02 Dec
What You Need to Know Before Visiting Australia's Great Barrier Reef
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What You Need to Know Before Visiting Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

One of the seven natural wonders of the world, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is high on the travel bucket list of people all around the globe. For many, a trip to Queensland (Australia’s sunshine state) is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and therefore many visitors wish to learn as much as they can about the Great Barrier Reef and its surrounds prior to their adventure.

Whether you’re from interstate or travelling internationally, we’ll now talk you through the answers to eight of the most frequently asked questions by travellers to the Great Barrier Reef, to help you plan your visit to this magnificent part of the world.

Where is the Great Barrier Reef located?

The Great Barrier Reef runs a whopping 2,600 kilometres along the coastline of Queensland, on the eastern coast of Australia. The southern most point of the reef is situated near a town called Bundaberg, and the northern tip of the reef happens to be located at Australia’s most northern point, the Cape York Peninsula.

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What time of year is best to visit the Great Barrier Reef?

Regardless of whether you visit the Great Barrier Reef in summer or winter, or somewhere in between, you are bound to make magnificent memories. Most visitors make their way to the reef between June and September. This period is referred to as ‘high season’. Weather conditions are ideal at this time of year, and despite officially being winter, the weather in Tropical Far North Queensland is warm, balmy and comfortable, with minimal rainfall.

The ‘low season’, commonly referred to as the ‘wet season’, refers to the months of November through May, when tropical rainfall occurs much more regularly and falls more heavily compared to during high season. If you do visit the reef during low season, both swimming within the dedicated beach marine stinger enclosures and opting to wear a stinger suit on the outer reef are recommended.

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Where are the best places to visit the Great Barrier Reef?

Undoubtedly, two of the very best places to visit the Great Barrier Reef are off the coast of Cairns and the seaside town of Port Douglas, in beautiful Tropical Far North Queensland.

Cairns

The city of Cairns in northern Queensland is often referred to as ‘the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef’, thanks to its prime position nearby numerous exquisite parts of the reef, in addition to its domestic and international airports, making travel to the region relatively easy. It is handy to remember, however, that the large majority of day trips to the Great Barrier Reef in fact begin and end in Port Douglas (an hour north of Cairns).

If you would rather skip venturing to Port Douglas in order to board a boat, you can opt to explore the Great Barrier Reef close to Cairns by taking a fast catamaran to Fitzroy Island, which is conveniently located just 45 minutes from the Cairns Marina. This stunning tropical island paradise is situated right amongst the gorgeous Great Barrier Reef, and is the perfect choice if you wish to snorkel straight from the shore of a beautiful tropical island out onto the reef, and/or are short on time in the area.

Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef at Fitzroy Island gives you the opportunity to spot a wide array of sea life, including majestic marine turtles, magnificent tropical fish (including ever-popular clown fish), a variety of hard and soft coral species, as well as giant clams. Fitzroy Island is also a top spot for beautiful walking and hiking, thanks to a number of stunning tracks and viewpoints dotted around the island. If you have more than a day to spare, choose to stay at the island’s exclusive resort, which has accommodation options to suit all tastes and budgets.

Port Douglas

Port Douglas is Tropical Far North Queensland’s most common location from which tours leave to either the outer Great Barrier Reef or the Low Isles (two local islands joined by a coral cay). Port Douglas is a superb, laidback seaside town, located one hour north of Cairns by road, and is famous for its breathtaking Four Mile Beach, as well as its fabulous food scene.

Exploring the Great Barrier Reef can be costly, but thankfully there are a variety of tours available from Port Douglas depending on the amount of time you have, how many reef sites you wish to explore, your preferred means of transport (e.g. catamaran, speed boat) and whether you choose to snorkel and/or scuba dive. (Don’t worry if you are not a keen swimmer- other means of exploring are available for those not comfortable or unable to get in the water).

How many people visit the Great Barrier Reef each year?

With numerous people travelling not only from overseas but from all around Australia, over two million people visit and explore the Great Barrier Reef each year.

How big is the Great Barrier Reef?

In short, the Great Barrier Reef is gigantic, and happens to be the largest reef system found anywhere on Earth! The reef is actually a combination of over 2,900 individual coral reefs, which together cover an enormous area of 300,000 square kilometres. Thanks to its gorgeous location in the sunny state of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef is dotted with almost one thousand different beautiful islands, some of which can be visited and explored with ease.

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Image Credit: cruisewhitsundays.com

What types of animals call the Great Barrier Reef home?

The Great Barrier Reef is not only the perfect natural structure to explore if you are an ocean lover, but is also perfect for animal lovers, as it is absolutely teeming with gorgeous marine life (of all shapes and sizes). Approximately 600 different species of hard and soft corals make up the individual reefs, and amongst these reefs live over 1,600 fascinating fish species.

Other animals that live amongst the beautiful Great Barrier Reef include crustaceans (such as crabs), molluscs (for example, giant clams), mesmerising giant rays and numerous different species of jellyfish. And for turtle lovers, the Great Barrier Reef is paradise, with six of the world’s seven marine turtle species calling the reef home.

Larger animals living amongst the reef include whales (as they migrate back and forth annually) and inquisitive dolphins. Bird lovers will also not be disappointed, as roughly 200 different species of marine birds live across the Great Barrier Reef region.

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What are the best ways to see and experience the Great Barrier Reef?

There are so many options when it comes to experiencing the Great Barrier Reef, including the popular choices of snorkelling and scuba diving. Snorkelling is well-suited for all sorts of budgets, and is a nice, relaxing way to explore the reef beneath you. Snorkelling gear hire is included in the majority of reef tour prices.

If swimming in the ocean isn’t suitable for you, don’t despair, you can still admire the magic of the reef from the safety of a glass-bottom boat tour, and if you’re comfortable doing so, you may wish to high a glass-bottom kayak or stand-up paddle board for a unique experience. And if your budget allows, choose to see the reef from the air- an experience you shall never forget!

Where are the best places to see turtles near Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef?

Nearly every marine turtle species found on our beautiful planet lives amongst the Great Barrier Reef. Some of these species are commonly sighted, such as the Green Turtle, and others are more unusual (due to lesser numbers). Turtle Bay (part of the popular Agincourt Reef) and Opal Reef are two locations on the outer reef near Cairns where turtles are regularly sighted. Turtle sightings are also common amongst the warm surrounding waters of Fitzroy Island. Visiting the reef in late spring/early summer shall give you the best chance for spotting marine turtles.

We hope by reading this post you have had some of your questions about the Great Barrier Reef answered. We look forward to welcoming you to paradise soon!

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