also a great walking tour itinerary available. There will also be time to sunbathe and top up the tan before heading back to the mainland.
The semi-submarine tour is a brilliant way to see the diverse range of corals and sea creatures without having to swim or don a snorkel and wetsuit. For those who aren’t strong swimmers, this is a great option.
The tour includes a four-hour stay on Green Island, one of the most famous islands in the reef. Offering beaches, wildlife sanctuaries, hiking routes and plenty of serene coves to swim and snorkel, this is an idyllic setting for a family day out, a more active adventure or a chilled-out solo trip.
A sumptuous buffet lunch is included in the price.
5. Sleep on the reef
Whilst a day trip to the reef will provide lifelong memories, if you would like to experience the truly special, treat yourself to a two or three night stay at an island resort and wake up to the Great Barrier Reef outside your window.
Lizard Island, itself a National Park, has 40 luxury suites and villas and 24 white sandy beaches, fringed by colourful coral. Included in the cost of your stay are glass bottom boat rides and the use of motorised dinghies and paddle skis. The island has several nature trails along which you can take a self guided walk, or you can join a nature presentation. It’s a holiday within a holiday.
Orpheus Island offers perhaps an even more exclusive experience. Catering for a maximum 28 guests at a time, the luxury resort has a spectacular infinity pool and its own Marine Research Centre where you can learn about the marine life you have just spotted snorkelling and diving on the island’s fringing reef. Orpheus Island is accessed from Townsville, via a thirty minute helicopter ride – an unforgettable experience in itself.
A family friendly option slightly closer to the shore is Fitzroy Island, reached via ferry from Cairns. The resort has a mix of suites, beach cabins and self-contained bungalows. As well as snorkelling and diving opportunities, the island is home to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, which cares for sick and injured turtles, before releasing them back into the reef.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most stunning sights on Earth and it’s no surprise that millions of people flock to its waters every year. With an incredible array of trips and tours on offer, visitors will be spoilt for choice.
One thing is certain: among the best things to do in Australia, visiting the Great Barrier Reef is always enchanting, no matter how you choose to see it.