Great Barrier Reef Things to Do, Places, Attractions, Hotels, Tours
The Great Barrier Reef is a collection of over 2,900 individual coral reefs and 600 idyllic islands located along the north eastern coastline of Australia. It is the largest coral reef in the world. The Great Barrier Reef has the most diverse range of underwater animals found anywhere on earth. Over two million tourists visit the area each year. It is ideal place for snorkelling, scuba diving, swimming sailing, whale and dolphin watching and lots more.
Snorkelling & Diving
The biggest attraction of the Great Barrier Reef is scuba diving and snorkelling amongst the beautiful corals and fish of the reef. There are over 5,000 diving spots ranging from those that are for beginners to those only suitable for the experienced divers. You can get up close to see fish of every size and colour, coral reefs, turtles, sea cucumbers, rays, sharks and lots of other marine life. Most snorkelling and diving is boat-based, where a large boat will take you out to a reef. Some islands, however, do have their own coral reefs around them. The most frequented reefs are those referred to as the Outer Barrier Reef which as easily reached from Cairns.
Best Time to Visit
Weather-Wise: The best time to visit the Great Barrier reef, weather-wise, is between the months of June to November. The weather during this time is mostly mild and dry and the underwater visibility is generally good. December to March, on the other hand, is the wet season when it is oppressively hot and humid with lots of rain and also cyclones.
Take a helicopter or seaplane flight over the reef and see how vast the reef really is from the air while also admire the beautiful islands and inlets in the vicinity.
Islands & Beaches
All along this coast are numerous beautiful beaches for swimming and sunbathing. There are also some great island getaways such as the Whitsunday, Lizard, Fraser, Lady Elliot and Green islands.
Reef Teach, located in Cairns, provides an excellent entertaining and sometimes funny audio-visual presentation of the reef and its numerous inhabitants. The presenters are obviously passionate about their subject and their knowledge is extensive.
If you are really brave you can arrange a tandem sky dive and witness the breathtaking scale of the reef and its islands and beaches. That’s if you aren't screaming your head off while falling to earth at a terrifying speed.
Located to the north of Cairns and Port Douglas the the world heritage listed Daintree Rainforest offers an interesting insight into a tropical Australian rainforest. Some of the trees in this forest are believed to be the oldest in the world. Tour operators offer boat cruises, 4wd and bus tours. A cruise on the Daintree River is an easy way the see the sights of ancient rainforest trees and animals including crocodiles and birds such as the cassowary. Tours depart from Cairns, Port Douglas, Palm Cove, etc./p>
White water rafting is available on a number of rivers close to Cairns. Tully River, Barron River and Russell River have rapids seasonally graded from 1 to 4.
The whale watching season is from May to September when whales migrate along the coast. Dwarf Minke whales appear around May. While Humpback whales appear between mid-July to end-August.
The tablelands are located west to south-south-west of Cairns. It contains cooler tropical rainforest areas, beautiful lakes, waterfalls such as the Millaa Millaa Falls, crater lakes interesting rock formations.
Hot Air Balloons
Hot air ballooning over the Atherton Tablelands is an exhilarating experience. Flights originate from Cairns and Port Douglas and glide silently over the Atherton Tablelands with distant views of the coast and the Great Barrier Reef in the distance. Flights don’t actually fly over the reef.
Great Barrier Reef Location
The Great Barrier Reef (marked in grey on the map) is located in the ocean between 15 to 150 kilometres off the coast of north-eastern Queensland, Australia. It is 2,300 km long and between 60 to 250 kilometres wide.
Getting to the Great Barrier Reef
Australia is a huge continent. Getting to cities and towns close to the Great Barrier Reef requires traveling quite a substantial distance from major populations centres such as Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Getting THERE BY Plane
The quickest way to get to a city near the Great Barrier Reef is by plane. Airlines such as Qantas, Virgin and Jetstar fly into Cairns, Airlie Beach and Townsville from major Australian cities such as Sydney (3 hours), Brisbane (2 hours) and Melbourne (4 hours). Some international carriers such as Air New Zealand, China Eastern and Cathay Pacific also fly into some of the cities near the Great Barrier Reef.
Getting THERE by Car
The Bruce Highway runs along the coast from Brisbane. The distance from Brisbane to Cairns is 1,700 kilometers and will take you about 20 hours driving. The trip from Sydney will take approximately 29 hours of driving time.
Getting THERE by Train
Train journey from Brisbane to Cairns is a two day journey. From other cities are about the same durations as a bus journey.
Getting THERE by Bus
There are frequent services from Brisbane but they take about two days to get to the cities and towns near the Great Barrier Reef.
