We don’t need to sell Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to you. The moment it is mentioned, images of the brightly coloured fish and epic reefs of this impressive underwater marvel spring immediately to mind. Yep, it’s pretty damn great. So it’s no wonder Australia’s ‘Blue Outback’ is at the top of many a bucket list. And by the time you get through reading what makes it so special, it’ll most likely be at the top of yours…
1. It’s got SO MUCH marine life
Let’s start by stating the obvious. The Great Barrier Reef has some of the most varied and impressive marine life in the world. In short there are at least 1,625 species of fish, 1,400 coral reef species, 3,000 species of molluscs, 630 species of echinoderm (that’s starfish and sea urchins for the marine-novices amongst you), 100 species of jellyfish, 20 varieties of reptiles, 14 breeding species of sea snakes, 215 species of birds, six of the world’s seven species of marine turtle, 30 species of whales and dolphins, 133 species of sharks and rays and one of the world’s most important populations of the endangered dugong (sea cow). Woowee, that wasn’t that short, was it?
2. There’s some epic snorkelling
Chances are, snorkelling and diving are what most have planned when venturing to this part of Australia. You’ve pretty much got two options here: either a day out on the inner reef or the outer isles, floating on the ocean’s surface with a snorkel and watching large green sea turtles swim by, or diving down just a few metres to admire the huge clams, some of which are well over 100 years old. Admire is the key word here, so no touching.
3. It’s an incredible place for sailing
Kick your snorkel or dive-experience up a notch by opting for one of the many day trip opportunities that can be found all along the coast or island resorts. Starting from around AU$200, sail boats and catamarans will take you to a number of diving and snorkelling spots and usually provide equipment and a lunch. It’s a great way to see some out-of-the-way spots and take in the vastness of the reef. For diving enthusiasts, there are ample opportunities to join live-aboard boats for a number of days, that will often take you to some of the most remote diving areas.
4. You can explore from the air by helicopter or seaplane
Speaking of bucket lists, we’re sure more than one of you have a helicopter ride in there somewhere. Resort transfers and scenic flights are available from many locations along the coast and the reef’s larger islands, such as the Whitsundays where a helicopter flight over the famous Heart Reef is de rigueur for honeymooners. Or take the seaplane from Hamilton Island to Whitehaven Island if the helicopter seems a bit too extreme…
5. You can marvel at Whitehaven’s silica
Whitehaven’s beach is 98 per cent silica, which does not retain heat like regular sand. Steadily emerging from a small opening in the sea floor just off the shoreline (and visible from the air), the silica is deposited by the current. Its fine, powdery form feels similar to velvet and makes an excellent skin exfoliant (so we’ve been told) so don’t be alarmed to see women and men alike rolling around on the beach! Smoking cigarettes and pets are banned, so the beach is pretty much unspoiled.
6. It’s got great mainland resorts
Wanting to enjoy the views from the comfort of land? Then laze away the day in a hammock or on a sandy beach on one of the area’s main resorts. The choice of locations – from backpacker favourite Airlie Beach, to upmarket Port Douglas and buzzing Cairns – is matched by the huge array of accommodation options – take your pick from five-star resorts, economical short-stay apartments, villas at every price range or lively hostels.
7. Plus some beautiful tropical islands
Hamilton, Lizard, Hayman, Daydream, Heron, Orpheus, Lady Elliot, Lindeman, Bedarra, Brampton, Fitzroy, Great Keppel, Dunk, South Molle, Hinchinbrook… the list goes on. Visiting the many tropical islands dotted across the Great Barrier Reef is a real escape from the crowds.
8. You can do skydiving above the Whitsunday Islands
One of Australia’s most beautiful spots, Whitsunday Islands offer views of clear turquoise waters and long stretches of white sands. Although incredible enough from the ground, the views over the bay become even more epic from above. Admire them from a plane before experiencing the adrenaline pumping thrill of a freefall skydive. An experienced tandem instructor will be in charge of the parachute so all you have to worry about is enjoying the views.
9. Or admire the views from a hot air balloon
Hop on a hot air balloon and feel the calmness of being away from everything. Hot air balloon trips usually start in Cairns where you can really appreciate (from above of course) just how varied the natural surroundings of this tropical north Queensland region is. You’ll float above Queensland bushland, azure waters and tropical islands covered in rainforest.
10. You can explore the Daintree Forest
Walking the canopy of one of the world’s oldest rainforests should be at the top of your bucket list. You can explore the forest by hiking along one of the many free self-guided walks or you can go on a more specialised tour with a tour operator.
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