The First-Time Visitor’s Guide To Seeing The Great Barrier Reef
By Sarah Gaines
Australia is a gorgeous, breathtaking country, particularly in certain regions. From wild, untamed coastlines to stunning cities – there’s a lot to see and do on a trip to Australia.
You can explore subtropical rainforests, surf beaches, dry deserts, grasslands, lakes, rivers, mountain peaks and more. There is an incredible diversity in plant life, fauna and stunning natural environments.
The sunburnt country is also home to one of the world’s seven natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef. If you plan a trip to Australia, you should include this location on your itinerary. But the massive reef spans a large section of Australia’s northeastern coastline.
You might be at a loss as to where to start exploring the reef. Lucky for you, this helpful article will share everything a first-time visitor to the Great Barrier Reef should know. Read on to discover more.
Stay on Hamilton Island
You should consider booking accommodation in Hamilton Island. Part of an island chain called the Whitsundays, Hamilton Island is one of the largest of 74 islands. This is the place to be if you want to chill out with a cocktail and go for a leisurely swim. Plenty of family-friendly accommodation options are available, so you can enjoy some relaxing quality time with the family.
Also worth seeing on Hamilton Island are the gorgeous waters surrounding it, including the Great Barrier Reef. You can hire a kayak for a paddle close to shore, charter a glass bottom boat, or take a snorkeling trip out to the reef. You’ll see wonders lurking just below the surface of the clear, glassy water.
While you’re there, check out the Reef View Hotel, a perfect place to grab a beer or a chilled glass of wine, relax after a snorkeling trip, and grab a bite to eat with your refreshing beverage.
Furthermore, you could charter a yacht with your own private captain and head off for a sail of the pristine waters surrounding Hamilton Island.
Visit the Museum of Underwater Art
This truly unique location is off the coast of Townsville in northern Queensland. It is the only underwater art museum in the Southern Hemisphere. It shares the stories of the Great Barrier Reef and the local Aboriginal people. It hopes to inspire visitors to become passionate about reef conservation and want to protect this natural wonder.
The museum has several installations, including Ocean Siren, a female figure’s statue that was first launched in 2019. The second artwork launched in 2020 is called Coral Greenhouse and is installed on the ocean floor, 18 meters below sea level. The best way to see this installation is to tour the site and dive deep down to the ocean floor.
What You Can See on the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is home to some stunning, gorgeous, and mighty sea life, including whales (humpbacks and minke), manta rays, turtles, potato cod, giant clams, sharks, clownfish, and Maori wrasse. You’ll find most of these critters on the reef all year round, and you’ll likely see one when snorkeling or diving on the reef.
In addition to these magnificent sea creatures, you’ll see many colorful corals, thousands of smaller fish, and sea anemones.
Book a Diving Tour
Plenty of local companies along the coast of the Great Barrier Reef offer bespoke tour experiences that will take you out to particular locations on the reef and provide snorkeling or scuba diving equipment. Snorkeling is an excellent idea for inexperienced divers, as you can paddle out from the boat as far as you are comfortable.
If you’re keen on scuba diving, you’ll need some lessons first, as there are some risks to scuba diving that you need to be aware of and processes to follow to ensure a safe dive. However, scuba diving is the best way to explore this incredible natural wonder, allowing you to dive to a depth where you can truly experience the reef’s glory.
Here are some reputable dive companies to consider for your Great Barrier Reef diving experience:
Pro Dive Cairns – This dive company offers a range of diving experiences, including liveaboard trips and courses for all levels of divers. Website: https://prodivecairns.com/
Tusa Dive – With over 30 years of experience, Tusa Dive offers guided dive tours to some of the best sites on the reef. Website: https://www.tusadive.com/
Passions of Paradise – This eco-friendly dive company offers small-group tours and emphasizes conservation efforts to protect the reef. Website: https://www.passions.com.au/
Divers Den – With locations in Cairns and Townsville, Divers Den offers a variety of dive trips and courses for all levels of divers. Website: https://www.diversden.com.au/
Visit Magnetic Island
Magnetic Island is a picturesque location, a twenty-minute ferry ride from Townsville. It has a rocky landscape home to all sorts of local wildlife. The island is filled with lush woodlands and huge granite boulders. This distinguishes it from the typical tropical rainforest that covers the other Great Barrier Reef islands.
You’ll find superb off-shore snorkeling at the Geoffrey Bay snorkel trail. The kids will love visiting the Bungalow Bay Koala village or taking a leisurely horse ride along the beach. Are you ready for an adventure? Strap on your fins and let’s dive into the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s most famous and diverse natural wonders.
As a travel enthusiast and scuba diving junkie, I had been itching to visit the Great Barrier Reef for years. Finally, in 2022, I decided it was time to take the plunge and booked a trip to Cairns, Australia, the gateway to the reef.
After a long flight and a few days of adjusting to the time difference, I was ready to hit the water. My dive boat was packed with fellow adventurers from all over the world, all eager to explore the underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef.
As we descended into the crystal-clear water, I was immediately struck by the vibrant colors and abundant marine life. Giant schools of fish darted past us, while turtles lazily swam by, seemingly unfazed by our presence.
But the real highlight of my trip was swimming with a massive manta ray, which gracefully glided past me as if to say, “Welcome to my home.” It was a moment I’ll never forget.
Of course, no adventure is complete without a few mishaps and comedic moments. On one dive, I accidentally kicked my dive buddy in the face while trying to get a better look at a particularly beautiful coral formation. Fortunately, he was a good sport about it and we both laughed it off.
Another time, I accidentally grabbed a sea cucumber, mistaking it for a piece of driftwood. Needless to say, the slimy creature wasn’t too pleased with me and promptly squirted water in my face as I released it back into the ocean.
Despite these moments of clumsiness, I felt truly alive and grateful for the opportunity to explore such an incredible natural wonder.
In addition to diving, I also took the opportunity to explore the stunning islands and beaches surrounding the reef. I hiked through lush rainforests, snorkeled in crystal-clear waters, and even indulged in a little bit of beachside relaxation (with plenty of sunscreen, of course).
One of the highlights of my land-based adventures was visiting the adorable and iconic quokkas on Rottnest Island. These tiny marsupials, known for their friendly demeanor and adorable grins, were the perfect end to my trip.
As I boarded my flight back home, I felt a sense of bittersweet satisfaction. While I was sad to leave the stunning beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, I was also grateful for the memories and experiences I had gained.
If you’re considering a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, I highly recommend it. It’s a truly unique and awe-inspiring destination that will leave you feeling grateful, humbled, and possibly a little bit silly (if you’re anything like me). So pack your bags, grab your sunscreen, and get ready for an adventure you’ll never forget.
Great Barrier Reef Lodging
Silky Oaks Lodge – Nestled in the rainforest near Port Douglas, this eco-lodge offers a peaceful retreat and easy access to the reef. Website: https://www.silkyoakslodge.com.au/
Reef View Hotel – This hotel is located on Hamilton Island and offers stunning views of the reef. Website: https://www.hamiltonisland.com.au/accommodation/reef-view-hotel
Thala Beach Nature Reserve – This eco-resort is set on 58 hectares of rainforest near Port Douglas and offers a unique blend of luxury and environmental conservation. Website: https://www.thalabeach.com.au/
Remember to do your own research and choose a lodge and dive company that suits your preferences and budget. Happy diving!
Sarah Gaines learned to dive in her native Australia and hits the reef whenever she can.