Getting Out to the Reefs
While some outlying island resorts have reefs close enough to shore to swim out to, the most common means of transportation to one of the thousands of reefs is to catch a fast catamaran. If you are more idyllic you can taking a sailing boat.
There are literally thousands of tour operators around the Great Barrier Reef area. These range from small operators to large ones handling thousands of customers a day.
Viator - A TripAdvisor company, offers the widest range of tours around. There is added benefit in the safety of using a global company.
Cairns (Australians pronounce it as "Cans") is the main city for tours of the Great Barrier Reef. Other things of interest in Cairns are the Cairns Esplanade, Botanic Gardens and Muddy's Playground for kids.
Port Douglas is an upmarket resort town located just north of Cairns. Places of interest close by include Four Mile Beach, the Wildlife Habitat, and reefs such as Opal and Agincourt reefs.
Located at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef is the closest to the population centres such as Brisbane, and Sydney. It is also a good transfer point for Keppel, Lady Elliot and Lady Musgrave islands.
Is almost the northernmost point of the Great Barrier Reef and has its own charm with federation architecture and alfresco dining. Places of interest include Billabong Sanctuary, Jezzine Barracks, Castle Hill and The Strand.
The weather is typically hot and humid during the summer and mild and dry during winter. The average maximum temperature is around 29 degrees Celsius.
What to Wear
Dress in loose cotton, linen or breathable fabrics. Sunglasses are a good idea to protect your eyes. Any footwear suitable for the tropics is fine. Don't forget a broad brimmed hat and sunscreen. Australians are very laid back in their clothing sense. Casual cloths are fine for dinning out.
Australia has extremely strict regulations to ensure your safety and comfort. The Great Barrier Reef, more than other sites in Australia, however, has a number of minor thrills and spills that a visitor should be aware of. These are mostly associated with how you behave in the water. Follow the safety advise given on signs and by trained personnel such as boat operators and lifeguards.
Diving & Snorkelling: The most common problem encountered by people is getting into difficulty while diving or snorkelling. Diving and snorkelling can be very strenuous, especially for the elderly and those suffering from pre-existing medical conditions. It can also be stressful for someone who may be unnerved by having to breath underwater. So don’t do it if you aren't in reasonably good health. Take a glass-bottom boat tour instead!
Sunburn: The Great Barrier Reef is in the tropics. So always apply sunscreen several times a day. Remember, is very easy to get sun burnt on your back while snorkelling.
Sharks: It is very unlikely that you will encounter any sort of shark while at the Great Barrier Reef, especially not the ferocious types you see in the movies. But, they are around and occasionally you may be lucky to see one. There are occasional reports of a shark attack and sometimes these can be fatal. Again exercise caution and take advice from the experts around the area you are planning to swim in.
Due to the baffling effect of the coral reefs there aren't huge surf conditions in the Great Barrier Reef. The ride out the the reefs however can be choppy sometimes. If you suffer from chronic seasickness it is probably a good idea to take some seasickness medication a day prior to going on a boat. You can get this at most pharmacies.
If you don't know how to swim, diving and snorkelling would obviously not be a suitable way for you to see the Great Barrier Reef.
Instead, you could tour the reef in a glass bottom boat, take a semi submersible submarine tour, visit an underwater observatory, go on an ocean walk wearing a special protective helmet and suit, wear floatation equipment such as a flotation jacket or even fly over the reefs in a helicopter or seaplane. Some operators even provide wheelchair access to some of their facilities.
Hotels & Accommodations
There are thousands of accommodations near the Great Barrier Reef. These range from very exclusive 5+ star hotels to basic backpacker hostels and caravan parks. Listed below are just a few of these. The ratings are based on value for money, service and "the experience".
Lizard Island Resort - (4.5 star) With white sandy beaches and crystal clear blue ocean this island resort near Cooktown is a little piece of paradise. Very pricey with excellent food. Snorkelling and diving around the island is a treat.
Pullman Reef Hotel Casino - (4.5 star) - Located in Cairns this hotel offers lovely views of the bay. The rooms are spacious, the prices reasonable staff are friendly and the food is good. The casino downstairs makes it a bit noisy sometimes.
Cairns Coconut Holiday Resort - (4 star) - Set in 28 acres a short distance out of Cairns the water park will keep the kids occupied for hours. Accommodation is in private cabanas or tents. The resort also has two swimming pools, a mini golf course and tennis courts. Prices are reasonable.
Cascade Motel Townsville - 3.5 star) - A great motel ten minutes out of Townsville. The staff are extremely friendly and helpful. The rooms clean and tidy rooms and great prices too.
Many tour operators have multi-lingual crew members and tour guides who can assist overseas passengers. They may all have published material in foreign languages such as Japanese, Chinese and Korean.
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