10 ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef

If you haven’t been to the Great Barrier Reef before, there are loads of ways to explore the world’s largest living organism.

Prone to sea sickness? Head up into the clouds to see it from the air. (Or try these 27 other ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet!)

Don’t like heights? Cruise around some sheltered islands instead. And if you’re still not confident – maybe a trip to Reef HQ Aquarium is the best way for you to enjoy our coral reef!

Choose your own adventure with these 10 different ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef.


Snorkelling | Great Barrier Reef

Photo by @reefcruises

Snorkelling | Great Barrier Reef

Photo by @caitensphoto

Snorkelling is the easiest, cheapest and most popular way to have eye-to-eye contact with the creatures that make the Great Barrier Reef famous. Pull on your mask, put your snorkel in your mouth, your fins on your feet and head off for an aqua adventure you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

If you’ve got an underwater camera this is the ideal time to test it out. With clear, warm water and loads to see you’re bound to take home some photos to make your friends jealous (if you need some photography tips check out this post here).

Ensure you’re prepared for your first snorkel experience with these how-to tips. And start with this list of epic snorkelling spots.


Seawalker on the Great Barrier ReefImagine placing a spaceman’s helmet on your head, and stepping beneath the waves, keeping your head and face dry whilst you talk to yourself and the cacophony of fish-life that comes to stare at you. You might even meet Gavin, the photo-bombing parrot fish!

You can enjoy Seawalker at two specially equipped pontoons, one at Green Island and the other at Sunlover Reef Cruises.

As both these experiences leave from Cairns they would be a perfect end to you epic Tropical North Queensland road trip.

Scuba Doo

Scuba Doo | Great Barrier Reef

Photo by ScubadooCairns via FB

Taking the Seawalker concept to the next level by giving you more freedom to explore on your own, is what Scuba Doo allows you to do!

Staying dry inside the 180-degree viewing window whilst cruising around at speeds of up to 2.5 knots is the closest you’ll get to piloting a submarine, without actually being in one.

Great Adventures leave from Cairns and is the only operator offering this service in Queensland.

If a cutesy photo on the scuba doo is one of your #couplesgoals use this handy guide to plan a romantic reef holiday.

Scuba Diving

Scuba diving at Agincourt Reef | Great Barrier ReefGoing deeper and feeling more freedom only comes with scuba diving. It may seem a little unnatural breathing air under the waves but once you’ve learnt to equalise, control your buoyancy and propel yourself around it’s simply one of the most awe-inspiring things you’ll ever do.

From your first-time Discover SCUBA course right up to gaining an advanced qualification, there are operators all along the reef servicing some of the best dive sites in the world to hone your skills at.

Once you’ve got your ticket, make sure you tick off these 11 sites you must dive before you die.

Liveaboard Dive Boat

This really is the ultimate in exploring the Great Barrier Reef. Choose to stay for between three and 14 nights as you venture out to the deep waters of the Outer Great Barrier Reef where the big stuff likes to live. If you are new to liveaboards read this first-hand account.

Mike Ball Dive Expeditions will take you to swim with minke whales, feed sharks and visit some of the most immaculate coral reefs on offer.

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.


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!


Helicopter | Great Barrier ReefOnly 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!


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.


Sailing | Great Barrier ReefIf, 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.

You don’t have to be Jessica Watson to take control of a charter boat. If you don’t think you’re up to the job there are plenty of skippers who’ll helm for you (that’s drive to you roadies).

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. It’ll take some time to tick them all off the list but by the end, you’ll have some of the best dinner party stories in the world!

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.