Great Barrier Reef travel guide

You are never too old to explore the Great Barrier Reef, as proven by the equally great Sir David Attenborough, who celebrated his 90th year by making one of the finest nature documentary series of his lifetime for the BBC: The Great Barrier Reef. At over 2,000km long, the Great Barrier Reef isnít just about coral. It is part of the marine magnificence that is the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which actually covers 344,400km2 Ė a great big blue, packed with approximately 3,000 coral reefs, 600 continental islands, 300 coral cays and 150 inshore mangrove islands.
I took a year out in my 20s to travel around Australia. I started in Cairns, on the Great Barrier Reef, and never left. I reckoned it couldnít get better than that.
This Great Barrier Reef travel guide aims to not only show off its diving delights and snorkelling secrets, but also some of the islands to be explored, many of which were once joined to the mainland. Thereby placing pretty, elevated, rainforested kingdoms out in the ocean, as if the most stunning sapphire in the world needed any more jewels on top.

The Great Barrier Reef is...

a world unto its own. There is nothing like it. At 2,300km long, it can be seen from outer space.

The Great Barrier Reef isnítÖ

just a big bit of coral. It is a massive marine park, bigger than the UK, Switzerland and Holland combined.

Our top Great Barrier Reef Vacation

Australia tour, outback & reef

Australia tour, outback & reef

Tailor-made Tour to Australia's Coast, Outback & Reef.

From US $7995 25 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Great Barrier Reef or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Great Barrier Reef map & highlights

The Great Barrier Reef is a bit like an Escher painting, with layers and layers that seem to go on forever. Indeed, it has so many, the GBR is not only protected by the umbrella Marine Authority but by lots of other national parks too. Such as the Family Islands National Park, with Dunk Island as the daddy, or Fitzroy National Park with rainforest walking trails, and Lizard Island National Park with wildlife ranging from 15 species of lizard to stunning birdlife. Take a small boat cruise around the eclectic reefs from the larger ones such as Thetford, to the ribbon reefs in the north. Because no matter where you go, the GBR is just GR8.
Dunk Island

1. Dunk Island

The Aborigine name for Dunk is 'Coonanglegah', meaning 'Island of Peace and Plenty'. Part of Family Islands National Park, this is the daddy and largest, just 4km off Mission Beach. Once part of the mainland, it still maintains rainforest habitat for birds and butterflies, reptiles and reef regulars. Explore the land loving wildlife on several hiking routes, including a four hour rainforest circuit. Or simply immerse yourself in its sapphire waters.
Fitzroy Island National Park

2. Fitzroy Island National Park

Just 45 minutes from Cairns, Fitzroy Island is great not only for snorkelling but also for top bush and rainforest walks, one taking you to the summit which, at 269m, gives stunning views over the fringe reef and other islands. Keep an eye out for reptiles, including the yellow-spotted monitor at over a metre long. You wonít miss the birdlife, however: a bevy of emerald doves, cockatoos, orange-footed scrub fowls and kingfishers.
Hinchinbrook Channel & Island

3. Hinchinbrook Channel & Island

This 50km long channel separating the mainland from the island is a favourite on small boat cruises, because it is bursting with biodiversity. Between the islandís towering, tropical cliffs and the mangrove filled, navigable waterways where the Herbert River flows into the sea, a fusion of wildlife thrives including crocs, dolphins, turtles and dugongs. Check out Pelorus Island at the southern end, for tranquil beach time.
Lizard Island National Park

4. Lizard Island National Park

Well known for its elevated lookout point, from where Captain Cook purveyed the surrounding islands and reefs in order to make safe passage. You can still hike up to this historic point, and we also recommend guided walks with a naturalist, to help identify green frogs croaking at dusk, kingfishers or osprey, green sea turtles or the coral reefís annual spawning. You might not need a guide to spot the whales though.
Ribbon reefs

5. Ribbon reefs

Just when you think the prettiest package ever couldnít get more tantalising, it is decorated with elegant strips of ribbon. There are in fact 10 thin ribbon reefs, all coming up to about 5m below the surface, making for easy but exquisite snorkelling and diving. As well as fish such as barracuda, giant cod and whitetip reef sharks, each ribbon seems to have a story, with names like Steveís Bommie and Temple of Doom.
Thetford Reef

6. Thetford Reef

A 2km reef that is popular with divers and snorkellers because of its prolific isolated coral bommies and great diving walls. These create varied marine-scapes that boast giant clams, butterfly fish, damsels and angelfish, as well as colossal coral constructions including staghorn and plate coral. When your fingers get wrinkly, head to the sunny, sandy and totally sublime Sudbury Cay nearby to dry out. And bliss out.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Ukanda] [Is/Isn't: Kyle Taylor] [Map intro: Banfield1] [Dunk Island: melalouise] [Fitzroy Island National Park: Riftreef] [Hinchinbrook Channel & Island: CSIRO] [Lizard Island National Park: Ryan McMinds] [Ribbon reefs: Sarah_Ackerman] [Thetford Reef: Rob and stephanie Levy]