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Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders, is the largest reef system in the world and made up of 900 islands and countless individual reefs all amid the crystal clear waters of the Coral Sea.

With the colourful coral, sea turtles, stingrays, and hundreds of tropical fish it’s no wonder the reef is a diving and snorkelling paradise.

There is also a world of things to see and do above the water which makes it one of Australia’s favourite holiday playgrounds. Explore the region by yacht, dinghy or motor cruiser as part of a tour or choose your own tour with one of the self-charterd options.

Tours & Activities

There are a number of tours with glass bottomed boats for those interested in the reef but not wanting to get their feet wet.

Cruises on the Great Barrier Reef Take a fishing tour with one of the responsible reef practices operators so you can cast your line out for coral trout and red emperor, barramundi, and spanish mackerel, some willing to put up quite a fight.  

Cairns is the perfect place to stage your diving holiday, with learn to dive centres as well as big day trips for more advanced divers. There are so many dive sites to choose from, whether you’re getting there by boat or just walking off the edge of your island accommodation.

For the more active there is a range of exciting water sports available, including tubing and white water rafting.

The Reef

Ribbon Reef, Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world, made up of well over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands. Running along Queensland’s north east coast line, the reef stretches over 2,600km and covers 344,000 square kilometres. It’s actually the only single structure made by living organisms that can be seen from space and has been labelled one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

The current reef structure is estimated to be about 6,000 to 8,000 years old, with remains of older reefs found in the area that date back over half a million years. Coral reefs can only grow in waters above a depth of 150 metres because of their need for sunlight, and won’t grow above sea-level. With such a small area in which reefs can survive, matters of global warming and rising sea levels are of great concern.

There is a huge diversity of life supported by the Great Barrier Reef, including a number of vulnerable and endangered species, some of which are unique to the reef system. There are large populations of dugongs living on the reef, more than 1,500 tropical fish species, sea turtles and 30 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, all calling this habitat home.

Diving on the Reef

Diving on the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef makes for spectacular diving, and you’ll find plenty of professional dive businesses that operate in the Marine Park.

Whether you want to learn to dive or just hire your own gear, there are plenty of dive schools, courses, trips and charters to get you out to the reef.

If scuba diving isn’t your thing, you can opt for a snorkelling trip that will take you out to one of the shallower reefs.

You’ll be able to paddle on the water’s surface and look down at magnificent coral only a couple of feet below.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority was established in 1975 to manage the marine park and ensure it’s protected for the future.

The organisation monitors the reef and enforces zoning rules to make sure the reef isn’t damaged by large boats or high numbers of divers. They issue permits for entering the park, provide advice on marine management and operate an education centre at the Reef HQ Aquarium.

If you aren’t a part of a registered tour group, you’ll need to talk to the GBMPA about which zones you are allowed to visit and any permits you may need to do so. For the most part you won’t need a permit for recreational activities, but anchoring for long periods and the use of certain vessels may incur a small fee.

The Islands

Dunk Island fishing jettyThe Great Barrier Reef is made up of over 900 islands but only some of them are good for visiting, staying, exploring and playing on. Many of these islands are located only a short boat trip out of Cairns.

You can visit for a day or even make use of those that offer accommodation, allowing you to relax and unwind in one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Choose from islands with complete luxury resorts, golf courses and 5 star dining, or head to one of the more private islands for a secluded getaway.

There are some spectacular National Parks that are perfect for bushwalking amid native flora and fauna and swimming on white beaches. Whether you're there for a romantic getaway, family fun-filled holiday or a trip away with friends there's an island to suit your needs.

Green Island

Only 45 minutes from Cairns is the beautiful coral cay of Green Island, with golden sand beaches and incredible greenery of the National Park. Visitors have been coming to the island since the 1930s and today there are 46 luxury resorts where people can stay. The Green Island Resort is eco-friendly and has everything from alfresco dining and licenced bar to daily activities, pool and even shopping boutiques.

Fitzroy Island

Another island only 45 minutes from Cairns, the western side of Fitzroy Island is popular for walking trails, the light house and a lookout from the islands highest point offering 360 degree views of the region. A great deal of the island is protected by the Nature Conservation Act of 1992, but there’s still the Fitzroy Island Resort, Foxy’s Bar, and plenty of activities including a brilliant fringe reef just a short walk off shore that’s perfect for snorkelling.

Double Island

One of the more exclusive islands in the Great Barrier Reef series, Double Island was once only available for private whole use. Today the island is open to all and is only a short 20 minute boat trip from Palm Cove. Its neighbour, Haycock Island doesn’t offer much to do, but is known for great fishing.

The Frankland Islands

This island cluster only 10km offshore is completely uninhabited (other than by animals). They are a popular recreational spot for fishermen, though tour operators often take visitors out to explore the islands.

Low Isles

Made up of two separate islands, the Low Isles is a beautiful spot for snorkelling and diving. While Woody Island is uninhabited, the main Low Isle is a wonderful, small coral cay surrounded by spectacular tropical reef.

Lizard Island

One of the most secluded and luxurious islands on the Great Barrier Reef, Lizard Island is the perfect place for a romantic holiday or a quiet getaway. The Hotel has received a number of awards while the island is home to 24 pure white sand beaches and glorious views. Lizard Island has its own airport so you can fly directly from Cairns.

Dunk Island

Dunk Island has been a popular island escape for over 100 years. There are plenty of things to see and do while the hotel was once the home of famed author and naturalist EJ Bamfield.

Hinchinbrook Island

The largest island on the Great Barrier Reef, Hinchinbrook Island is mostly covered in National Park. You will however find the small Hinchinbrook Island Resort accommodation and a range of eco-friendly activities such as trekking through the rainforest, bird watching and enjoying the sandy beaches. Cyclone Yasi recently uncovered a 130 year old shipwreck that can now be visited but make sure you book in. Only 40 people a day are allowed to visit the island.

Orpheus Island

Orpheus Island is one of the most stunning on the reef and is mostly covered in national Park. There’s one small, privately owned resort gives you access to the best coral in the entire Great Barrier Reef marine Park.

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