The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,600 km (1,600 mi) along the Queensland coast. A visit to Australia is not complete without cruising, snorkelling or diving this magnificent bit of nature. Within Queensland, there are numerous points where you can access the reef - normally a boat trip of about 60-90 minutes from the coastline. There are also islands where you can stay where you can snorkel or dive directly from the beach.

Tour operators will offer an array of features: glass bottom boats, semi-submersibles, helicopter flights, touching tanks, underwater observatories, buffet lunches, stops on islands etc., All tour operators should have appropriate saftey equipment like life jackets, bouyant wetsuits, stinger suits and floating noodles.

click here for  great local advice on how to see the Great Barrier Reef 

Mobility-impaired travellers, or travellers not comfortable with swimming - look for an operator which has a lot of these hands-on activites with a large platform over the reef.

Cairns and Northern Beaches

Cairns has an extremely large number of options for touring the Great Barrier Reef, from budget-backpacker aimed boats, to helicopter flights to deserted islands. Shop around for the best value and look for features you may like. Read more about the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns

Port Douglas

Just north of Cairns, Port Douglas also caters for both ends of the budget spectrum. Tour operators offer transfers between Cairns and Port Douglas, so no matter where you are staying, you can access the tours of both. Read more about the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas


If you prefer land based activities then Townsville has a reef aquarium that is very popular and just a few blocks from the marina back towards town. You can also access the lovely Magnetic Island from near here. Approximately 48 nautical miles south east of Townsville is the dive site for the SS Yongola. Dive tours are available from several outlets. The Townsville maritime museum has interesting information and artifacts from this wreck.

Airlie Beach and The Whitsundays

Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays offer a plethora of options for you to see the Great Barrier Reef. Budget travellers can stay in Airlie Beach itself, while more cashed up travellers can stay on one of the beautiful islands. The marina at Abel Point is just one place to get a charter, but the gateway to the whitsundays would have to be Shute Harbour. Located 10km from Arlie by bus or car, it has daily services to most of the Whitsundays Island resorts.

One point worth noting is Airlie has a beach some would find dissapointing. No surf due to its protected location and not a place to swim during some months of the year as a result of marine stingers know to frequent North Queensland. Be reassured though, the council have now established a wonderful freshwater swimming area called the Airlie Beach Lagoon.

The Whitsundays (island group) have more than 70, mostly uninhabited islands. Several Islands have resorts located on them. There are numerous web sights depicting the island group and the resorts on them, with one good starting point found here . The options for access to the reef from this area is huge, so take the time to reasearch and you will be well rewarded.

Don't miss out on seeing the awesome Whitehaven Beach as well. 


Often ignored in the search for a holiday destination, this gem of a city has evolved over decades to be one of Queenslands hidden secrets. Apart from the commercial diveristy of this region. Mackay is a thriving exciting city with scenery and attractions to rival anything found in Queensland. Several tour operators base in the Mackay Harbour and airport. It is also a popular stop-over for yachts travelling up the coast.  Idyllic Island resorts are accessable off the coast of Mackay by boat or light aircraft and many of the beautiful beaches along the Mackay mainland have resorts right to the sand. A unique attraction to this area is some of these islands lay close to each other and have good coverage of pristine reef in the sandy channels between them. As with the Whitsundays, most of the Islands off Mackay are National parks so wonderfully diverse in flora and fauna. Overnight camping on several of these is also allowed.

Central Queensland

Central Queensland is the stopping off point for a number of popular islands and cays like Great Keppel, Wilson, Heron, Lady Musgrave and Lady Elliot

Brisbane and South-East Queensland

Brisbane sits outside the region of the Great Barrier Reef. However, if you're travelling to Brisbane but still want to see it, there are a number of tour operators who do a (very long) day trip to the most southerly islands. But be prepared to pay for the privilege! 


If you have any specific queries on the Great Barrier Reef, search and post in the forums.

For more information, visit the GBRMPA site.