Planning a trip through Queensland? 

Are you a backpacker on your first trip to Australia?

Find out just how easy it is to explore our magnificent state and country!

UNESCO world heritage site and one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is a must see on any Australian adventure. The reef spans from Cape York, in Queenslands north, to just off the coast of Bundaberg, a length of more than 2300 km, making it the worlds largest reef system.The Great Barrier Reef is a majestic and beautiful sight from the water or the air, and there are many opportunities to experience it both ways. Great Barrier is a site dedicated to providing information on the GBR. Scuba Diving or snorkeling the GBR is a great way to see the beautiful sea life and colourful corals unique to this underwater paradise. Glass bottomed boats, flying over the reef, skydiving, sea kayaking, fishing charters, sailing (and so much more) are also spectacular ways to experience this gorgeous world heritage site.

From Port Douglas

Port Douglas is not exactly the most popular place in Queensland to experience the Great Barrier Reef, but it is one of the most northern. So it seems geologically fit to start out here. It might also be nicer for you as a traveller to experience such a magnificent world wonder from a less busy destination. This is why a majority of the destinations mentioned on this post are places you may not have heard of before.

Port Douglas, known for the gorgeous Four Mile Beach is about 70km north of Cairns, so it isn’t too far out of the way for those finishing or beginning their East Coast adventure in Cairns. It is known as the gateway to Mossman Gorge, the Daintree and Cape Tribulation, each of which are popular (and incredibly beautiful) destinations to explore. There are over 100 trips departing from Port Douglas daily; many of which are for the GBR. Spending time at Port Douglas is a great way to see more than one world heritage site, especially if you are interested in a more luxurious and relaxing time.

From Cairns

One of the easiest and well-known places to experience the reef is from Cairns in magnificent Far North Queensland. Cairns is the last major regional city on the Bruce Highway before reaching into the Cape York Peninsula, where only smaller towns and coastal communities lie. You can dive (first time dives available), snorkel, take day trips or overnight trips, and learn to dive on the reef if you so desire. To find out more on diving the reef visit Diving Cairns.

There are a few other things you can add to your itinerary whilst in Cairns, including the Cairns Hinterland; famous for its food, tranquil tropical climate, and some of the worlds finest coffee. This important commodity for Cairns is showcased by a local author, Paul Oliveri and wife Lorraine, from 100 Mile Author. You should also make time for the tallest mountain in Queensland, Mount Bartle Frere. This is one to tick off the bucket list for the avid mountain climber. A warning though as this trail isn’t for the faint hearted.

Mount Bartle Frere
Mount Bartle Frere

From Townsville

Cairns is not the only destination you dive the GBR, it is over 2000km long after all. The next best place to get your GBR fix is from Townsville. Townsville is known as the unofficial capital of North Queensland, and is dominated by the 290m high Castle Hill; one of the best lookouts and the most popular work outs in Townsville.

View of Castle Hill, Townsville
View of Castle Hill, Townsville

Adrenalin Snorkel and Dive, and Remote Area Dive are the two companies to look out for when diving the GBR. Both do trips to the SS Yongala shipwreck, one of the most popular diving sites in Australia.

For those who cannot afford the real thing, you can visit the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium, Reef HQ, located on Flinders Street, right next to the Museum of Tropical Queensland. You could also visit Magnetic Island for another great day out. Charters Towers, Ayr and Ingham are all accessible from here, as well as countless waterfalls, creeks and National Parks.

Reef HQ
Reef HQ

From Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach is another well-known destination on the Queensland coast; most famous as being the gateway to the Whitsundays. Shute Harbour is the port of Airlie Beach, only just 10km to the east. From here you can head to the Whitsundays or enjoy any one of a multitude of day trips, overnight trips, cruises, and sailing adventures. It is also from here that you head out for your Great Barrier Reef experience. There are so many exciting and special diving experiences to be had at Airlie Beach, at any one of the many dive spots.

From Yeppoon

Yeppoon is a small coastal town near to Rockhampton. Great Keppel Island is among the many islands which are accessible from this hidden oasis, as well as being home to some of the most popular GBR diving spots. Daily trips leave from the mainland and Great Keppel Island to the reef in the Keppels; part of the Southern Great Barrier Reef. There are more than 40 dive spots in this area, with an abundance of marine life and vast shallow reefs.

From Hervey Bay

Hervey Bay is well-known for Whale Watching and as one of the stops to Fraser Island, but did you know you can still access the GBR from here? You can take a scenic flight over the reef and head out to one of the islands, Lady Elliot or Lady Musgrave. From here there are a wide range of diving sites available, in some of the clearest waters in the Great Barrier Reef.

More in the Backpacking Series: Mini moke around Magnetic IslandSail the Whitsundays

You may also be interested in Backpacking Queensland.

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Diving the Great Barrier Reef in Australia; everything you need to know.


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