7 of the most unforgettable experiences on the Great Barrier Reef

A visit to the Great Barrier Reef can be an emotional and unforgettable experience. Whether you fly over it, cruise on top of it or dive or snorkel one of its many famed sites, the size and beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage site will stay with you forever. 7 of the most unforgettable experiences on the Great Barrier Reef
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7 of the best day trips on the Great Barrier Reef

A visit to the Great Barrier Reef can be an emotional and unforgettable experience. Whether you fly over it, cruise on top of it or dive or snorkel one of its many famed sites, the size and beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage site will stay with you forever.


By Malcolm Chenu

The only living thing on earth visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef is truly one of nature's miracles. The 2,300 kilometre (1,429 mile) living coral masterpiece runs along the north-east coast of Australia, and is teeming with diverse marine life, including reef sharks, manta rays, sea turtles and thousands of colourful fish. There are many ways to experience this great natural wonder, and tours depart from towns and cities all along the Great Barrier Reef coastline. Take a look at our favourite day trips.

BEACH ESCAPE: 2-IN-1 ADVENTURES AT HEART REEF AND WHITEHAVEN BEACH

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Islands, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

Whitehaven Beach is a seven-kilometre (4.3 mile) stretch of pure white sand, with Hill Inlet at one end. It is located in the same area as the Great Barrier Reef's Heart Reef; the beautiful coral is naturally arranged in the shape of a heart. You'll see them both on this half-day trip in the idyllic Whitsunday Islands. Depending on when you are here, you'll take off from either Hamilton Island or One&Only Hayman Island, and fly over the Whitsunday Islands. The plane will circle over Heart Reef for you to take photos of this romantic structure, before landing on the water at a nearby coral lagoon. Feel the excitement when you jump off the plane into the crystal-clear water and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef.  The next stop takes you to the beautiful Whitehaven Beach where you will have a leisurely lunch with champagne. After lunch you'll be taken back to your accommodation.

Departs from: Hamilton Island or One&Only Hayman Island Resort, Whitsunday Islands, Queensland

UNDER THE SEA: DIVE THE FAMOUS YONGALA SHIPWRECK

Yongala shipwreck, Townsville, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

Regarded as one the best dive sites in the world, the wreck of the SS Yongala rests on the floor of the ocean 28 metres (91.9 feet) below the water. It's in an area of the Great Barrier Reef just off the coast of Townsville, a tropical city located four hours' drive, or a one hour flight, south from the city of Cairns. The 110 metre (361 foot) ship sank in 1911 and is now home to turtles, sea snakes, giant trevallies, groupers, manta rays, sharks and thousands of tropical fish. You can take a day tour from Townsville or from Magnetic Island, a popular local holiday destination near the Townsville coast. The two-hour dive tour is recommended for SSI- and PADI-qualified divers and all equipment is provided.

Departs from: Townsville or Magnetic Island, Cairns region, Queensland

UNDER THE SEA: SNORKEL THE STUNNING WATERS OF THE LOW ISLES

Low Isles, near Port Douglas, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

This is one of the most sheltered snorkelling destinations on the Great Barrier Reef. Boat tours depart for the Low Isles daily from Port Douglas (a lovely beach town around one hour's drive north of Cairns) with several tour operators, including AquariusSailaway Port Douglas and Wavedancer. You’ll receive a full safety briefing and all the equipment you need (including floatation devices) on the 75-minute journey to the islands. The snorkelling area is very safe and much of it is in shallow water. Don’t forget to look out for the sea turtles. If you have left your underwater camera at home, you can rent one so that the stunning underwater views can be added to your photo gallery. Lunch is provided.

Departs from: Port Douglas, Cairns region, Queensland

WILDLIFE IN ACTION: WITNESS TURTLES LAYING EGGS AND BABY TURTLES HATCHING AT MON REPOS BEACH

Mon Repos Beach, Bundaberg, Southern Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

From November to January nesting sea turtles, including endangered loggerhead turtles, come on the shore at night to lay their eggs at Mon Repos beach, in the city of Bundaberg (about four hours' drive or a one hour flight north of Brisbane). Then, between January and March, the babies leave their nests and race to the sea. Both events can be witnessed in private night tours on the beach. An environmental scientist will accompany you and offer insights into the fascinating life cycle of these gentle turtles.

Departs from: Bundaberg, Southern Great Barrier Reef region, Queensland

BEACH ESCAPE: ENJOY YOUR TIME-OUT AT THE LADY ELLIOT ISLAND

Lady Elliott Island, near Bundaberg, Southern Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

Just off the coast of Bundaberg you'll find Lady Elliot Island, a 42 hectare (103 acre) coral cay that sits on the southern stretches of the Great Barrier Reef. This is the closest Great Barrier Reef island to Brisbane and can be reached via an 80-minute flight aboard Seair Pacific. Flights also depart from the Gold Coast, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. Once you've arrived on the island, renowned for its high-visibility water, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy. You can snorkel right off its beach with huge manta rays that can have a "wingspan" of up to seven metres (23 feet) or enrol in a diving course at the PADI Dive Shop. Stay overnight in the 41-room Eco Resort, tariffs include buffet dinner and breakfast in the beachfront dining room.

UNDER THE SEA: SWIM WITH WHALES

Marine Encounters, Cairns, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

Dwarf minke whales visit the Great Barrier Reef every year and you can swim with them in June and July on tours that operate from Port Douglas and Cairns. When the whales are spotted you can jump into the water, hold onto a rope and wait for them to approach. Most of the time, these friendly, curious whales love to come for a closer look. Day trip operators include Marine EncountersSpirit of FreedomMike Ball Dive ExpeditionsSilversonic and Poseidon Cruises.

Departs from: Cairns and Port Douglas, Queensland

BEACH ESCAPE: ENJOY THE PRIVACY OF VLASOFF CAY BY HELICOPTER

Vlasoff Cay, near Cairns, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

Have a deserted island on the Great Barrier Reef all to yourself when you take a day tour to Vlassoff Cay. Taking off from Cairns, your helicopter will fly over the Great Barrier Reef before landing at the sandy island with snorkels, flippers and a gourmet picnic set-up for you to enjoy. The serene setting is yours to wander, relax or dive in the warm water for a swim or a snorkel, before you take the return flight back over the reef to Cairns.

Departs from: Cairns, Queensland

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