Is visiting one of the greatest natural wonders of the world on your bucket list? Good. It should be. The Great Barrier Reef is considered to be the largest living thing on Earth, spanning over 2,300 km and made up of more than 600 types of hard and soft coral. This incredible structure is home to innumerable species of vibrant fish, dolphins, sharks, and other sea life, providing visitors with a breathtaking and truly memorable vision of Mother Nature at her best. Here’s what you need to know to make the most out of your adventure!
Things To Consider Before Your Trip
If you’re planning on travelling to the Great Barrier Reef, make sure to research accommodation ahead of time as the best places often book up well in advance. If you’re bound for the northern part of the reef (which runs from the Cape York Peninsula to Cairns), we recommend basing yourself in Cairns. This seaside city is located just 90 minutes away, making it the closest and most convenient entry point to explore the GBR. If you’re interested in checking out the central area, consider a stay on Hamilton Island, located around two hours from the GBR itself.
Best Times To Visit The Great Barrier Reef Based On The Weather
May through October is considered the best time to visit as temperatures are mild and there’s little to no rainfall, creating the perfect conditions for diving. November through April is the region’s wet season and as such will experience high rainfall and rare-but-possible monsoons/cyclones. Boats trips and tours do run year-round (with the exception of high winds); however, it’s worth noting that the seas can become rough and unpleasant during this time. Some parts of Australia experience ‘stinger seasons’ and while this isn’t typically a concern on the GBR, most tour operators can provide stinger suits if requested.
Where To See The Reef And What To Expect
There are many different areas you can visit to get a good look at the reef:
Cairns: The most popular base for tourists visiting the reef, hop aboard one of the many boasts leaving shore and start fish-gazing within a few hours from this tourist-friendly city.
Port Douglas: The small, high-end seaside town of Port Douglas is perfect if you’re interested in visiting both the reef and the lush Daintree National Park (home to the world’s oldest rainforest at 135 million years). Day trips from Port Douglas can get you to Agincourt Reef, which is considered one of the GBR’s greatest dive sites.
Hamilton Island: This island offers plenty of opportunities for snorkelling, diving, or just lounging around on a pontoon at Hardy Reef (which is located 2 hours away by boat). For braver souls, tiny planes take off from Hamilton Island every 30-60 minutes that provide insanely beautiful scenic views of the reef (as well as the Whitsunday Islands and Whitehaven Beach).
Lady Elliot Island: Located at the southernmost tip of the reef, you’ll find beautiful corals and a diverse range of marine life (especially manta rays) at this ecocentric destination. Accessible by light aircraft only (no boat trips!) and with no internet or T.V. connections, this rugged and wild island will certainly make for a unique trip. Although not the most expensive option on the reef it should be noted that due to the nature of its location, it’s not the cheapest either.
The Different Reef Experiences
Day trips: There are countless ways to experience the exceptional beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, the most popular being day trips taken from the locations mentioned above. This option allows visitors to gain access to the parts of the reef that would have otherwise been unreachable from the shore.
Over nights: There are several locations where tourists can spend the night, including Green Island, Fitzroy Island, Heron Island, Lady Elliot Island, and Lizard Island.
Liveaboard Boats: As most locations are positioned a few hours away from the reef itself, some tourists opt for a stay on a liveaboard dive boat. This option allows visitors to get the most out of their days on the reef and also enables them to explore its more remote parts. These boats that stay on the reef come with a variety of options (including how long you wish to stay on them), as well as different price points, so you can pick a package that best fits your travel budget.
Different Activities: Snorkelling and diving are the most popular ways to see the reef; however, there are many other options for travellers with different comfort levels and abilities. Reef walking, glass bottom boat and seaplane tours are all great options for non-swimmers. The more recent Helmet and ScubaDoo rides allow visitors to see the reef without getting their hair wet by way of a helmet that is pumped full of fresh air from the surface, or, in the case of ScubaDoo, an air tank attached to a underwater scooter.
How You Can Conserve The Reef
It’s important to note that in recent years, the Great Barrier Reef has found itself in a rather precarious state due to the effects of rising sea temperatures. Although coral bleaching is of serious concern, thankfully there are still stretches of reef that remain largely unaffected (for now). On a positive note, some areas have begun to show significant signs of recovery due in part to a milder 2018 summer as well as cooperation amongst science, industry, and government in supporting the reef’s well-being. It’s a good idea to keep abreast of the latest news surrounding the GBR in the run-up to your trip so that you can plan accordingly.
The best way you can help the conservation effort is to keep the reef exactly as you found it. Coral is fragile and can take thousands of years to develop, so take extra care to ensure that you don’t touch, stand on or break off any pieces. Likewise, avoid picking up any ‘souvenirs’ in the form of corals, rocks, shells etc. to bring home with you, as they make up a vital part of the reef’s ecosystem. While sun protection is of paramount importance in Australia, the corrosive acids found in many sunscreens can be particularly damaging to corals and marine life. Choose clothing and swimwear that give fuller coverage (like a long-sleeved rash vest or full-body wetsuit) and invest in REEF SAFE sunscreen for when applying can’t or shouldn’t be avoided. Additionally, consider using tour operators and local businesses that you know promote eco-tourism and good environmental practices.
It doesn’t matter how you’d like to explore the Great Barrier Reef – there are endless possibilities that will ensure you get an inside look at one of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world.