Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest and longest coral reef system, stretching for 2,300km from the tip of Cape York in the north to Bundaberg in the south. Comprising 3,000 separate reefs and some 900 continental islands and coral cays, it’s one of the world’s great natural wonders. Home to over 1,500 species of fish, abundant marine life and over 200 types of birds, it’s also one of Australia’s greatest conservation successes. A World Heritage Area since 1981 (the world’s first reef ecosystem to be recognised by UNESCO), it is highly protected and one of the best-managed marine areas on Earth.

Facts and information

The Great Barrier Reef is breathtaking to behold – and so is its size and scope. A vast interplay of ecosystems and their inhabitants, the reef is home to around 600 types of hard and soft corals. Hard corals form the ‘backbone’ of the reef, providing a living home for a huge range of marine animals, from fish and molluscs to plankton and algae. The annual coral spawning is an incredible sight: think of it as an underwater snowstorm, when millions of coral release eggs and sperm into the sea to reproduce, ensuring the survival of the reef.

Islands on the Great Barrier Reef

The reef’s islands range from tiny rocky outcrops, to sprawling national parks of untouched rainforest, to exclusive private resorts fringed with powder-white beaches. In the centre, the Whitsundays – an archipelago of 74 islands – can accessed by flying directly to Hamilton Island (the islands’ main hub), or by ferry from Airlie Beach, the closest hub on the mainland. Stay on popular Whitsunday holiday locations like Hamilton Island and Long Island’s Palm Bay Resort. On the Southern Great Barrier Reef, Heron Island is an eco-haven, with turtle nesting sites and an on-site research station. At the northern end of the reef, Lizard Island – 240km north of Cairns – is home to an ultra-luxe retreat with just 40 rooms.

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Looking after the reef

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is home to a complex yet fragile ecosystem that, with almost three million visitors each year, requires ¬careful management and conservation strategies. Sustainability is key and tourism operators play a crucial role in protecting and advocating that coral and marine life are preserved. Visitors, too can play an important role: look for and book with a high standard operator  (those who have EcoTourism Australia or EarthCheck certification) to make a direct contribution to the conservation of the reef. 

High standard operators include an environmental management charge (EMC) of $6.50 as part of their ticket price. You can also get involved with a number of organisations, including Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, Reef Check Australia, Reef Teach and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, many of which offer voluntourism opportunities to help clean up the reef, monitor wildlife and collect invaluable data. Many tourism operators also encourage guests to act as ‘citizen scientists’, report observations and wildlife sightings via on the Eye on the Reef app.

Marine life

The Great Barrier Reef’s extraordinary biodiversity of species and habitats make it one of the most complex natural systems on Earth. It’s home to an incredible array of marine animals, including six of the world’s seven marine turtle species, important dugong populations and Australia’s underwater answer to Africa’s Big Five game animals, The Great Eight (giant clams, manta rays, sharks, turtles, whales (both humpbacks and minkes), potato cod, Maori wrasse and clown fish).

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Australian Sunset Safaris

Multiple Locations
Picture yourself travelling in a four-wheel drive bus along Fraser Island's beaches and rainforest tracks, swimming in a crystal clear lake with a white sandy bottom. Or how about paddling in a completely transparent kayak over sunken Moreton Island ship wrecks, seeing an abundance of fish and colourful coral through the bottom of your kayak?

Great Barrier Reef Day Trip to Lady Elliot Island

Multiple Locations
Lady Elliot Island is a coral cay located at the southern tip of Australia's iconic Great Barrier Reef (north of Fraser Island). The Island is regarded as one of the best snorkelling and diving destinations in Australia and is famous for its unspoilt coral reef and amazing array of spectacular marine life!

Bundaberg to Lady Musgrave Island Day Cruise

Multiple Locations
Lady Musgrave Experience is your premium day tour to Lady Musgrave Island! Experience the jewel of the Southern Great Barrier Reef from the closest accessible departure point being only a four hour drive north of Brisbane or a 45 minute flight.

Burkitts Reef Dive Site

Bargara, Bundaberg Area
Free Entry
Located in front of the town of Bargara, near Bundaberg, Burkitts Reef is a popular shore diving site that always provides a few surprises. The reef fringes the headland and varies in depth from two to eight metres and is covered in lovely hard corals.

Bundaberg Port Marina

Bundaberg, Bundaberg Area
Free Entry
The marina offers visitors to the Coral Coast a first class marina facility to access the wonders of the Southern Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage listed Fraser Island. Visitors and patrons enjoy the relaxed marina "feel" with manicured grass areas and well maintained gardens for you to soak up and enjoy while eating fish and chips beside the river from their takeaway seafood shop.

Mon Repos Beach

Mon Repos, Bundaberg Area
Free Entry
Mon Repos is home to Australia's largest concentration of nesting sea turtles. Mon Repos caters for everyone from young families to the grey nomads. You will find historical, environmental and leisure activities at Mon Repos.

Severance Shipwreck Dive Site

Lady Elliot Island, Bundaberg Area
Free Entry
Quite a few ships have come to grief on the fringing reef around Lady Elliot Island, but only one of these can be dived, that is the Severance. This fully intact yacht sank in 1998 and still has much of its rigging in place that is now covered in glorious soft corals.

