Great Barrier Reef

Travel Guide Oceania Australia Great Barrier Reef



Moore Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

Moore Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

© tamstar

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world. It's no surprise that it is also one of Australia's most popular natural attractions. It is located off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia and stretches for some 2,600 kilometres, comprising 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands.

The Great Barrier Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it's no wonder it is one of the great wonders of the world. Nothing compares to the natural hues of neon and pastel corals found beneath the clearest and bluest water imaginable.

A large section of the reef falls within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which was set up to protect it from the negative impacts of overfishing and tourism. Climate change forms a major threat to the reef with rising water temperatures causing mass coral bleaching.




The Great Barrier Reef is a haven for snorkelling and scuba diving.

The Great Barrier Reef is a famed diving destination, although divers with experience of the tropics find parts of it overused and damaged.

Most travellers learn to dive in Townsville, Cairns or Port Douglas: all have a very competitive dive industry. Most students prefer to do a two day pool and classroom course, followed by a two or three day liveaboard visiting the reef to the east of Cairns. It's possible to learn with some of the operators that travel to the Coral Sea, but check first about the difficulty of their dive sites. Land based learn to dive courses cost about $500, dive courses including a liveaboard start at about $700.

Some day trips to the reef are available from Cairns and Port Douglas diving operators. These trips involve about 2 hours boat travel in each direction and will cost $170-$200. Most operators do three day liveaboards to the reefs east of Cairns, starting at about $500 for 3 of days diving and 2 nights on the boat, meals included. Snorkelers can travel on these trips for reduced prices, but check first about the suitability of their sites for snorkeling. Serious divers generally prefer the five or seven day liveaboards visiting the Coral Sea to the north.

Most boat trips, particularly liveaboards, may be up to 40% cheaper if booked at the last possible moment on standby rates. A certain amount of risk is involved in doing this: you must arrive at the destination hoping that a booking will become available, you need to be able to be somewhat flexible about your date of departure, and you may not be able to travel with your first choice operator. However, most divers report that they are able to find at least one standby trip when they try this. Dive travel agents may also be able to advise you.

Some of the islands have a fringing reef, and it is possible to dive or snorkel from shore.

The southern part of the reef off Townsville is known mostly for the wreck of the Yongala, visited on both liveaboards and day trip operators from Townsville, Ayr and Magnetic Island. The Yongala sank in 1911 in about 30 metres (100 feet) of water. As the bottom is otherwise featureless in this area, it is a haven for fish and coral. However, as the site is unprotected many trips have to be cancelled if weather conditions are not favourable.



Getting There

Day trips to the reef run from most of the length of the Queensland Coast. Generally speaking, the further north you leave from, the shorter the trip to the reef, as it approaches the coast near Cape Tribulation.

The general trip plan for the major operators provides for a early morning departure, Tie up a few hours later off a pontoon or cay where they have purchased rights, usually lunch is available (or included) and a late afternoon return to port. They always return to one or two specific locations, and it is not unusual for several boats to be within a few hundred metres of each other.

These types of trips are offered (at least) from the mainland coastal towns out of Cape Tribulation, Port Douglas, Cairns, Townsville, Airlie Beach (Shute Harbour), Mackay, Gladstone, and 1770 (from north to south). Check destination guides for more information, as not all trips run every day from every town.

Reef Islands

There are many islands scattered off the Queensland Coast in several different island groups. Many cater for day trips, overnight stays, or both, offering widely varying standards of facilities accommodation. Not all islands off the coast are on the reef. Some are continental islands, some coral cays. Some of the continental islands have coral gardens off the beach, others do not. Some islands are teeming with marine life, and others have little. Check the specific destination guides, to see if the island you are thinking of visiting is a snorkeller's paradise, or just a nice place to pull up a deckchair and relax.

The islands that are not on the reef, generally run some sort of day trip by boat to the reef. Some of these trips, especially those in the Whitsundays, can pick up from the mainland prior to picking up from one or two islands, servicing daytrippers from the islands to the coast, coast to islands, and coast and islands to the reef. In these cases, prices are usually similar to what you would pay from the coast. However, there are some islands (typically the premium ones) that offer their own trips, and these can cost considerably more.




Seafoods at the Great Barrier Reef islands and nearby coastal areas are delicious. There are restricted fishing areas, although it would be better if you go a restaurant. Reef fish are also available in fish and chip shops.

Reef day trips sell alcohol on board. Reef islands nearly always have at least one bar, usually much at the centre of island life. Some have innovative pool bars. Some have a young party scene, others have cocktails by the pool, and others close early, targeting the demographic that prefers to wake early to see the dawn, rather seeing it through the haze of the night before.




See also Travel Safety

There are marine threats on the reef, from Stonefish to Sharks, Sea Snakes to Jellyfish. Many trips to the reef are made all year around, and injuries due to any of these causes on the reef are rare. Still, take advice from authorities, obey all signs, and pay close attention to safety warnings.

  • Box jellyfish occur near beaches and near river estuaries from October to April north of 1770. They can occasionally be found outside these times. They are usually not found in deep water or over coral, and most people snorkelling on the reef do so without stinger protection. However wearing a wetsuit (available on all the dive boats) will give you added buoyancy, and also some protection against stingers. They are very rare, but deadly.
  • Sharks do exist, however they rarely attack humans. Most sharks are scared of humans and would swim away.
  • Saltwater Crocodiles - Crocodiles do not actively live in the ocean, their primary habitat is in river estuaries north from Rockhampton They can use the ocean as a means of travel between river systems and islands. It is very rare for them to enter the coral reef areas. Most crocodiles will not swim through the reefs.
  • Sunburn and dehydration - The Queensland sun can burn unprotected skin within a very short time (approximately 20 minutes). Even on cloudy days sunscreen is recommended for all exposed skin areas, particularly for children. Most advice available suggests staying out of direct sun between the hours of 10:00am and 3:00pm, but a broad hat, sun-smart clothing and high SPF sunscreen will go a long way towards making sure you can enjoy your time in the tropics. A nasty case of sunburn will force you to remain indoors for a couple of days, so its just not worth it. Also, carry drinking water with you as even mild dehydration can lead to heatstroke/ sunstroke. Drinking alcohol in hot weather without also drinking plenty of water is not safe, and at the very least will lead to a nasty hangover!



as well as Hien (8%), Peter (1%), KoalaGirl (1%), mintleaf37 (1%)

Great Barrier Reef Travel Helpers

We don't currently have any Travel Helpers for Great Barrier Reef

This is version 11. Last edited at 8:35 on Aug 11, 17 by Utrecht. 22 articles link to this page.

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, content of this article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License