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3 ways to explore Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Jul 18, 2015 by Jamie Gallerani

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world and runs for over 1,500 miles along the coast of Queensland Australia. This intricate structure is comprised of colonies of plant-like coral polyps, which are actually tiny animals related to jellyfish. They provide a habitat for almost a quarter of all marine species and are the building blocks of over 2,800 reefs—making this awe-inspiring formation the largest individual system made by living organisms in the world. Here are three ways to soak up the beauty of this UNESCO-recognized destination.


From the shore

The reef is submerged somewhere between 10 and 100 miles off shore in the Coral Sea. So, although you can’t technically see it from the shoreline, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the beauty of the area by staying beachside. Almost 1,000 individual islands run along the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and there are plenty of things to do and see in Cairns. Soak in the sun on Palm Cove or Trinity Beach, or take a dip in the Lagoon after a leisurely stroll along the Esplanade Boardwalk.

Don’t forget: Protect yourself in the harsh Australian sun by packing appropriate SPF and sun shirts, and rent an umbrella if you plan on spending hours lounging on the sand.

Australia's Great Barrier Reef


From the surf

If you want to see the reef up close and personal, head to Cairns Marina to board a boat out into the Coral Sea. View the coral’s vibrant colors from the underwater observatory or glass-bottom boat, or opt for an even more immersive snorkeling experience. You’ll be provided with noodles and life preservers if you want them, and guides will be out with you to point out different parts of the reef as well as any animals that might come by, including fish, sea turtles, giant clams, sharks, stingrays and whales. If you do decide to dive, remember: The coral polyps that make up the reef are very fragile. Therefore, never stand on the coral or you’ll risk injuring these sensitive organisms.

Diving tip: Bring a waterproof camera to capture spectacular underwater views of over 600 types of hard and soft coral plus a plethora of marine life. Also, even if you’re a strong swimmer it can be strange to get accustomed to breathing with a snorkel—taking deep, steady breaths can help.


From the sky

The reef is the only living thing on earth visible from space, so one of the best ways to get a feel for the site’s staggering breadth is from above. If you want a bird’s eye view of the turquoise water and world-famous coral, take off in a helicopter, seaplane or hot air balloon. Choose an option once you’re in the area, or skip the extra costs and get a similar perspective by opting for a window seat on the plane as you fly into Cairns—you’ll be thankful for the sweeping overhead view.

Did you know? The reef is only one portion of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which was established by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act of 1975. The entire park covers an area of over 100,000 square miles—which is equal to about 70 million football fields.

Learn about our Australia & New Zealand tours if you're interested in exploring this beautiful must-see natural wonder of the world.

About the author | Jamie Gallerani
It was Jamie’s homestay in Germany that made her fall in love with travel (and her studies in Florence that really sealed the deal). When she’s not writing and sharing the magic of seeing the world with others, she’s usually on the lookout for her new favorite memoir, testing out recipes at home, or visiting her family on Cape Cod.

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