Great Barrier Reef Travel Guide

Lying between a few miles and 50 miles off of the central and northern Queensland coast, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest reef system in the world. It is home to an amazing array of marine life and offers some of the best diving and sailing of anywhere.

This natural world wonder stretches for around 1,400 miles north to south and is a collection of 3,000 islets, atolls and cays that over 10,000 species call home. There is an incredible array of fish and birds, as well as dolphins, whales, and turtles, and many can be seen on a dive, snorkel or glass-bottom boat tour.

Airlie Beach is the main center serving the reef in the south of the region and the Whitsunday Islands, while Cairns and Cooktown are the central and northern launch points respectively. The further north you go, the closer the reef generally gets. You can do tours and even liveaboard dives of the Great Barrier Reef, as well as enjoy the unbeatable fishing and sailing.

Activities can be enjoyed year-round as there is little rainfall, apart from in the summer (January through March). Bareboat charters can be had from Airlie Beach, Shute Harbour and Cairns, as well as from Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays.

In brief

What is it? The world’s largest reef system lying off the coast of northeast Australia.

When to go? March through December.

Nearest town: Cairns is the main central town to the reef, about 1,000 miles north of Brisbane.

Don’t miss: snorkeling or a glass-bottom boat tour.

Factoid: the Great Barrier Reef is roughly 1,400 miles long and 50 miles across.

Getting there

Airports in Cairns, Townsville, Airlie Beach and MacKay receive flights from all over Australia, with Cairns offering the best options. You can also get here from Brisbane by train or bus, while the Bruce Highway provides access for those with hire cars.

Daytrips and liveaboards onto the reef go from Arlie Beach, Cairns, and other centers and take between an hour and four hours to get to the inner reefs. Flights between Brisbane and Sydney, the main air hub of the country, take 1 hour, 25 minutes, while flights between Cairns and Sydney take just over 3 hours.