Here’s my local guide to the best places to visit in Queensland to see the glorious Great Barrier Reef.
Let’s begin with a little back story. From the age of 11 I lived in a place called Townsville, which is located along the Great Barrier Reef. I totally took for granted the fact that so many of my holidays centred around the reef. In high school I went on a snorkelling day trip with my dad and brother. We had numerous family vacations to the Whitsunday islands. And one of my school camps actually involved sailing on the Great Barrier Reef. Fact: only four people didn’t get seasick #stomachofsteal.
If you’re wanting to see the Great Barrier Reef while visiting Australia (and why wouldn’t you?), here’s a breakdown of the best places to visit in Queensland to have the best reef holiday possible.
WHERE TO GO TO SEE THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
I guess we should start with my hometown, right? Townsville is actually the best city in Queensland to base yourself for the SS Yongala Shipwreck dive. This is not only one of the Great Barrier Reef’s best dive sites, but one of the world’s top five wreck dives. Adrenalin Snorkel and Dive in Townsville and Yongala Dive in Ayr are both great local companies that can take you to this world famous dive site.
Another option is to do a day trip to Orpheus Island with SeaLink Queensland. Orpheus was one of the islands I visited on the aforementioned school camp and is surrounded by fringing reef that’s made for snorkelling. The final island option is my parents’ little home of Magnetic Island, which actually sits within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. There are snorkel trails to follow directly off the island’s shoreline as well.
The big gun, Cairns is the fourth most visited city in Australia. This is because of its proximity to both the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. I haven’t been to Cairns for a few years, but I visited quite a bit when I was younger. There are so many tours, trips and opportunities to see the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns.
If/when I return to Cairns, I would personally do a day trip to Fitzroy Island, because Nudey Beach has been named the best beach in Australia. Green Island also has a lot of unique ways for people to see the reef. I mean, SNUBA diving and a semi-submarine tour?
If you also have some cash to splash, you can do a scenic helicopter flight to Vlasoff Cay, where you will have the sandy cay to yourself to enjoy a romantic picnic.
Port Douglas is Cairns’ northern neighbour. Located about an hour’s drive from the city, Port Douglas is a lot smaller but has more luxury hotels. There are two amazing ways to explore the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas. Firstly, Quicksilver Cruises does a day trip to its pontoon at Agincourt Reef, which is located at the very edge of Australia’s Continental Shelf. This means optimal underwater visibility and marine life that’s out of this world. Then there’s the Wavedancer Low Isles Cruise, which takes you to the most picture perfect tropical island imaginable.
If money is no object on a Great Barrier Reef holiday, then might I suggest visiting Lizard Island? The only way to access the exclusive resort is via a private flight from Cairns. Lizard Island is located directly on the Great Barrier Reef, and the resort has just 40 rooms and 24 private beaches. Activities on Lizard Island include both calm and challenging hikes, complimentary stand up paddleboards, guided tours to the inner and outer reef, and a day spa.
Heron Island is located off the coast of Gladstone. The island is home to the eco-certified Heron Island Resort and the UQ Research Station. There’s a boat service that connects the island to the mainland as well. There are over 20 dive sites located five to 15 minutes from the island. You can also snorkel directly off the beach or join the daily snorkelling boat trips. Other activities to enjoy on Heron Island include a semi-submersible reef tour, kayak and paddle boarding tours, visits to the research station, guided reef walks and a sunset cruise. Anyone else want to visit Heron Island now?
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A Cowtail Stingray resting on the shallow sand flats as the sun begins to set over @heronisland on the Great Barrier Reef. As the tide rises these rays can be seen in large numbers just meters from the shore #heronisland #seeaustralia #southerngreatbarrierreef #discoverocean #ausgeo #nakedplanet #ourplanetdaily #aquatech #undwaterphotography #earthfocus
LADY ELLIOT ISLAND
Another island that’s perfect for a Southern Great Barrier Reef holiday is Lady Elliot Island. The eco resort aims to be 100% sustainable by 2020, which is a massive achievement when the reef is under serious threat due to global warming. To get to Lady Elliot Island, you can fly from Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Brisbane or the Gold Coast. You can aslo choose to do a day trip or stay at Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort. There’s excellent snorkelling off the beach on Lady Elliot Island, and as many dive sites as Heron Island located off its shoreline.
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Lady Elliot Island 😍 Extraordinary; above and below the surface! This @visitbundaberg stunner is the southernmost coral cay of the @gbrmarinepark, home to 1,200 different species of marine life, and needs to be ticked off your bucket list, stat. #thisisqueensland by @kylerauphotography #visitbundaberg
Just like Cairns, Airlie Beach is known as a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. But it’s also the starting point for exploring the 74 wonderful Whitsunday islands. From Airlie Beach, there are day trips galore to the outer Great Barrier Reef, the world famous Whitehaven Beach and luxury isles like Hamilton Island. It’s also where you can take a scenic flight to see the infamous Heart Reef.
Airlie Beach itself is a total tourist town. The main street is packed with restaurants, souvenir stores, clothing boutiques and backpacker accommodation. I have visited the small town several times over the years, so it’s filled with a lot of good memories.
Does anyone else now want to immediately head on a Great Barrier Reef holiday, or is it just me?
This post was written in partnership with Flight Centre and contains affiliate links.