Encompassing roughly 3,000 individual reefs and dotted with almost 900 islands and coral cays (small sandy isles), Australia's Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s most unforgettable natural treasures. Snorkelers and certified divers often place the reef at the top of their bucket lists due to the unparalleled array of marine life in its underwater world, ranging from thousands of different varieties of fish, birds, and clams to hundreds of types of birds, seaweed, and turtles. And with experts expecting much of this diversity to dwindle in the next decade, there’s never been a better reason to plan a visit to this natural wonder.
Popular Great Barrier Reef Activities
Snorkeling and scuba diving are the most popular activities; the water is at its clearest from April to October and most snorkeling tours include the use of equipment. Savvy visitors make their trip into an educational opportunity by getting their PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certificate. Keep in mind that strenuous in-water activities are not recommended for those with medical conditions affecting the heart or lungs.
Don’t want to get wet? The sheer enormity of this UNESCO World Heritage Site makes it worth experiencing out of the water as well. Some barrier reef cruises feature afternoon tea or take place on a glass bottom boat rather than a catamaran, suitable for those who would like a more relaxed reef experience. And if you’re short on time, scenic helicopter flights offer the full-picture perspective on the immensity of this remarkable ecosystem, which makes up the world’s largest coral reef.
Staying in Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, can allow you to see the area without having to pay the steep price of luxury island resorts.
Great Barrier Reef Attractions
Seeing the huge Great Barrier Reef could take weeks, but there are a few landmarks and highlights that are must-sees. Saxon, Hastings, and Norman reefs in the outer Great Barrier Reef are top scuba diving and snorkeling spots, while Hamilton Island, Green Island, and Fitzroy Island are some of the most popular day trip destinations for reef tours. And visits to nearby Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park and the Daintree Rainforest, both located on the mainland outside Cairns, are easy to add onto your Great Barrier Reef exploration. A trip on the Kuranda Scenic Railway or Skyrail Rainforest Cableway can provide a unique view and be combined with a reef cruise.
How to Get There
Scuba diving excursions, snorkeling trips, and reef cruises all depart from Cairns, Cape Tribulation, Port Douglas, or Townsville. The reef runs 1,426 miles (2,300 km) from Bundaberg to the country’s northernmost tip, coming closest to the continent right around Queensland.