100 things to do on the Great Barrier Reef
They don’t call it great for nothing! One of the original eight wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef is pretty much its own underwater country, covering around 350,000 square kilometres (basically the size of Japan).
You know what that means… epic adventures await, and not just for those keen to don a snorkel and pair of fins.
From underwater scooters that will keep your hair dry to world-class shipwreck diving, both landlubbers and water fiends can get amongst its World Heritage-listed glory.
Here are 100 things to do on the Great Barrier Reef, covering the entire spectrum.
1. Witness a live shark feed at the North Horn amphitheatre on Osprey Reef.
2. Take a quintessential scenic flight with Air Whitsunday over Heart Reef (declarations of love and proposals are most definitely encouraged).
3. Explore rugged beaches and ancient Indigenous rock art on the seven islands of Flinders Group National Park.
5. Come face-to-face with dwarf minke whales as they frolic in the warm waters off Tropical North Queensland.
6. Learn to spearfish the traditional way with the Kuku Yalanji people in the beach flats and mangrove swamps just 15 minutes north of Port Douglas with Walkabout Cultural Adventures.
7. Dive with the world’s largest green turtle population on the reefs around Raine Island near the tip of Queensland with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions.
8. Cheers to the perfect sunset over the reef and islands with a few cold ones on the cliff top at Eimeo Pub, near Mackay.
9. Camp at one of Australia’s most northern glamping sites at Cape Tribulation and wake to the Great Barrier Reef on your doorstep and the Daintree Rainforest in your backyard.
10. Better still, make the most of nature’s two finest World Heritage-listed playgrounds with a morning kayak tour along the Daintree Coast.
11. Fly to Horn Island in the Torres Strait to get acquainted with the islands’ pearl farming, WWII and cultural history.
12. Follow in David Attenborough’s footsteps diving these three islands which inspired his latest Great Barrier Reef documentary.
13. Toast the setting sun over the Great Barrier Reef aboard a swish catamaran with Aquarius Luxury Sailing, departing from Port Douglas.
14. Freefall from 14,00 feet for an exhilarating view over the reef before landing on Mission Beach.
15. If you’ve got the mula, rent Haggerstone Island to have the beauty of the reef to yourself!
17. Catch reef beauties like red emperor, GT and snapper on an after-dark fishing adventure off Airlie Beach.
18. Zoom straight to the outer Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas with Quicksilver Cruises to explore Agincourt Reef.
19. Don’t want to get your hair wet? Board one of their semi-submersible boats instead for a peek at Agincourt Reef without the snorkel and mask.
20. Make like a rock star and charter a private helicopter to see the Great Barrier Reef from above and touch down for a picnic on a sand cay.
21. Snap some stellar macro photography diving at Steve’s Bommie on the Ribbon Reefs off Cairns, where you’ll find five different species of anemonefish, pipefish, flatworms and nudibranchs.
22. Cruise 45-minutes from Cairns and overnight at Green Island, dividing your time between luxe massage treatments and exploring fringing reefs.
23. While you’re there, snap a selfie with the local superstar, Gavin the blue-barred parrotfish, on a walkabout of the sea floor with Seawalker Green Island.
24. Take the plunge and learn to dive on the Great Barrier Reef, or combine your course with an all-inclusive liveaboard trip to the outer reefs and experience what rush hour traffic is like on the largest reef in the world.
26. Visit the turtle rehabilitation centre on Fitzroy Island and learn about the journey of recovery that injured and sick turtles undergo prior to their release back into the ocean.
27. Take a tour of the research station on Orpheus Island and peer over the shoulder of visiting scientists studying the Great Barrier Reef.
28. Camp like a true castaway on Dunk Island and walk the trails to discover remnants left by the Royal Australian Air Force during WWII.
30. Escape to the privacy of Bedarra Island off the coast of Mission Beach and dive nearby Otter Reef (or just relax in your private infinity pool instead!).
31. Dive the SS Yongala wreck, which is consistently rated as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world.
32. Spark your curiosity at Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium in Townsville, the world’s largest living coral aquarium and home to 150 species of reef fish, turtles, and live shark feeding.
