5 places to kayak on the Great Barrier Reef

5 places to kayak on the Great Barrier Reef

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In 2011, I embarked on the Best Expedition in the World, kayaking 1600 kilometres along the Great Barrier Reef, travelling through some the most beautiful coral reef systems in the world.

There were days when the impossibly blue water teemed with life; turtles popping their head up every few minutes, humpback whales forcing their blowhole spray high into the air and flying fish launching themselves across my bow in a desperate dash for freedom.

So it’s about time I shared with you some of the most beautiful, easily accessible kayaking locations along the Queensland coastline. You don’t have to be an ocean adventurer and the operators will supply you with everything you need including, of course, your kayak, safety equipment, paddle and even your lunch. All you have to bring is a sense of adventure!

Travelling from north to south…

Kayak spots on the GBR

1. Cape Tribulation, Tropical North Queensland

Kayak Cape Tribulation

The furthest north you’re likely to go on the tourist trail is the picturesque sandy beach of Cape Tribulation. With the Daintree Rainforest almost touching the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, it’s one of the only places on the planet where two World Heritage Sites collide.

A number of operators (Paddletrek and Cape Tribulation Camping) offer kayak hire and guided tours of up to five days, so you can get far away from the crowds and feel like Robinson Crusoe exploring empty bays and beaches. Make sure you have a snorkel and mask onboard as you’ll be paddling right over the reef!

2. Low Isles, Tropical North Queensland

Low Isle Kayaking

I’ve been here time and time again and never bore of this gem of an island, around 15 kilometres off Port Douglas. The fringing coral reef is simply impeccable with huge brain, staghorn and plate corals of all shapes, sizes and colours littering the ocean floor. Reef sharks, turtles and rays all call this island home and so did I for four days during my expedition – it was too good to leave!

Windswell Kites will get you out to the island but if you want to stay closer to the mainland or are short on time, then Back Country Bliss operate along Four Mile Beach or Palm Cove Watersports around Double Island, both of which have fantastic fringing reef.

3. Magnetic Island, Townsville

Magnetic Island Kayaking

The granite-boulder lined beaches of ‘Maggie Island’ offer some awesome photo opps at sunrise and sunset as the lazy orange rays of the sun splash across these huge lumps of rock left behind by a mighty giant.

Taking to the water with Magnetic Island Sea Kayaks for a paddle along Horseshoe Bay might not give you coral reef, but it’s worth cracking open a bottle of wine as the sun dips behind the horizon for one of those unforgettable, share-with-your-mates experiences.

4. Whitsundays

Whitsundays Kayak

If ever an area of the Coral Sea lent itself to smooth water kayaking then this group of 74 islands has to be it. With hoop pine trees growing to the water’s edge, sandy beaches tucked away around headlands and serviced campsites dotted between them, the waters of the Whitsunday islands are simply perfect for the first-time oceanic adventurer.

Head off on your self-guided expedition armed with maps, tent and camping equipment for up to 14 days at a time and you don’t even have to worry about running out of food and water – Salty Dog Sea Kayaking and Whitsunday Camping both offer a provisioning service to beaches and campsites around the entire archipelago.

Hook and Hayman Island offer some of the best fringing coral reefs on the entire Queensland coast.

5. Lady Musgrave Island, Gladstone

Lady Musgrave Island Kayaking

At the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, the outer reef lies 80 kilometres offshore so getting there is a pursuit left to only the ultra-fit and fool hardy – like me! But there is a way to get out to the crystal clear waters on the edge of the continental shelf that doesn’t involve hours of paddling and a safety support crew – Lady Musgrave Island.

This stunning lagoon-reef is serviced daily by Lady Musgrave Cruises who’ll help you organise everything… and it really has to be EVERYTHING you take with you as there’s no supplies or fresh water to be found on the island at all.

Get dropped off one day, spend a few hours snorkelling and kayaking around the reef and catch their boat back to the Town of 1770 once you’re done. This really is the ultimate get-away-from-it-all kayak adventure… unless you’re there in nesting season (September – March) when 50,000 black noddy terns will keep you company!

After four months of paddling I was totally hooked on sea kayaking. The freedom of paddling where you like, being at one with the ocean and the marine life that lives there is something that’s hard to describe.

Have you paddled on the ocean before? Have you considered trying it for the first time? Honestly give it a go, and I promise you won’t regret it.

Time to get those shoulders working…

Ben :)