The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland is the world’s largest living organism and a globally recognised natural wonder. 

At almost 2,000 kilometres long and 80 kilometres wide at some points, the Great Barrier Reef runs from the tip of northern Queensland via the Whitsundays and finishes just north of Bundaberg. It is so large that astronauts have reported the Great Barrier Reef can be seen from space. When you get up close and personal with the Great Barrier Reef, coral gardens sparkle with jewel bright tropical fish, clown fish peek out of anemones tucked into the coral and huge parrot fish swim by below. Spotted rock cod drift lazily in the current, slowing occasionally to let a double-headed wrasse pass by in front of them. With so many natural wonders to discover, the Great Barrier Reef is the perfect destination to join a small group tour with an expert leader to take you to all the best spots.

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Highlights of the Great Barrier Reef

Yacht in the Whitsundays

Board a live-aboard yacht

Board a live-aboard yacht with your group on a Whitsundays Island Explorer tour. Enjoy your time on board unwinding with a good book or chatting with your travel buddies then slip into the water and explore the wonders below on a snorkel adventure. As the sun goes down, relax with a cool drink and watch the sun bathe the water in a soft orange glow and see the sky lit up with streaks of red, purple, pink and blue. If you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the sparkling Southern Cross twinkling overhead.

Baby turtles making their way to water

Watch turtles hatch

Watch Loggerhead, Flatback and Green turtles make their way up the beach to dig a nest and lay their eggs at Mon Repos near Bundaberg, the largest turtle rookery in the South Pacific. When the time is right, up to 150 tiny hatchlings emerge most nights and scuttle down the beach into the waters of the Southern Great Barrier Reef. Heron Island near Gladstone is also a significant breeding area for these gentle creatures which delight travellers who come here to watch this natural wonder unfold from November to February. 

Whale breaching

Go whale watching

The Great Barrier Reef is the perfect place to jump onboard a whale watching cruise. Seeing these incredible animals breaching, spraying water into the air, and slapping their tails on top of the water to communicate with other whales in the area is an experience not to be missed. Some of the most popular jumping off points for a Great Barrier Reef whale watching cruise are Cairns, Townsville, Hamilton Island, and Lady Musgrave Island. Whale watching season on the Great Barrier Reef runs from August to October.

Snorkeller with a turtle

Snorkelling the reef

Pack your swimmers and get ready for an aquatic adventure as you explore the outer reef on one of the many Great Barrier Reef boat tours that include snorkelling. Sunlight sparkles on the ocean, the sun warms your back, and colourful fish tempt you to jump in the water to catch a glimpse of their watery world and appreciate the many colours of the coral. Fitzroy Island is a short boat trip from Cairns and is home to some of the most accessible fringing coral in Tropical North Queensland and has a snorkel gear hire store.

Heart Reef aerial photo

Great Barrier Reef scenic flight

See a different side of the Great Barrier Reef with a one hour scenic flight that takes some of the best and most famous parts of the Great Barrier Reef, like the scenic area from Whitehaven Beach to Hill Inlet, Hook Passage and myriad Whitsunday Islands including famous Heart Reef. Rainforest tumbles down rugged hillsides, idyllic rocky bays beckon and shimmering, crystalline blue waters beg to be explored.  When you take a scenic flight above the Great Barrier reef, you gain a new perspective on this magnificent natural wonder.

Kayaking tour with blue water

Great Barrier Reef day trip

Whether you would like to go kayaking, go on a snorkel or dive trip, take a semi-submersible ride around the reef, or relax and watch the world go by from the comfort of a motor cruiser, there is a day trip to suit every budget and every type of traveller when you visit the Great Barrier Reef. If you want to get a good look at the coral and fish of the Great Barrier Reef but aren’t keen on getting wet, visit one of the floating reef pontoons with underwater viewing areas and glass bottom boat rides.

Great Barrier Reef tour reviews

Great Barrier Reef FAQs

Trips on or before 31 December 2022

If your Intrepid trip starts on or before 31 December 2022, you must provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19.

If you are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons, you may apply for an exemption. Exemptions will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. To apply, you must provide a medical certificate from a medical professional. 

Children under 18 are exempt. Children aged between 5 and 17 years old must provide proof of either vaccination, recovery or a negative COVID-19 test.

Trips from 1 January 2023 onwards

From 1 January 2023, Intrepid will no longer require travellers to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 (excluding all Polar trips and select adventure cruises). However, we continue to strongly recommend that all Intrepid travellers and leaders get vaccinated to protect themselves and others.

Specific proof of testing or vaccination may still be required by your destination or airline. Please ensure you check travel and entry requirements carefully.

Learn more about Intrepid's COVID-19 proof of vaccination policy

Some of the most popular jumping off points for visiting the Great Barrier Reef are Airlie Beach, Townsville, Port Douglas, Cairns and the Whitsundays. These destinations are all serviced by commercial airlines. It is also possible to drive to one of the towns near the Great Barrier Reef and access the wonders of the underwater world on a small group tour.  

If you are planning on visiting the reef on a day trip, try to allow at least two days to visit the Great Barrier Reef. This will give you some flexibility if the weather isn’t good on the day you originally planned to visit the reef. The other option is to join a Whitsunday Islands Explorer tour and spend several days on a live-aboard yacht exploring the Great Barrier Reef. The waters of the Great Barrier Reef get warmer the further north you go.

Find out how to get to the Great Barrier Reef

Summer on the Great Barrier Reef is hot and humid and perfect for swimming although the area can be prone to cyclones and wet weather at this time of year. Spring and Autumn are cooler and tend to be quieter, especially outside the school holidays. In winter, whales are frequently spotted in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. If you are visiting the Great Barrier Reef between October and May and swimming in the ocean, it is advisable to wear a 'stinger suit' to protect yourself from possible jellyfish stings. 

Read more about the best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef

Read more about if you need to wear a stinger suit at the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef tends to be a casual place so you can leave your fancy clothes at home. Even if you are staying at a high-end resort, smart casual clothes are all you will need. Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat are a must, even in winter, as the sun reflects off the sparkling blue water and white sand. Bring essentials such as basic medications with you won't find any shops when you're out exploring the reef. 

In short, pretty much non-existent unless you're near one of the major tourist hubs such as Hamilton Island in The Whitsundays or on the mainland at a town like Airlie Beach. 

Unless you're near one of the major tourist spots such as Hamilton Island in The Whitsundays or on the mainland at a town like Airlie Beach it is unlikely you will be able to get a mobile phone signal. 

Intrepid is committed to making travel widely accessible, regardless of ability or disability. That’s why we do our best to help as many people see the world as possible, regardless of any physical or mental limitations they might have. The abundance of sand in some parts of the Great Barrier Reef can make walking difficult for travellers who are less mobile on foot. However, we’re always happy to talk to travellers with disabilities and see if we can help guide them towards the most suitable itinerary for their needs and where possible, make reasonable adjustments to our itineraries.

Learn more about Accessible Travel with Intrepid

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