33. When you’re done, pop next door and see a replica of the HMS Pandora ship at the Museum of Tropical Queensland.
34. Take a 15-minute dash from Port Douglas to Low Isles with Reef Sprinter to snorkel with turtles and reef sharks.
35. Drive around in a topless moke on the only Great Barrier Reef island with its own postcode.
36. Wake up (early!) to the Cairns coastline – and uninterrupted views out across the jewel ocean landscape of the Great Barrier Reef – in the basket of a hot air balloon.
37. Splurge on a helicopter fishing expedition from Horn Island or Weipa.
38. Throw on your best pirate hat and get involved in Magnetic Island Race Week, whether you’re manning the winches as a deckie or cheering from the shoreline.
39. Dive into Shark Alley to spot blacktip and white-tip reef sharks, grey reef whaler sharks and pygmy rays from October to December on Wheeler Reef.
40. Imagine a deserted island where the beach is made up of aeons of coral skeletons and fringing reef spreads out from the shore. Sound like heaven? Make it your reality on this camp and dive safari.
41. Join a game fishing charter from Cooktown for epic catches like northern bluefin tuna, dogtooth tuna, yellowfin tuna, marlin, and huge Spanish mackerel.
42. Follow the Nelly Bay and Geoffrey Bay snorkelling trails off Magnetic Island, with the Moltke wreck and a WWII aeroplane propeller your reward.
43. Spend a day on the best beach in the world. Be ruined for any other beaches for life.
44. Get snap-happy ticking off these 10 photos you MUST get on the Great Barrier Reef.
45. Charter a yacht and sail your way around the 74 islands that make up the Whitsundays – no billionaire bank balance or boat licence required.
46. Get touchy feely at the Living Reef Lagoon on Daydream Island, where you can hold a baby shark and feed stingrays.
47. Sleep right on top of the reef on Cruise Whitsundays’ Reefsleep floating pontoon.
48. Hook your big trophy-catch aboard a charter boat and learn to spearfish and troll for Spanish mackerel in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef off Mackay.
49. Join a six-day expedition with Salty Dog Sea Kayaking and explore some of the lesser-known beauty spots of the Whitsundays.
50. Get a massage. In the ocean. On the Great Barrier Reef. One&Only Hayman Island puts the humble day spa to shame with a location like this.
51. Hire a buggy and circumnavigate Hamilton Island, soaking up the divine island views and the multi-million dollar digs.
52. Watch turtle hatchlings burst out of their nests and hurl themselves down to the oncoming waves under the moonlight at Mon Repos.
53. Step aboard the pink amphibious LARC! in the Town of 1770 for a sunset tour along the Eurimbula National Park coastline where Captain Cook first discovered Queensland before he sailed on to the northern Great Barrier Reef.
54. Take your pick of 17 pristine beaches and a range of accommodation options on Great Keppel Island – 30 minutes by ferry from Rosslyn Bay.
55. Camp on top of Lady Musgrave Island’s 3000 acres of living reef with the seabirds and turtles as your only neighbours.
57. Sail your way 15kms east of Yeppoon and anchor at one of the three beaches on Middle Island.
58. Equalise and dive your way around the 20 spectacular dive sites surrounding Heron Island.
59. Join a week-long liveaboard fishing charter to the Great Barrier Reef from Gladstone Marina.
60. Hire a boat and spend your day snorkelling the untouched ecosystem of the closed ring reef of Fitzroy Reef Lagoon.
61. Hunt down an elusive secret surf break – it does happen, you just need to speak to the right locals to get there.
63. Paddle out on a sunset kayak around Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island to spot turtles and dolphins before a champagne toast.
64. No boat? No worries! The Barolin Rocks and Burkitts Reef dive sites in Bundaberg are just metres from the shore, making them some of the most easily-accessible spots on the Southern Great Barrier Reef.
66. Keen for complete isolation? Skipper your own vessel to the Newry Islands Group off Mackay and roll out a swag under the stars.
68. Traverse the rugged peaks, forests and grasslands of the Ngaro Sea Trail from Whitsunday Island to South Molle and Hook Island by foot and kayak.
69. Leave the fins and snorkels to the dive fanatics and climb atop a camel safari to ride along Yeppoon’s endless sandy beach. With views of the Keppel Island Group in the Southern Great Barrier Reef, this is a reef experience unlike any other.
