|Five ways to explore the Great Barrier Reef|
1. From the top, island hop
Party on Daydream, hit the water sports in Hamilton, or just chill out with a cocktail on the soft, white sand of Whitsunday Island. For accommodation, you’ll find everything from five-star resorts to the back-to-nature simplicity of tents in natural settings. You can go castaway on many of Great Barrier Reef’s lush island national parks. Head to Hayman, Heron and Lizard Islands for superior resorts and diving. Or maybe you’ll explore an island on the mainland at Thala Beach Lodge.
Check out the technicolour coral and marine life through a glass-bottomed boat from coastal hubs such as Cairns, Port Douglas, Townsville, Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Mackay, Mission Beach and Proserpine. Or experience the reef’s smooth seas, deep drop offs, underwater tunnels and caves with a dive school or day trip operator. Snorkel or dive the edge of the continental shelf at Agincourt Reef from Cairns, explore the SS Yongala shipwreck from Townsville and Magnetic Island and the Llewellyn shipwreck from Mackay. See sea stars, crabs corals, molluscs at Fitzroy, Capricorn and Bunker Reefs near Gladstone. Or kick through vivid coral canyons and past marine turtles near Lady Elliot and Lady Musgrave Islands. In the Whitsundays, the warm clear water and psychedelic coral reefs are just a day trip from your island resort.
Set sail from Port Douglas for Low Isles, a secluded island jewel discovered by Captain Cook in 1770. Or charter a boat from Hamilton Island or Airlie Beach and coast through the turquoise water of the Whitsundays. Anchor overnight at picturesque moorings such as Whitehaven Beach, Cid Harbour and Butterfly Bay and visit the reefs of Black, Langford and Bird Island along the way. Stop for a hot meal and a shower or resort relaxation on Hayman, Lizard, South Molle and Lindeman islands. You can also take a bareboat from Cairns to the outer Greater Barrier Reef. Learn to sail with fully qualified staff or take on a skipper until you feel confident enough to take the wheel. You can also charter vessels from Maxi Racers to catamarans, complete with a trained crew. Or meet new people on a fully crewed overnight charter.
Trek, camp and commune with nature in the region’s national parks, which stretch from Cape York to the lush Whitsunday islands. Cruise down the Daintree River and visit Mossman Gorge in the Daintree Rainforest. Spot nocturnal wildlife and swoon at Bloomfield Falls when you reach Cape Tribulation, where the forest plunges literally to the reef. Bushwalk through gorges and subtropical and tropical rainforests in Eungella National Park, set in the mist-shrouded mountains west of Mackay. Picnic under swamp mahoganies and red gums and take in scenic lookout and rich bird and wildlife. In the Whitsunday National Park, you can walk from Tongue Bay on Whitsunday Island for great views. Or see precious rock art by the Ngaro people at Nara Inlet, Hook Island. Camp, wake to birdsong, swim on deserted beaches and smell fragrant rainforest air on Hook, Long, Cid, North and South Molle Islands to name a few.
Soar over the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef on a scenic helicopter flight to Green Island. Spectacular Heart Reef is located on Hardy Reef and is best experienced from a seaplane or helicopter. Combine a snorkelling day trip to the reef from Cairns with a hot air balloon ride over the Atherton Tablelands. Take a luxury catamaran from Cairns and Port Douglas to the outer Great Barrier Reef. Or drift between Cairns and Townsville on a luxury three-day cruise. Stay on Airlie Beach or at a resort on Hamilton or Daydream Island and try your hand at parasailing, boating, bushwalking, sea-kayaking, fishing, snorkelling and more.