Not Your Ordinary Reef: Exploring the Great Barrier Reef

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Some destinations just naturally resonate with adventure-seekers, sportsmen and nature-lovers. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has always been one of the world’s natural wonders as well as a top bucket list item.

No trip to The Land Down Under is really complete without a trip to the reef. But there are some things to know before you go:

  • The Great Barrier Reef is the longest in the world, extending for almost 1,450 miles along the Eastern coastline of Queensland.
  • Distances are deceiving. Towns and cities are clustered along coastal Queensland, but driving the length of the coastline is not recommended. Pick the reef adventures that interest you and make travel arrangements and reservations in advance to avoid disappointment.
  • Cairns, in the north, is about a two and a half hour flight from Brisbane. Day trips to the reef can be planned from any of a dozen or so charming towns in between. Beaches, restaurants and bars abound; some of them are so much fun you might be tempted to spend your entire vacation in one place.
  • The reef allows for many different adventures: swim or snorkel along it, cruise on top of it, fly over it, and know that every experience will be memorable. On shore, you can go on a crocodile safari, search out a popular surfing beach, hike the northern wetlands, find a pristine beach, or simply drink in the delights of coastal Queensland at local pubs and cafes.
  • Some reef attractions are seasonal. You can swim with Minke whales in June and July, take a nighttime tour to Mon Repos Beach to watch the turtles deposit their eggs in the sand from November through January, or perhaps witness hatchlings on their slow dash to the sea if you visit between January and March.

Choose Your Memories

Whether you spend a day, a week or a month at the reef, the time is never adequate. The experience is unforgettable, and little compares with the awe you feel seeing the reef’s expanse from the air.

Book a seaplane tour over the Whitsunday Islands; view Heart Reef from the air before landing on the water to snorkel along a coral formation. Then travel on to Whitehaven Beach to enjoy a champagne lunch or the dazzling white sand. It’s as romantic as it gets!

Take a whirlybird ride from Cairns to remote Vlassof Cay. The helicopter pilot will serve up unforgettable views of the reef from the air and allow you ample time to capture images of the stunning scenery before landing on the sand, where you can swim or snorkel before a picnic on the beach.

Dive the waters if you’re experienced. The Yongala shipwreck, located 92 feet down, is considered one of the top five wreck dive destinations in the world. Day excursions, with all dive gear included, are available from Townsville or Magnetic Island.

Although most visitors will want to experience the reef up close and personal, if you don’t actually snorkel or dive, you can “feel” it in other ways. There are naturalist presentations, plenty of exhibits, museums, lectures and special presentations.

Visit an eco-resort on Lady Elliot Island, where you feel as if you’re perched on top of the reef itself. It’s a diver’s paradise, and reef walking tours are available. The Reef Education Centre offers an overview of the marine life underwater and guided beach tours give details of the reef’s formation and delicate ecosystem from topside. The beach here is pretty special, and surrounding waters are filled with Manta Rays, and there are oodles of land-based activities scheduled.

Do It Your Way

In short, the Great Barrier Reef is a made-to-order vacation. No two people will experience it in exactly the same way. However, no trip to Australia would be complete without a visit to the reef. It is a mesmerizing experience, no matter how you do it.

Chances are good that any visit will be too short!

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