A beginner’s guide to the Great Barrier Reef
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is one of the natural wonders of the world. Here’s a quick guide to help you plan your expedition.
What to do
The beauty and wonder of the Great Barrier Reef lies below the surface of the clear blue waters of the ocean. This means that, if possible, you’re going to want to snorkel or dive in order to be able to truly appreciate it.
If you can get a basic diving certification before you arrive that will be useful, but it isn’t essential as a number of local operators offer diving for beginners that will enable you to learn the basics of diving and get you in amongst the coral at the same time.
Snorkelling is also a surprisingly good way to see the reef, floating along on the top of the water while you look down into the vibrant world below.
If you’re not a swimmer, there are glass-bottom boat excursions, scenic flights, or sailing cruises.
How to get there
The Great Barrier Reef covers such a huge area that you need to think about where you’re going to base yourself in order to be able to access and enjoy the best of what the reef offers.
The city of Cairns is probably the most obvious starting point - there are direct flights into Cairns from across Australia as well as some international airports. Cairns is a major hub for this region, and there are a huge range of reef tours based from here.
Port Douglas is another popular reef launching point. Just a short drive north of Cairns, this is the best place from which to access the Low Isles and Agincourt Reef.
Airlie Beach is the place from where you can access the Whitsunday Island, with lots of sailing charters departing from here.
If you’re wanting an island escape, then there are a couple of islands in the Whitsundsays where you can stay - Hamilton Island is the biggest and has its own airport.
Townsville is the preferred destination for experienced divers.
When to go
This region is referred to as Tropical North Queensland, so it’s no surprise that this area experiences a full-on wet season which is best avoided.
The best time to visit is from June to November – which is technically winter in Australia – so a lot of tourism to the area is domestic travellers from the southern states looking for some winter sun.
Try and avoid the Australian school vacation periods if you can.