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Where to visit the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef – mother nature’s greatest masterpiece. When you picture it, you may just think of the Reef as part of Tropical North Queensland, accessible from everyone’s favourite party playground, Cairns. However, the Reef actually runs almost all the way down the coast of Queensland (1,430 miles in fact), so you can visit it from multiple places on your East Coast adventure. So where are some of the best places to visit the Great Barrier Reef, and what can you do there?

Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up, as if you’re coming from Brisbane.

From Hervey Bay

Photo courtesy of Tourism Queensland

Firstly, if you’re in Hervey Bay between July to November, you’re in prime whale watching season. Humpback whales are known to stop off at the bay for a rest before continuing their migration. Once you’ve experienced that, think about taking a scenic 40-minute flight from Hervey Bay over to Lady Elliot Island, the southernmost island of the Great Barrier Reef, where you’ll see all the beauty of the reef from above. Known for some of the clearest of water on the reef, the area is perfect for snorkelling. The island is known as ‘Home of the manta ray’, with over 700 species in its waters – AND if you arrive between November and March, it’s hatching season for the green sea turtles. An amazing flight, some excellent snorkelling, prime whale watching, swimming with manta rays AND green sea turtle hatching?! Sign us up!

From Bundaberg

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Hop on a day cruise from Bundaberg Port Marina over to the uninhabited Lady Musgrave Island – the only island on the Great Barrier Reef to have a coral lagoon. Although the island has no permanent buildings, travellers can camp there throughout the year (except for February to March – to protect the new baby turtles). November to January is the best time, because you can see green turtles and loggerhead turtles nesting. Snorkellers will also find leopard sharks, whitetip reef sharks, and a huge variety of fish and coral underwater. Don’t want to snorkel or dive? You can also hop in a glass bottomed boat, go on an island walk, or go reef fishing – it’s a true slice of paradise. If you’re short on time but desperate to see some sea turtles (who isn’t?!) then head out to the Mon Repos Turtle Conservation Centre, where you can see turtles come ashore to nest (November to January) or hatch (January to March).

From Airlie Beach

Photo courtesy of Tourism Queensland

Probably one of the most famous places to see the Great Barrier Reef, is the Whitsunday Islands. If you’re short on time, hop aboard a snorkelling day trip to one of the many bays around the 74 islands, such as Hook Island. Or if you’ve got a little more time, take a cruise that sails around the islands for a few days so you can really soak up all the best diving and snorkel spots (you’ll also stop off at the magnificent Whitehaven beach, consistently voted as Australia’s no.1 beach). You could take a scenic seaplane or heli tour over the Heart Reef – literally a reef in the shape of a heart – or if you’re a bit of an adrenalin junkie, go on an exhilarating night dive on a Reefsleep tour – the Reef doesn’t go to sleep just because we do!

From Mission Beach

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Want an altogether different experience of the Reef? Then skydive over it! The high of the jump mixed with unrivalled views of the reef, will make this an unforgettable part of your trip. The Great Barrier Reef isn’t just something that can be appreciated from below sea level!

From Cairns

If you’ve never dived before, but you’ve been dying to learn, then where better to do it than on one of the seven natural wonders of the world? Take a five-day course, spending a couple of nights on a live-aboard boat where you’ll experience the reef in all its glory. Beginner courses have you participating in various different dives, including a night dive. If you’re happier staying above the water, then head over to Fitzroy Island just off the coast of Cairns, where you can go sea kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and visit the turtle conservation site.

From Port Douglas

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The easiest Great Barrier Reef island to get to from Port Douglas is the Low Isles – where you can take a day trip from the mainland. Snorkelling is super easy on this island, as the corals are close to the shore meaning you don’t have to venture very far out. It’s home to over 150 species of coral and marine life! Also nearby is Cape Tribulation, a unique place where two UNESCO World Heritage Sites sit side by side – where the Daintree Rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef!

From Cape York


Want to experience the northernmost part of the Great Barrier Reef? How many travellers have you heard visit this area? It’s minimal – so even more reason to check it out. With beautiful national parks like Cape Melville and Lizard Island, and remote areas like Haggerstone Island where there are turtles and other marine life in abundance due to less tourism, you can stay in paradise and then explore the Great Barrier Reef – a beaut combo.

It’s easy to see (or read) that the Great Barrier Reef is exciting all the way along the coast of Queensland. Whether you stop to visit it once on your journey, twice, or the whole way, we’re certain you’ll never experience anything like it. Skydive, jet ski, kayak, paddle board, snorkel, dive… the list is endless!

Want to do more than just visit? We’ve got a conservation internship placement for one lucky traveller – six weeks working on the Great Barrier Reef. Click here for more details!

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