Australia Barrier Reefriley
My Prescription Dive mask and snorkel set have travelled to many places around the world and enabled me to experience the wonders of the ocean. One place still on my bucket list to go is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. A group of over 2900 individual refs that make up one of the richest ecosystems on the planet no wonder it’s a Unesco World Heritage site.
For divers and snorkelers it’s a must to don you mask and snorkel and plunge right into this magical underwater world. Many non aquatic beings get easily hooked on the sheer pleasure of snorkelling when the experience the vastness and wealth of life on this reef. If you really can’t be convinced to dip your toe in the water then there are tours by sailboat or flights that will let experience the reef from afar.
Below I am sharing with my research supplied mainly by friends and customers on the best way to see “The Reef”
Donning a mask and fins is the best way to get a close up view of dazzling corals, sea turtles, rays, sharks and tropical fish of every colour and size. Most of the diving and snorkelling on the reef is from boats. Although there are also excellent reefs surrounding some of these islands.
Day trips leave from many places along the coast and generally stop at two or three different sites, allowing about three hours of underwater time. Full day excursions to the reef cost around $200, including lunch, snacks. Some snorkel gear is supplied but it is best to invest in your own mask and snorkel for a more comfortable snorkelling experience.
Live a boards
If love diving and want to do as much diving as possible, a live-aboard boat is the best option for you. This allows you to dive up to four times a day, including night dives, and visit more remote parts of the Great Barrier Reef. Trip lengths vary from one to 12 nights, though three- and four-day trips are the most popular. Prices for a four-day/three-night trip start at around $800.
For a birds eye view over the reef, take a helicopter or seaplane tour. The best spots to arrange trips are Airlie Beach, with excursions taking in the spectacular Whitsunday Islands, and Cairns, with flights over rainforest-covered Green Island. A 30-minute scenic flight costs around $270.
Many reefs in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef are exposed at low tide, allowing visitors to walk on sandy tracks between living coral on the reef top. This can be a great way to learn about marine life, especially if a naturalist guide accompanies you.
Where to base yourself
The reef is over 2000km long, it’s big. So it’s important to pick were you stay carefully. A number of towns spread along the Queensland coast serve as gateways to the reef, plus there are a number of island resorts ranging from small and secluded to surprisingly large and well visited.
Cairns is the hub of the reef and were most tours start from. There are plenty of tour operators to choose from. The large range of tours means you can choose exactly the sort of tours and what budget you want to spend. Anything from relatively inexpensive day trips on large boats to intimate five-day luxury charters.
Just north of Cairns, Port Douglas is an upmarket resort town and a gateway to the Low Isles and Agincourt Reef, which is an outer ribbon reef featuring crystal clear water and particularly stunning corals.
The small town of Airlie Beach is famed for its multiday sailing trips out to the Whitsunday Islands, an archipelago with turquoise waters, coral gardens and palm-fringed beaches. Only seven of the Whitsunday’s 74 islands offer accommodation. These range from simple campgrounds to five star resorts. Bustling Hamilton Island has the largest tourist resort and its airport host the main arrival point to the Whitsundays.
Townsville is the preferred choice for divers. Whether you’re learning or experienced, a four- or five-night on-board diving safari around the numerous islands and pockets of the reef is a great choice.
Australia’s major carriers (Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia) connect Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne with airports in Cairns, Townsville, Airlie Beach (actually in Proserpine) and Hamilton Island. In addition to domestic flights, Cairns Airport receives a few international flights offered by Jetstar, Cathay Pacific and Air New Zealand. To reach Port Douglas, take a shuttle or taxi from Cairns airport.
When to go
The best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef is from June to November, when the weather is mild and visibility is generally good. Avoid visiting from December to March when northern Queensland has a distinct wet season, bringing oppressive heat and abundant rainfall.
What to see if you’ve only got five days
The Cairns area makes a good base for seeing a variety of attractions in a limited time. On day one take a day trip to the outer reef; the following day visit Green Island (or overnight at the high end resort there); the next day go snorkelling, bushwalking and beach-walking on Fitzroy Island. Take a break from the sea on day four and visit the rainforests, lakes and waterfalls of the Atherton Tableland, just inland from Cairns. On your last day, visit the coral-fringed Frankland Islands. All are easily arranged as day trips from Cairns.
Another fantastic choice is the Whitsunday Islands. From Airlie Beach book a three-day/three-night sailing trip, visiting coral reefs and pristine uninhabited islands. Afterwards spend two days snorkelling, beachcombing and relaxing amid the tropical beauty of one of the resorts in the Whitsundays.
Protecting the reef
The Great Barrier Reef is fragile and vulnerable ecosystem. It need to be treated with respect by visitors. So here are out top tips for protecting the reef:
- Whether on an island or in a boat, take all litter with you – even biodegradable material like fruit peels – and dispose of it back on the mainland.
- Never rest or stand on coral, and don’t harass marine life. Watch where your fins are – try not to stir up sediment or disturb coral.
- If you’re snorkelling, practice your technique away from coral until you’ve mastered control in the water.
- To prevent sunburn hire a wetsuit rather than slathering on sunscreen, which can damage the reef.