Guide To the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living organism on the planet and the only living structure visible from space. An A-list celebrity of the natural world, its depth of richness and biodiversity supports a complex yet fragile ecosystem that is heavily reliant on the reef for survival. A natural playground for avid holidaymakers and ocean thrill seekers, the reef is your oyster, with a plethora of wildlife and activities to uncover at one of the richest ocean habitats on Earth. Join us as we guide you through some of the best things to do during your time at the Great Barrier Reef.

Where is the Great Barrier Reef?

Situated off the northeast coast of Queensland in the Coral Sea, the vast expanses of the Great Barrier Reef occupy an area of over 344,500 square kilometres. Comprising over 900 islands and 2,900 individual reefs stretching a whopping 2,300 kilometres long, Australia’s most iconic natural landmark is currently the largest living structure on Earth and one of the only natural formations visible from space. A four-hour drive from downtown Brisbane, the reef extends as far north as Cape York down to the idyllic coastal town of Bundaberg in the south. An uber-popular tourist destination, the Great Barrier Reef is highly accessible with various options available by air, sea, road, or rail. Cairns Airport is the most popular terminal for both international and domestic arrivals, with further domestic options available at Townsville Airport, Bundaberg Regional Airport, Proserpine Airport, and Hamilton Island Airport.

Best Time to Visit the Great Barrier Reef

Over 2 million visitors a year flock to see one of Australia’s most beloved natural attractions live and in the flesh. One of the seven natural wonders of the world and home to thousands of incredible marine species, there is no ‘bad’ time of year to visit the reef. Queensland’s seemingly endless sunshine and tropical weather patterns add to the romance of this truly breathtaking spectacle. With only two distinct seasons – wet and dry, the optimal time of year to visit is between May and October during the winter months (dry season) when temperatures are warm with minimal rainfall. The lack of rain and thunderstorms creates greater water visibility, allowing visitors to navigate through the underwater jungle with ease increasing the likelihood of spotting a few underwater friends along the way. However, don’t discount the summer months (wet season), as the reef bursts to life with adorable baby sea turtles hatching, plants thriving and mass coral spawning. You will just have to slip on a stinger-proof wetsuit as irukandji and box jellyfish are more prevalent during the wet season.

Top Things to do on the Great Barrier Reef

Snorkelling & Scuba Diving

The Great Barrier Reef is an underwater wonderland and home to a wealth of incredible marine life, making it one of the most desirable dive destinations in the world. Explore spectacular underwater canyons, caves, reef walls, swim-throughs, and reef flats as you glide through a labyrinth of radiant coral gardens in this extraordinary underwater jungle. Highlights include: ‘Wall heaven’ at Osprey Reef, the shark feeding frenzy of North Horn, the friendly Giant Potato Cod at Cod Hole, the vibrant shallow reefs off of Heron Island and the dazzling coral gardens at Flynn Reef. Day trips are a fantastic way to experience the reef in full flight, with live-aboard dive tours offering a more intimate underwater experience. 

Whitsunday Islands

The Whitsunday Group is a stunning island archipelago comprising 74 tropical islands, and is a great starting point for exploring the natural beauty of this wondrous reef. The fringing reef systems are protected by these incredible island chains offering optimal conditions for snorkelling, particularly for young families and weak swimmers. The sheltered waters are a great place to spot inquisitive sea turtles, Maori Wrasse, Manta Rays, reef sharks, molluscs, soft corals, migrating Humpback Whales and so much more. From snorkelling to diving, sailing to bareboating, scenic flights and beach hopping, the Whitsunday Islands offers a world of opportunity for exploring the reef. Bathe on the tranquil shores of the angelic Whitehaven Beach, soak up the scenery at Hamilton Island, fall in love with a scenic flight over Heart Reef or explore the peace and tranquillity of the idyllic Cedar Creek Falls. 

Scenic Flight

Buckle up and take to the sky to view this breathtaking natural phenomenon in all its glory. Spy the sparkling turquoise waters as you soar above the labyrinth of intricate coral formations and island chains on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure across the Great Barrier Reef. A sea of endless reefs awaits as you glide smoothly over some of the region’s most alluring tropical wonders including the famed Heart Reef, Whitsunday Islands and Green Island.  

The Great Eight

‘The Great Eight’ is a collection of the Great Barrier Reef’s most iconic and celebrated inhabitants often sitting atop the wish lists of many avid visitors. Australia’s answer to Africa’s Big Five, these extraordinary creatures reflect the incredible diversity and natural beauty of the world’s largest coral reef. The eight famed animals include: clownfish, sharks, manta rays, humphead wrasse, potato cod, giant clams, turtles, and whales. Widespread throughout the reef, certain places and times of the year will help dramatically increase your chances of spotting one of these beauties.   


The Great Barrier Reef is accessible from Airlie Beach, Townsville and Cairns. Hire a car from Thrifty today to ensure you can explore these areas with flexibility and ease!

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