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The Great Barrier Reef is located on the eastern coast of Queensland, Australia in the Pacific Ocean. It stretches over 2300 kilometres from Bundaberg to the Cape York Peninsula. The proximity of the Great Barrier Reef to the coast gives tourists the chance to easily experience it on day trips and overnight liveaboard cruises. Popular departure points for Great Barrier Reef cruises include Cairns, Port Douglas and Airlie Beach.
What makes the Great Barrier Reef so great? Firstly its size is amazing. It is larger than the Australian States of Victoria and Tasmania combined; half the size of Texas; and greater in size than Switzerland, Holland and the United Kingdom. It can be seen from outer space and is known as the world’s largest reef system, made up of 900 islands and 2900 separate reefs. Secondly it is diverse – with over 1500 different fish species and 450 different corals calling the Great Barrier Reef home. Visitors may also see up to 26 different types of dolphins and whales, 6 types of turtles and a hundred species of sea stars. It is also great enough to be considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
There are many different ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef, including:
- You can take a scenic flight to and over it in a helicopter or seaplane. Such flights are readily available from both Cairns and Airlie Beach with prices starting from less than A$400.
- Join one of the tourist boats for either a half day or full day reef cruise. These reef cruises are many and varied, with a mix of large and small, sail or motor driven vessels available. You can also choose to swim off the back of a boat, or dive in from a reef pontoon permanently anchored at the Reef. Typically these cruises will give you between 2 and 5 hours to explore the Great Barrier Reef.
- Take a cruise to one of the Great Barrier Reef islands or coral cays located a short distance from the coast. The most popular of these are Whitehaven Beach, Fitzroy Island, Green Island and Low Isles.
- Complete a dive course and become a certified diver. These normally take 4 or 5 days and include a mix of classroom theory, pool dives and then some practical experience on the Great Barrier Reef. If time is limited, many of the day cruises also provide what is known as an introductory dive. These do not require any certification and give you the chance to spend around 20 minutes underwater.
- Overnight sailing cruises are also very popular and most of these are available in the Whitsundays. These are a great way to combine the Great Barrier Reef with islands, magical sunsets and meal time stories shared with people from all over the world.
- Many experienced divers choose a liveaboard cruise to visit the ribbon reefs of the Coral Sea. One of the best known locations for this is the Cod Hole.
- There are even experiences that suit non-swimmers or those who do not wish to get wet. Glass bottom boat trips, semi-submersibles, touch tanks, and interpretive presentations from marine biologists are available on many cruises.
The Great Barrier Reef can be accessed from a number of popular tourist destinations, most within an hour of an airport. By the numbers, Cairns is the most popular city to visit and access the Great Barrier Reef from. With many cruises available for less than A$100, and a wide variety of easily-reached reefs, it is a great place to visit. Most of the reef cruises depart from the Cairns Marlin Marina, close to the city centre. There is plenty of car parking adjacent to the marina (charges apply) and for those without a vehicle, many of the cruise operators also offer bus transfers from local hotels. Cairns is also the departure point for cruises to Fitzroy Island and Green Island.
Port Douglas is another popular town and is located about an hour’s drive north of Cairns. From here it is possible to take cruises to the outer Barrier Reef as well as Low Isles, one of the prettiest coral cays in the area. All reef cruises here depart from the Reef Marina.
Cape Tribulation, often referred to as the place where the reef meets the rainforest, is very close to the Great Barrier Reef, with half day cruises available.
Further south along the Queensland coast are the Whitsunday islands. These are located within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and many are noted for their accommodation and easy access to the Great Barrier Reef. For those who choose a mainland stay, Airlie Beach is popular, with different cruises departing from Abell Point Marina and the Port of Airlie.
Start planning your trip to the Great Barrier Reef today!