70. Hold on tight as you see the reef from upside down, doing loop-the-loops above the Airlie Beach lagoon in a vintage Yak-52 with CQ Adventure Flights.
71. Cocoon yourself in a botanical body wrap at Daydream Island Rejuvenation Spa, with its fairytale floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the reef.
72. Hire a tinnie from Hydeaway Bay, a secret haven at the end of Dingo Beach Road, north of Airlie Beach, and catch your own lunch. You’ve always got Montes Reef Resort nearby for a feed of fish and chips if you’re not lucky.
73. Learn your tack from your jib and become a bona fide sailor on a free twilight sail, regularly setting off from local yacht clubs such as the Whitsunday Sailing Club and Port Douglas Yacht Club each Wednesday.
74. Hop on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway from Cairns for views out to the reef and a walk through the rainforest.
77. Make friends with giant Maori wrasse on a diving adventure with Passions of Paradise in the outer reefs off Cairns.
78. Explore the colourful ins-and-outs of the Lady Bowen, a sunken 66m-long schooner now sitting in the ocean as a reef herself off the coast of Mission Beach.
79. Learn the story of Australia’s earliest maritime explorer at the James Cook Museum in Cooktown.
80. As well as the reef, cross off a chunk of Queensland’s best-known tropical wonders from the bucket list – including Australia’s largest national park island and World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics – road tripping the Great Tropical Drive.
82. Master and commandeer the Derwent Hunter, a tall ship crafted in 1946 that plies the pristine waters of the Whitsundays in a bygone style.
83. Go luxe on a week-long reef fishing charter off Gladstone aboard the decked-out MV Night Crossing.
84. Eat your way through the four-day party that is the annual Palm Cove Reef Feast, where local chefs create imaginative tastes and meals using local produce, including the freshest seafood from the Great Barrier Reef.
85. Wake up to your own ocean aquarium or secluded sandy bay at these camping spots on the Southern Great Barrier Reef.
86. Island-hop the Great Palm Islands with SeaLink Queensland‘s Island Highlights Cruise. You’ll spend the morning soaking up a traditional Indigenous welcome on Palm Island before snorkelling the dreamy turquoise waters of Pelorus and Orpheus islands.
87. Discover unexplored bommies in the underwater caves and canyons of Hook Reef in the Whitsundays.
89. Spot sea turtles, dugongs and dolphins when you vroom vroom your way through the Whitsundays on your own jet-ski.
90. Channel your inner Jacques Cousteau when you explore the fringing reefs of Fitzroy Island in a submarine!
92. If you’ve got the kids in tow, set your sights on the Reefworld Pontoon off Airlie Beach, where the sheltered lagoon waters of Hardy Reef await eager first-time snorkelers. Cruise Whitsundays will get you there and back on a day trip.
93. Round up 10 of your closest friends and family and bag this entire island on the Southern Great Barrier Reef for less than the cost of an average night’s stay in a penthouse.
94. Don your best active wear hitting the pavement/beach/dirt roads of the Great Barrier Reef Marathon Festival in Port Douglas.
95. Zip through the reef on your own underwater scooter. No joke. Leaving from Cairns, Great Adventures’ Scuba Doo tour will have you cruising around at speeds of up to 2.5 knots, all the while staying dry inside the 180-degree viewing window.
96. Play eye-spy with the Great Barrier Reef as you zoom through the Daintree Rainforest on flying fox ziplines.
97. Hole up in a cosy glamping suite on Keswick Island and spend your days bushwalking, snorkelling, and exploring fringing coral gardens straight off the beach at low-tide.
98. Get your trivia buzzer ready because you’ll be a bona fide reef expert after working through this list of Great Barrier Reef facts.
99. Better still, gain some real-
worldreef experience working alongside marine biologists as a volunteer at the Reef Teach Centre in Cairns.
100. Live out your James Bond fantasies as you glide silently through the fringing reefs of Fitzroy Island on a SEABOB Jet.
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below!
Some of the businesses listed above have been impacted by recent weather events in Queensland. Please make contact with the operator or visit their website for information regarding bookings and travel plans.