Where to stay on the Great Barrier Reef

If one of your goals is to do more things that make you forget to look at your phone, you need to stay on the Great Barrier Reef and stat.

This World Heritage-listed wonder is the master of distraction, packing 2600km of coral playground, thousands of tropical fish species and over 900 islands into its boundaries.

So you don’t get lost in the Internet ether just finding where to stay, we’ve wrapped up the top Great Barrier Reef hotels and accommodation so you have more time to eat, sleep, reef, repeat.

Tropical North Queensland

If you just read this heading and conjured up pictures of white sand and palm-lined beaches, you’ve already got the Tropical North Queensland picture. This region stretches from Mission Beach in the south to Torres Strait in the north, which means you’ve got plenty of room (1140km to be precise) to move.

Narrow down your where-to-stay options with these Great Barrier Reef hotels (and for a more comprehensive guide, step over here). Pssst – once you’ve decided where to stay, use this tool to choose which reef trip is right for you.

1. Pullman Reef Hotel Casino, Cairns

If you’re looking for a hotel that can cocoon you after a long day on the reef, Pullman Reef Hotel Casino is ready and waiting on the Cairns marina.

No need for a car for this Cairns holiday, you’ll be walking distance to your reef trip’s departure point, have delicious restaurants at your doorstep and access to these things to see and do in Cairns.

If you’re into rolling the dice, you’ll find Cairns’ only casino downstairs – but that’s not where the fun starts and stops. On the rooftop, there’s Cairns Zoom & Wildlife Dome, a wildlife exhibit in the heart of the CBD so you don’t have to wander far to see free-roaming wallabies and tropical birds.

Now that you’ve settled on Cairns, step over here to prepare yourself for your stay.

2. Thala Beach Nature Reserve, Port Douglas

Thala Beach Nature Reserve | Where to stay on the Great Barrier Reef

Why settle for one World Heritage-listed site when you can have views of two? For double the UNESCO-worthy benefits, check into Thala Beach Nature Reserve, nestled between Cairns and Port Douglas.

You’ll have views of both the reef and rainforest from your bungalow, which you’ll find dotted across the property’s 145 acres.

It’s not just us that rave, Thala’s location and sensitive design has afforded this eco-property a membership to the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World. It’s the perfect spot for a digital detox.

When you’re not out on the Great Barrier Reef, test out the complimentary in-house activities including nature and wildlife walks, stargazing or a tour of the onsite coconut plantation.

3. Green Island Resort, Cairns

Green Island | Where to stay on the Great Barrier Reef

Photo by Green Island Resort via FB

Prove why good things come in small packages with a stay on the smallest island in the Great Barrier Reef, Green Island.

At just 15 hectares, this island resort is like an IKEA storage system, packing more than first meets the eye – world-class snorkelling, hiking, multiple restaurants and all of these things to see and do.

Looking for more Tropical North Queensland Great Barrier Reef hotels?


Aside from over 320 days of Sunshine, Townsville is home to a secret reef (we lift the lid on it over here), island resorts and importantly, the brains behind so much of the Great Barrier Reef research, James Cook University and Reef HQ.

If you’re struggling to make a decision on where to stay from this list, narrow down your options with this guide.

4. Orpheus Island, Townsville

Orpheus Island | Where to stay on the Great Barrier Reef

How would you like to stay on the reef at an exclusive island catering just 28 people? Us too!

Drop your pin on Orpheus Island Lodge, a 30 minute helicopter journey from Townsville to its blip on the Coral Sea’s map. Here you’ll find 14 rooms and 11km of turquoise coastline where you can step straight out of bed and onto the reef for yourself.

Forget looking at a menu during your stay; chef will customise everything to your tastes. With unlimited Australian beer and wine (and soft drinks), once you’re here, you won’t be dipping into your wallet again. We’ve got more reasons to visit – seriously, we filled a whole blog post with them. 

5. The Ville, Townsville

The Ville | Where to stay on the Great Barrier Reef

If you want to see what $44 million will do to a hotel’s look and feel, check into The Ville in Townsville’s CBD.