Manta Ray Bommie Dive SIte

Lady Musgrave Island, Gladstone Area
Free Entry
Manta Ray Bommie is not just one coral head, but a collection of bommies off the western side of Lady Musgrave Island. These bommies come in a range of sizes, in depths from 12 to 20 metres, with the biggest ones decorated with gorgonians, soft corals and sponges.

Coral Coast Pathways (Moore Park Beach Section)

Multiple Locations
Coral Coast Pathways begins from the north starting at Moore Park Beach. The walk starts from the entrance around the lagoon and lookout precinct, following the coastline through Bob Nielson Park and Recreational Hub to Claude Dooley Park.

Musgrave Channel

Lady Musgrave Island, Gladstone Area
For those after a fast-paced drift dive at Lady Musgrave Island then try a dive through the Musgrave Channel. Best done on the incoming tide, so you end up in the lagoon, this channel is a sensational dive and only 13 metres deep.
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Tours and things to do on the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is a living adventure playground. The most important question: what to do first?

Diving and snorkelling

There are thousands of snorkel and dive sites to explore along the Great Barrier Reef, from fringing reefs – accessible straight from the beach, at various islands – to centuries-old shipwrecks and remote bommies on the outer reef.

Sailing

In the heart of the Great Barrier Reef you’ll find Australia’s best sailing destination, the Whitsunday Islands. Yachts of all sizes are available for charter, either with a full crew or captain your own bareboat and charter your own course. Hop between bustling marinas at Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach or drop anchor alongside deserted beaches.

Scenic flights

The reef is breathtaking from above and offers a unique perspective of its sheer size. Take a scenic flight from Port Douglas or Cairns to Mackay or Vlassoff cays for snorkelling, or from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island, fly over famous Heart Reef and land at Whitehaven Beach for a gourmet picnic.

Day tours

You can easily experience the reef on a day-trip (or even a half-day). These depart from Cairns, Port Douglas, Townsville, Airlie Beach, Town of 1770, Bundaberg and many other points along the coastline.

Sleep on the reef

For something really special, spend a night on the reef. Cruise to an offshore pontoon and sleep under the stars with just a handful of other people. Or be lulled to sleep by the gentle waves with a night on a private yacht.

Islands

There are 900 islands and coral cays throughout the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, offering luxurious resorts, beach campsites, eco-experiences and wildlife encounters. Discover quiet beaches and untouched national parks in the Southern Great Barrier Reef, vibrant resorts in the Whitsundays and rugged remote outposts in the Northern Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier Reef for families

Accessible resorts, snorkelling and diving adventures, animal encounters and eco experiences make the reef perfect for families. The reef is the ideal place to learn to snorkel, while hands-on “meet the reef” experiences will give kids the chance to learn about marine wildlife and the ecosystem. Glass-bottom boat tours are a great way to see the reef, while on dry land, Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef in Townsville and the Cairns Aquarium are educational and fun.

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How to get there


Depending on where you are, most of the reef sits between 15km and 150km offshore – with some reef areas accessible from beaches on Australia’s mainland coastline. If you’re short of time, try Horseshoe Bay in the town of Bowen. Here’s how to access it from along the Queensland coast.

Cairns, Port Douglas, Cape Tribulation and the Torres Strait

The northernmost part of the Great Barrier Reef sits offshore from Tropical North Queensland. Day-trips to the inner and outer reefs, and Green and Fitzroy islands, depart from Cairns and Port Douglas. 

You can also fly to some of the reef’s northern islands, such as Lizard Island and Haggerstone Island, from Cairns.

Townsville

Magnetic Island is the gateway to the reef from Townsville. Located 25 minutes from the city, and easily accessible by ferry, the island offers a selection of day trips to snorkel sites around the island’s eastern shores. From Townsville, it’s also a mere 30-minute scenic flight to the private luxury resort, Orpheus Island. Day trips to SS Yongala – one of the best wreck dives in the world – are also accessible from Townsville, Orpheus Island and Magnetic Island.

The Whitsundays

All of the Whitsunday Islands are surrounded by fringing reef teaming with soft or hard corals and fish life. Hamilton is the only island with an airport and flights arrive from many Australian centres. Airlie Beach is the mainland port for the islands, with regular ferry transfers to Hamilton and private tours or transfers to many others. To get between the islands, consider chartering a yacht or hire your own bareboat.

Southern Great Barrier Reef

The Southern Great Barrier Reef runs from the Capricorn Coast near Rockhampton down to Bundaberg. Lady Elliot Island is the southernmost island on the reef and has an airstrip, with regular private flights from the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Hervey Bay and Bundaberg. Heron Island, a natural coral cay known for its turtles, is a 2.5-hour ferry ride from Gladstone. Take a day-trip to Lady Musgrave Island from Bundaberg or the Town of 1770. Make your way to one of Great Keppel Island’s 17 white sand beaches or private Pumpkin Island on a ferry from Yeppoon.

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