Guide to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the essential phases of a road trip in Australia. Difficult to see this country without taking advantage of this Australian coral reef. A question arises: how to go to the Great Barrier Reef? Several trips and activities are possible: diving, boat trips, flying across the Great Barrier Reef. From Cairns but also from Airlie Beach. We’ll see this in this informative article on the Great Barrier Reef.

Really, in this ticket devoted to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, I discuss my comments and my advices to enjoy this magical location. It’s obviously the place I favored during my stay in the country. This manual should help you plan your trip and understand what to do on the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef, A Place To Watch In Australia

great barrier
The Great Barrier Reef can be found off the coast of Queensland and is the northern part of Australia’s east coast. Found in the coral sea, the Australian Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the world.

A few figures on the Great Barrier Reef allow a better understanding of its vastness :

  • It stretches for over 2000 km,
  • Its surface area is roughly 350,000 km2″ over half of France”,
  • 2500 coral reefs and about 900 islands/sandbanks make up the barrier reef,
  • it shelters 400 species of corals, 1500 species of fish, 4000 species of mollusks but also other species (turtles, sponges, …).
  • The diversity of marine life and the uniqueness of the Great Barrier Reef make it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Great Barrier Reef, a reef at risk

great barrier
You have already heard about it, the Great Barrier Reef is endangered. Without being the only coral reef in danger, the condition of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is terrifying. Some regions are more or less influenced.

Components of the Great Barrier Reef are more than 60% dead. This is especially the case of part of the northern part, around the town of Cooktown. The southern part of the Great Barrier Reef is the least affected. The root of the endangerment of the Great Barrier Reef is numerous. Anyhow, as everywhere in the world, if you’re snorkeling on the reef, avoid using sunscreen! They are harmful to corals and the remainder of the coral reef biodiversity.

How to see the Great Barrier Reef?

Following this brief introduction to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, time for practical information and opinions. Here’s the essential to learn about how to see the Great Barrier Reef:

  • Two potential starting points: Cairns or Airlie beach
  • Many options are possible to see the coral reef
  • Sea trip for snorkeling or diving
  • Flying over the Great Barrier to know its immensity

In this part, we won’t necessarily dwell on the actions to be performed on the Great Barrier Reef. This will be the topic of the next portion of this guide where we’ll share the trips that we believe to be the best to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef. Here, we’ll rather discuss the only practical aspects of preparing your stay around the Great Barrier Reef.

We’ll also mention other practical aspects for people who would like to get a maximum of information prior to going there.

Great Barrier Reef: From Cairns or Airlie Beach?

Credit: Great Barrier Reef
To begin with, it is important to know that the actions on the Great Barrier Reef are more or less the same if you are traveling from Cairns or out of Airlie Beach. Needless to say, we’ll see in the remainder of the ticket which there are differences but which aren’t so: the overflight is only possible from such and such a town.

Great Barrier Reef from Cairns

Credit: Cairns
If you’re planning to visit the world during a long road trip in Australia, I suggest you select Airlie Beach. And this for several reasons:

  • If you are driving up the coast, you will be driving through Airlie Beach…
  • The flight over the reef will also let you fly over the Whitsunday Islands, near Airlie Beach (here).
  • You can also have a trip to the Whitsunday Islands.
  • However, in case you’ve got a tight schedule, arriving by plane in Cairns, for instance, visiting Airlie Beach will take a while. Over 600 kilometers one way for nearly 8 hours.

Barrier Reef from Airlie Beach

Credit: Arlie

It’s therefore critical to choose your starting point for the reef depending on your itinerary. Visiting the Great Barrier Reef from Airlie Beach is for me the best choice but you want to spend at least 8 or 10 times (or more) in Queensland. Otherwise, stay in Cairns. There are different things to do around Cairns and you’ll be able to enjoy the reef also!

What To Do In The Barrier Reef In Australia?

As stated in the preceding paragraph, if you’re planning to see the Great Barrier Reef during your visit to Australia, the two options are from Cairns or from Airlie beach.

In general, you can consider that the actions at the barrier reef are more or less the same if you travel from Cairns or Airlie beach. However, there could be some tiny differences. We’ll discuss them here and I’ll share my experience to direct you in the event that you’ve got the option to do your tasks from Cairns or Airlie beach.

There’s only 1 way to become fully aware of the immensity of the Great Barrier Reef: fly over the world by airplane or helicopter. And again, you may only see a very small area of the reef… That is obviously the highlight of my visit to Australia. And even if this action on the Great Barrier Reef is rather expensive, in my opinion, you need to make it fit in your budget, whatever the price tag!

Flight over the Great Barrier Reef

Credit: Great Barrier Reef

You can fly over the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns or from Airlie Beach :

  • From Cairns to get a 40-minute flight at about 140 bucks.
  • From Airlie Beach to get a 60 minutes flight (barrier + Whitsunday Islands) for approximately 155 dollars.

