8 epic ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef
It’s the world-famous attraction that carries some sizeable tags – largest reef system and largest living organism on the planet – so it’s no surprise that there are big experiences to be had on the Great Barrier Reef.
Soak up all its beauty (you can stay dry if you choose) with these eight epic adventures, all worthy of a spot on your travel bucket list.
1. The chopper ride
They say you can see it from space, but we reckon taking in the Reef a little closer to Earth is way cooler.
Short, but with sweet views, the 30-minute helicopter flight from Cairns with HeliTours North Queensland will have you soaring over lush Green Island, bright patches of coral reef and myriad shades of blue. Double your time in the air with the one-hour tour and you’ll also spy Fitzroy Island and the swaying coconut trees of Palm Cove.
Either way, you’d best have your whale-spotting eyes on.
2. The sailing day
Like your tours on water instead? Live your best life aboard a 36-foot yacht as you sail around the spec-tac-ular Whitsundays.
Take stunning and tranquil waters in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, add in lunch and sweet treats prepared by a local French chef, and you have the gourmet sailing tour by Airlie Beach Day Sailing.
With a full day of swimming, snorkelling and beach-exploring as you anchor at one of 74 islands, the culinary addition is as welcome as the photo opps.
3. The diving lesson
If there’s any neck of the waters that’s perfect for scuba-diving, it’s this world-renowned 2,300-kilometre stretch.
Get your training flippers on with Mission Beach Dive’s introductory diving tour, which swiftly transfers you to Dunk Island from mainland Mission Beach. You’ll be treated to eight seriously-cool hours of exploring untouched reefs, complete with a BBQ lunch thanks to your ship’s captain slash cook.
Back on land with a thirst for the dive life? Check out where you can get your PADI dive certification on the Great Barrier Reef.
4. The liveaboard trip
Go deeper with the ultimate dive experience – that is, three days on-board a comfy (and WiFi enabled!) dive vessel.
The Pro Dive Cairns liveaboard trip will have you out of your cabin for 11 dives (including two at night) to an array of diverse outer Great Barrier Reef sites, then back on deck for catered meals to refuel.
Insert heart-eyes emoji for all the sea turtles, stingrays, reef sharks, tropical fish and technicolour coral formations you’ll come face-to-face with each day.
5. The marine encounters
Speaking of under-the-sea creatures, the Great Barrier Reef is home to the Great Eight, a checklist of must-have marine encounters. Its members include clown fish, giant clams, manta rays, Maori wrasse, potato cods, sharks (white tip, black tip and grey reef), dwarf minke whales and six turtle species.
Sightings of the Great Eight are abundant along the length of the Reef, as is the menu of snorkelling excursions. Glide with manta rays and turtles on the Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort snorkelling safari, get as happy as a clam on the Ribbon Reefs north of Cairns at the Clam Gardens Dive Site, or see eye-to-eye with minke whales in the waters off Port Douglas with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions.
6. The island hop
There’s a lot of island to cover in the Whitsundays, so max your viewing time with some sun-drenched island-hopping.
From catamarans and tall ships to party boats and luxe vessels, Whitsundays Sailing Adventures have got a two or three-day tour to tickle anyone’s seafaring fancy. Tick off the famous Whitehaven Beach and swirly sands of Hill Inlet, while you feast on your daily meals (hello, lamington cakes for morning tea!) against an amazing turquoise backdrop.
7. The paddle out
Give your camera a break and your arms an awesome workout by getting intimate with fringing coral reefs in a sea kayak.
The burn might be real tomorrow, but today the picturesque islands and lagoons are so worth it.
8. The reef sleep
When you’re ready to bunker down after your Great Barrier Reef adventure of choice, this might be the most unique spot you’ve ever rested your head.
With ReefSleep you can spend a night on a moored pontoon at Hardy Reef, beneath an Australian swag (translation: a low tent). Once you’ve cruised through the Whitsunday Islands to get to your accommodation on the outer reef, take a ride in a semi-submarine or check out the underwater observatory.
Consider it total immersion in one of the natural wonders of the world.