The Great Barrier Reef is located in the Coral Sea just off the East Coast of Queensland. It stretches a whopping 2,000 kilometres from Cairns all the way down to Bundaberg – it's so big that it can be seen from space. To experience all the Great Barrier Reef has to offer, day trips are the way to go. There are full or half-day trips to the outer reef departing daily from a number of destinations along the East Coast.
Getting to the Great Barrier Reef
Some of the most popular starting points to do a Great Barrier Reef tour include Airlie Beach, Townsville, Port Douglas, Cairns and the Whitsundays. All these destinations are serviced by commercial airlines, but you may also wish to drive there or take public transport depending on where you're coming from.
Townsville is the starting point to access the gorgeous Hinchinbrook Island and Magnetic Island (or ‘Maggie Island’ as it’s nicknamed by locals) – both of which are located in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. You can fly to Townsville from numerous destinations in Australia with Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetgo and Jetstar.
The Spirit of Queensland train between Cairns and Brisbane is another option. The service runs five times per week and passes through Townsville. The journey takes around six hours from Cairns and 18 hours from Brisbane, so if you’re on a tight schedule, flying might be a better option. There’s also the Greyhound and Premier coaches which stop in Townsville on the northbound and southbound East Coast routes.
From Airlie Beach
You can get to Airlie Beach by flying to Whitsunday Coast Airport (PPP) in Prosperine from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Cairns and several other destinations in Australia. The airport is 20km from Airlie Beach and it takes around 30 mins to drive to the town centre. You can also fly into the Great Barrier Reef Airport on Hamilton Island where you can then take a ferry or high-speed catamaran to Airlie Beach.
There’s no public transport direct to Airlie Beach, but you can travel by bus with Greyhound or Premier from Cairns or Brisbane. You can also take the Spirit of Queensland train from Cairns or Brisbane via Prosperine, and then transfer to Airlie on the RailBus Coach, taxi or rideshare.
Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, stunning gorges and waterfalls, and the ancient Daintree Rainforest (ahem, the oldest rainforest in the world!). Cairns Airport is the main airport for Tropical North Queensland with domestic flights to and from most major Australian cities and a number of international destinations. You can also take the Spirit of Queensland train from Brisbane or a bus with Premier or Greyhound which travels up and down the coast. Driving is also possible if you enjoy spending time on the road and don't mind long drives, but this might not be possible if you're travelling from afar. To give you an idea, the drive takes 19 hours from Brisbane, 37 hours from Sydney and 32 hours from Melbourne.
From the Whitsundays
Most Whitsunday tours start from Airlie Beach. As well as jumping on a Greyhound or Premier coach to Airlie Beach, taking the Spirit of Queensland to Prosperine or flying to Whitsunday Coast Airport (PPP), you can also fly into Hamilton Island Airport. Many people use Hamilton Island as a base to explore the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef before heading across to the mainland.
Our Great Barrier Reef tours