How to see the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet

If you thought the only way to see the world’s largest reef system was to throw on your swimmers and put your head underwater, we have good news! There are plenty of ways to experience the World Heritage-listed wonder of the Great Barrier Reef without even dipping a toe in.

Explore the 2600km of the Great Barrier Reef without a snorkel mask with this land-lubber’s guide to the reef.

Seaplane to Whitehaven Beach

Whitehaven Beach Seaplane, Whitsundays | How to see the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet

The best seat in the house to see the reef is ironically the furthest from it – the sky.

To see the insanely photogenic Heart Reef, take a seaplane over it, joining Air Whitsunday Seaplanes for a scenic flight before touching down at the world’s most famous beach, Whitehaven.

The rock star experience doesn’t start and stop with arrival. Your hosts will prepare a private picnic, complete with chilled sparkling wine for a memorable day at what’s voted Australia’s Best Beach by TripAdvisor (2017).

Fuelled by a gourmet picnic, take a stroll along this famous seven-kilometre stretch from end-to-end, stopping to polish your jewellery in the silica sand (or give yourself a full-body exfoliation).

Set sail, your way

Whitsundays Sailing | How to see the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet

For proof port is more than just a fortified wine, it’s time to get schooled in the other kind; one that’s best paired with starboard.

Whether you’re a bona fide sailor who could enter the Sydney to Hobart yacht race or more of a sunset-cruise kind of seafarer, start by determining which Whitsundays sailing cruise is for you.

If you’re up for a DIY holiday why not charter your own adventure in the Whitsundays and stay in a floating hotel with Go Bareboating?

Even newbies can get in on the sailing action since the Whitsundays is the only place in the world you can charter a yacht without a licence.

You’ll just need to pack common sense and enough attention to sit through a sailing one-on-one lesson before you take off.

Chopper to an isolated coral cay

Whitehaven Beach Helicopter Tour | How to see the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet

Ok, you can’t fly to the moon to prove you can see the reef from space (at least, not yet). So settle for the next best thing, a helicopter-ride over the Great Barrier Reef.

Take to the skies with GBR Helicopters from Cairns for aerial views of the reef, before landing on a remote coral cay with nothing around you but the ocean and a pimped out picnic.

Further south, Havannah Island is yours for the day, provided you can charter Nautilus Aviation to get you there from Townsville. Pssst – for more epic helicopter experiences where that came from, you might like this post.

Go on, submerge yourself

Quicksilver Pontoon, Port Douglas | How to see the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet

Photo by @ReefCruises

What would you say if we told you it’s possible to get a diver’s view of the reef without getting wet?

It’s not a lateral thinking puzzle, it’s Quicksilver’s non-swimming solution – a semi-submersible tour – and you can take it from Port Douglas.

You’ll be in air-conditioned comfort as you tour the reef sitting down, one metre below the water’s surface.

Not sure the difference between semi-submersibles and submarines? Step over here to these 10 ways to see the reef.

Glide on a glass-bottom boat

See the reef from the top down with a glass-bottom boat over its colourful corals.

You’ll have the benefit of a marine expert pointing out items of interest like reef fish and corals as you cruise over shallower parts of the reef.

Lady Elliot Island on the Southern Great Barrier Reef offers a glass-bottom boat experience both day and night for two different perspectives of the reef.

With a special UV light, under the cover of darkness, you’ll get to see the coral polyps awake.

Pontoon experiences

Fish at Pontoon | How to see the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet

Want to visit the outer reef but don’t want to do it on a boat that will leave your tummy feeling more like the spin cycle of a washing machine than a digestive system?

You need this guide to choose which reef trip is right for you.

Opt for a reef trip that visits a pontoon, so you have a stable home base in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef rather than a wibbly-wobbly boat.

What’s more, most pontoon-based operators have enough space to afford non-swimming activities like semi-submersibles and glass-bottom boat tours.

Sleep island side

Fitzroy Island | How to see the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet

Why just reef when you can reef and resort? Considering there are over 900 islands dotting the Great Barrier Reef, one thing is for certain, there’s plenty of waterfront views on this national asset.

There are five island resorts to choose from near Cairns which range from bargain budget stays to the kind of luxury that’s welcomed Elton John.

If you’re choosing the island life in the Whitsundays, it pays to use a guide to determine which island suits your budget.

Further south, you can have your pick of these islands and these if you’re keen on beach camping. Island world = your oyster.

Sleep on the reef

New York might be dubbed the City that Never Sleeps, but it’s got nothing on the Great Barrier Reef which is always abuzz with activity.

Sleep on the reef to never miss a beat, and see the reef in a different light, at night.

From Cairns, join Sunlover by Starlight to share their outer reef pontoon with just 17 other people from the moment the last day trippers depart to when the next wave arrive the next day at 11am.

In between, you’ll sleep in a deluxe swag and wake up to the sound of the waves lapping at Moore Reef.

It’s not just the reef that becomes a hive of activity after dark (seriously, see what the reef gets up to around the clock), sky gazers have lots to enjoy with sunset, sunrise and unpolluted starscapes.

Paddle around paradise

Salty Dog Sea Kayaking | How to see the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet

Photo by Salty Dog Sea Kayaking via FB

Paddle power your way around the Great Barrier Reef with a kayak adventure.

Explore the Whitsunday waters and islands with Salty Dog Sea Kayaking on a day-long expedition to South Molle Island.

For something a bit longer, Coral Sea Kayaking take seven days to wind their way around Hinchinbrook Island on their Tropical North Queensland adventure.

Unlike snorkellers and divers who have their heads underwater, kayakers have the benefit of being able to hear the interpretation of your guide. They will be able to point out turtles, sea birds and whales in season.

Have we whet your appetite?

Here are 9 more ways to see the reef without getting wet:

  1. Freefall from 14,000 feet for a bird’s-eye view over the Great Barrier Reef, landing on Mission Beach.
  2. Drive around the only suburb on the reef in a topless car on Magnetic Island.
  3. Step aboard the pink amphibious LARC! (land and sea vessel) for a sunset tour along the Eurimbula National Park
  4. Watch Cairns’ coastline wake up from the basket of a hot air balloon.
  5. Hike within the Whitsunday Islands National Park for panoramic views to Hill Inlet.
  6. See the habitats of the reef without leaving the mainland at Reef HQ Aquarium in Townsville.
  7. Join a guided tour of the Living Reef at Daydream Island and descend four metres to the underwater observatory to learn about the ecosystems of the Whitsundays’ underwater world.
  8. Hook your 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.
  9. Test your balance with a stand-up-paddle boarding session at Agnes Water or Tannum Sands on the coastline of the Southern Great Barrier Reef. Although – we can’t promise you’ll stay dry for this one!