Australia’s Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef. Photo by Sarah Ackerman.
The GBR stretches for 2, 300 kilometres (1, 430 miles) along the Queensland coast and is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem as well as the Earth’s most extensive protected marine area, supporting 400 types of coral, 1, 500 species of fish among other things. Apart from the selection of tropical fish, the reef is also home to whales, dugongs, turtles, reef sharks and dolphins.
The Great Barrier Reef has been a magnet for divers, sailors and people who dream of finding their own South Sea paradise for many years so it has a well-developed tourist infrastructure.
A number of islands, such as Lizard, Bedarra and Hayman, have their own self-contained luxury resorts while others offer little more than a tent and hammock.
Despite its remoteness, Queensland’s far north still caters for those on a modest budget, as well as the more affluent who charter private yachts to cruise around the Whitsundays.
Your budget, length of stay and activity preferences will determine which piece of the reef you visit. The main four destinations of Cairns, Townsville, Port Douglas and Hamilton Island provide varied options for the snorkellers, scuba divers and yachties, as well as luxurious resort islands.
The General Reality…Marine scientists checking the reef. Photo by Steve Prutz.
On a Budget
The Great Barrier Reef; that’s about all you will see above sea level without help from an aircraft or scuba gear.
If you’re happy to hang out with backpackers, Cairns and Townsville offer lively, budget gateways to the reef. You can pick up a day trips running half-day snorkelling excursions or take a proper live-aboard dive trip (learners as well as experienced divers) to the outer reef.
From Townsville there are low-cost trips to Magnetic Island or longer trips to reknowned dive sites such as the SS Yongala and Wheeler Reef.
Outside peak holiday times, independent travellers should find no problem booking accommodation and reef tours as they go.
Hiring a camper van is a popular option for exploring the back country and wild beaches but do observe warning signs regarding salt water crocs and other nasties, and take care with navigation, this is a vast country and visitors from tiny Europe can, and do, get terminally lost from time to time.