8 ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef

Think you’ve ticked the Great Barrier Reef off your bucket list? Think again.

Choose your own adventure with these 10 different ways to explore the world’s largest living organism.

Beneath the surface

1. Snorkel

Great Barrier Reef Snorkelling

There’s nothing quite as awe-inspiring as snorkelling – dipping your head underwater and exploring the marine playground that is the Great Barrier Reef.

Not only is it the cheapest way to explore beneath the surface but it is also the most popular way to have eye-to-eye contact with the creatures that make the Great Barrier Reef famous.

Psst! Are you a first-timer? Check out our guide for tips and tricks here.

2. Seawalker

Seawalker Green Island photo by Seawalker

The fringing reef off Green Island harbours 190 soft corals and over 100 different hard corals, promising a veritable smorgasbord of things to see.

Not keen on getting your hair wet? No worries! Walk on the ocean floor with Seawalker, a helmeted-walk that allows you to submerge without any of that pesky swimming business. Want more where that came from? Check out these ways to see the reef without getting wet.

3. Scuba Diving

Top scuba diving courses and tours from Townsville

Keen divers will need no introduction to the Great Barrier Reef, knowing that it is the ultimate way to explore beneath the surface.

Even if you haven’t earned your stripes, you can start from scratch and tick off all the certifications and dives you need to be qualified from various operators all along the reef servicing some of the best dive sites in the world.

Once you’ve got your certification, make sure you tick off these 11 must-dive sites.

On the surface

4. Glass-Bottom Boat

Maybe you don’t like getting wet but still want to understand what all the fuss is about?

Most of the operators who have pontoons on the outer reefs run glass-bottom boat tours. The marine experts who drive them will whisk you over shallow reefs, point out the different corals, look for turtles, giant clams and anything else they can find.

5. Submarine

Fitzroy Island Submarine on the Great Barrier ReefFitzroy Island, just offshore from Cairns, is home to the only submarine adventure on the Great Barrier Reef.

Leave the sandy beach behind, equalise as though you’re diving and stare through the fish-eye windows as coral bommies, shoals of fish and the occasional turtle pass by. Very cool!

Above the surface

6. Helicopter

Helicopter | Great Barrier Reef
Only when you take to the air can you start to understand the vastness of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s no wonder it can be seen from space!

Strap yourself in, put your headphones on and feel like a movie star as you’re whisked up into the air by GBR Helicopters. Landing on a remote coral cay with nothing around you but the ocean and a million fish is a truly indulgent affair – why not go the whole hog and have lunch while you’re there!

7. Seaplane

Seaplane Whitehaven | Great Barrier Reef

Photo by @twsvisuals

If you’re visiting the Whitsundays and want to take your aviation adventures to the next level then climbing into the cabin of an Air Whitsundays seaplane will satisfy the light-hearted and fancy-free in you.

A day trip could take you over the 74 islands that make up the Whitsundays, stop-off at Whitehaven Beach for a stroll before heading out over world-famous Heart Reef. Alternatively, head out on the seacomber trip from Hamilton Island.

To capture all that beauty from above, we prepared this aerial photography 101 guide earlier.

8. Sail

Sailing | Great Barrier Reef
If, like me, you’d rather feel the wind and spray of the ocean on your face then sailing on the Great Barrier Reef has to be the way to go. Powered by nature with the mainsail tight in the breeze, an optimistic fishing line over the stern searching out dinner and a cool glass of champagne in your hand. Sound like you? Then you have to try a bareboat charter.

If you manage to say ‘done it’ to all 10 of these 10, you can truly consider yourself a master of the Great Barrier Reef.

Got a bad case of swimmer’s ear? Don’t let that put you off as there are plenty of dry activities on this list of 100 things to do on the Great Barrier Reef.

How many ways have you done the Great Barrier Reef?

*This post was first published in 2012 and updated in August 2018.