You won’t miss the fact you’re not island-side when you have access to what Townsville has to offer. We’re talking The Strand promenade, Reef HQ Aquarium and all of these places to eat and drink.

In case you need more convincing, we’ll leave these three little words here: swim up bar. Check it out for yourself, over in this post.

For more Great Barrier Reef hotels and accommodation ideas in Townsville:

The Whitsundays

When there’s 74 island-wonders in The Whitsundays, it’s ok to feel a little overwhelmed. Choosing where to stay is like picking the best looking model in the Victoria’s Secret show.

If you’ve read our island accommodation guide and our mainland accommodation guide and are still splitting hairs, here’s our top picks to narrow things down.

6. Reef View Hotel, Hamilton Island

If you thought Hamilton Island was just for people on honeymoon-budgets, think again.

Reef View Hotel offers the Hamilton Island hotel experience at a fraction of the qualia price tag.

You’ll find a view from every room – but it’s worth splurging for the Coral Sea facing room to never miss a sunset over Catseye Beach.

What appeals most about Reef View is how contained it is, so won’t be left wondering where you need to go for breakfast, lunch or dinner when all of Hamilton Island’s 20+ dining options will be within arms reach. Good news for families – kids under 12 stay and eat for free!

7. Mantra Boathouse Apartments, Airlie Beach

Mantra Boathouse Apartments Airlie Beach | Where to stay on the Great Barrier Reef

Mantra Boathouse Apartments don’t let you forget you’re staying right on the water. Each room has taken its design cues from the marina that’s outside your window.

Built for families, each apartment comes in a two- or three-bedroom configuration – with a full size kitchen to ensure self-catering for the brood is a cinch.

The Port of Airlie Marina is right outside your window cutting down miles between your stay on Airlie Beach and accessing the Great Barrier Reef.

When you’re not out one of these Whitsundays reef experiences, you can busy yourself with onsite facilities including swimming pool, tennis court and a children’s playground.

For more Great Barrier Reef hotels in the Whitsundays:

Southern Great Barrier Reef

In case you missed this post, the thing that separates our Great Barrier Reef from all others in the world is the fact it’s got five precincts that can’t be conquered in a day. Enter the Southern Great Barrier Reef, the gateway or welcome mat for what’s to follow.

Starting from Bundaberg and sprawling up the coastline to Capricorn, this part of the reef is the very spot that captivated Sir David Attenborough himself. Dive into its water wonderland with our favourite Great Barrier Reef hotels and resorts.

8. Lagoons 1770

Lagoons 1770 | Where to stay on the Great Barrier Reef

Stay on the reef in Queensland’s best-kept suburb secret, Seventeen Seventy.

While we don’t anticipate you’ll be spending much time inside Lagoons 1770, if you do, you’ll be pleased to find a lagoon pool with private access from your very own sundeck..

Outside the confines of the resort, you’ll have front-row seats to the reef and unparalleled access to Lady Musgrave Island and, a bit further afield, Lady Elliot Island.

From Lagoons 1770 you can also visit Agnes Water Beach to catch the most northern breaking wave on the coast – perfect for surfing.

9. Pumpkin Island

Pumpkin Island | Where to stay on the Great Barrier Reef

Contrary to what its name suggests, there’s nothing orange about this island 14km off the coast of Yeppoon.

Part of the Keppel Group of islands, you’ll be hard pressed to get much closer to the Great Barrier Reef action, considering you’ll be sleeping in the middle of it.

You won’t need to share this experience with hordes of visitors either – it’s just you and 34 guests across seven units. Or, book the whole thing for yourself like a rock star.

Pumpkin Island packs truck loads of fun into its six hectares – from wildlife watching, and fishing to snorkelling the reef, whose coral gardens start literally steps from where your balcony stops.

If you need more convincing, step over here for everything you need to know about Pumpkin Island.

For more Southern Great Barrier Reef hotels and accommodation:

So, have you figured out where to stay on the Great Barrier Reef? Share with us below.