Prices might vary slightly depending upon the U.S dollar/Australian dollar exchange rate. If you go through these two cities, I truly urge you to fly from Airlie Beach. Past the flight duration that is longer for an almost identical price, you’ll have the option to fly over the Great Barrier Reef but also the magnificent Whitsunday Islands. From Cairns, you’ll have to be happy with a flight over the Great Barrier Reef only…

How to pick your sea trip on the Great Barrier Reef…

There are quite a few other sea trips. The majority of them are, in my opinion, less interesting than the 2 previously mentioned. A sea trip is a favorite in Airlie Beach, on the catamaran Camira (140 bucks for the day). It mainly brings young people because alcohol is included (and thus the air that goes with it…).

So take care to select the sea excursion on the barrier that will meet your expectations (excursion with friends, family members,…).

Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef

Credit: Snorkeling
Great Barrier Reef in Australia: Some Practical Aspects

In conclusion this manual to the Australian world, here is a few other practical information which may be useful. These include advice on when to go to the reef, how long or budget to spend on the reef, and how to budget for reef excursions.

When seeing the Great Barrier Reef, a question to ask yourself whether you have flexibility in planning your Queensland holiday.

The best months to visit the Great Barrier Reef are May/June to September/October. They correspond to the dry season in the north of Australia. The remainder of the year is wetter, but more importantly, it’s the jellyfish season. Visiting the reef in Australia between October and April isn’t necessarily an obstacle since you are able to rent a wetsuit for snorkeling and other activities. However, for the remainder of your stay in Queensland, you won’t automatically have the ability to enjoy the beaches (except for the very active ones that are equipped with anti-moth baits ).

So in the event, you have flexibility in planning your trip, May to September are the preferred months for the Great Barrier Reef. Don’t forget to consider your entire trip. Australia is huge and what’s true in Queensland isn’t true from the south of the country…

How much do you will need to budget to pay a visit to the Great Barrier Reef?

As is frequently the case in Australia, a rather large budget is better to take complete advantage of the Great Barrier Reef. For me, there are just two things to do to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef in Australia:

  • Go out to sea for snorkeling or diving.
  • Flying over the barrier by airplane or helicopter.

We’ll discuss these actions in more detail in the remainder of the post. But you can trust a budget of 250 / 300 bucks minimum per person for these 2 actions. Then you will have to bring the budget for lodging/meals,…

How Many Days to Expect on the Great Barrier Reef

In my view, we ought to go to Queensland for the reef, but not just for the reef. Indeed, you’re not likely to perform 1000 or 2000 km or have a trip to Cairns only for two or three days on the floor.

There are quite a few different items to see in the state of Queensland. The reef is going to keep you occupied for at least a day and a half. A day at sea and half a day for your flight. These are for me the two things to do absolutely. Beyond this, you can take the chance to discover the rest of the state. I’ll be brought on the site to discuss it as there are places to see absolutely in my view.

Finally, remember to consider the travel time. If you select Airlie Beach to find the Great Barrier Reef and you arrive by airplane in Cairns, you’ll have to take into consideration the travel time to build your itinerary.

In my opinion, it’s therefore essential to rely on a minimum of 8 / 10 days in the state of Queensland in order to”justify” time spent on the streets.

What gear should I bring for Great Barrier Reef Tours?

1 final question can be asked prior to visiting the Great Barrier Reef: what gear to bring. To begin with, as I mentioned at the start of this guide, I truly suggest that you avoid sunscreen. There are numerous ways to protect yourself in the sun without damaging the marine fauna. You should certainly wear a T-shirt and protect yourself with clothes. Maybe less agreeable but more ecological!

Concerning the snorkeling gear, it’s supplied for the trips that I recommend here. Be careful, on other boat excursions, it may be invoiced in addition to the place… In this case, it’s far better to bring your own equipment. It will cost you in the future and you’ll be certain of the quality of the equipment, particularly for the mask. Personally, I travel with my own mask, as those that I bring with me are sometimes (often) of inferior quality.

Finally, regarding photography, I really suggest that you go with a camera that can go underwater or in the worst case pay to your smartphone. The corals and fish are amazing and you’ll surely need to immortalize these minutes underwater…

Please note it is fairly possible to take excellent photo gear with you and leave it onboard the ship during the diving/snorkeling trips on the Great Barrier Reef. If you travel with a reflex camera (like me), then you’ll have the chance to take beautiful pictures onboard the ship, especially if you will find the Great Barrier Reef from Airlie Beach.

This guide to the Great Barrier Reef ends. If you’re planning a road trip in Australia, I can only recommend that you incorporate the reef in your trip itinerary. As I said in the introduction, it’s my favorite thing about Australia. Especially for the flight over the Great Barrier Reef.

Furthermore, you’ll have the chance to view it in other blog posts, you will find additional things to do in Queensland, along with the Great Barrier Reef. That means you won’t be detouring into Cairns or Airlie Beach only for the reef!