How to visit the Great Barrier Reef – 5 Queensland Holiday Ideas

Stretching for an incredible 1,400 miles along the Queensland coast and home to over 1500 species of fish, the Great Barrier Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features on many Australia bucket lists.

A trip to Oz is hardly complete without a chance to snorkel, sail or dive amongst the rainbow fish, turtles, dolphin and fish that live here, so I’ve rounded up 5 different ways you can explore the reef on a Queensland holiday.

Whether you’re on a budget or a committed beach lover, here are 5 Great Barrier Reef holiday ideas to suit all tastes.

For backpackers

Great Barrier Reef Queensland

The first time I visited the Great Barrier Reef I was a backpacker on a budget. The likes of Qualia (see below) were a distance dream and our digs needed to be purse-friendly if we were going to have any chance of affording a daytrip to the reef.

We based ourselves in Cairns because it has a wide range of budget accommodation – from flashpacker style hostels to cheap as chips motels – as well as supermarkets so we could self-cater within our means.

How to visit the Great Barrier Reef – 5 Queensland Holiday Ideas

From there we booked a one day boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef, which included snacks, drinks and snorkelling or SCUBA equipment. It was a great taster of what lies below the Coral Sea and satisfied this traveller who wanted to achieve her bucket list without going broke.

For beach-lovers

Delivering on those Reef Views - view from level 18 Reef View Hotel

Luckily, since moving to Australia I’ve had the chance to go back to Queensland and explore the Great Barrier Reef a lot more extensively and with a little more style.

If you’d like to combine your underwater adventures with relaxation on some of the world’s best beaches then make a beeline for Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays.

Hamilton Island has its own airport so it’s super easy to jet in and hit the beach within minutes. The island resort is home to a range of accommodation types – from the 4-star Reef View Hotel to world-class luxury resort Qualia. (It attracts a rather glitzy crowd – Miranda Kerr, Gordon Ramsay and Leonardo DiCaprio are all rumoured to have stayed there.)

How to visit the Great Barrier Reef – 5 Queensland Holiday Ideas

On Hamilton Island you’re only a short boat trip away from some of the most spectacular sections of the Great Barrier Reef as well as world-famous Whitehaven Beach, where the sand consists of 98% pure silica and is regularly voted the world’s best beach.

Read more about Hamilton Island

For boat-lovers

How to visit the Great Barrier Reef – 5 Queensland Holiday Ideas

Of course, if you really want to immerse yourself in Queensland’s marine life then it makes sense to sail it. A Northern Great Barrier Reef Cruise on board the Coral Princess offers all the comforts of a larger vessel but on a ship small enough to visit some of the more remote and lesser-known areas of the reef such as the Ribbon Reefs.

How to visit the Great Barrier Reef – 5 Queensland Holiday Ideas

You can enjoy a 7-night cruise, stopping at the likes of Lizard Island for spectacular hilltop views, or combine a shorter sail with an adventure in Port Douglas and the World Heritage listed Daintree Rainforest.

Discover more bucket list experiences in Queensland

For boast-worthy stories

How to visit the Great Barrier Reef – 5 Queensland Holiday Ideas

If you like the idea of staying on the water but are not keen on the often cramped conditions of sea-life then Cruise Whitsundays offer the most incredible alternative.

At their permanently moored pontoon on Hardy Reef, one of the most spectacular stretches of Great Barrier Reef, they offer a limited number of guests the chance to stay the night at Reefsleep.

Guests sleep in a swag on the top deck and you’ll literally see the reef in a whole new light when the first rays of sunrise break over the water and illuminate the canvas over your head.

Reefsleep Great Barrier Reef Cruise Whitsundays

The Reefsleep is not just about the boast-worthy claim of sleeping on the reef, however, it also offers the unique opportunity of exploring underwater when all the other day guests have left.

Your experience comes with the exclusive chance to see the reef at night via the pontoon’s Underwater Chamber and first thing in the morning when you can enjoy a guided snorkel or dive long before the first boat leaves the mainland.

During my experience, there were just 9 Reefsleep guests so I often swum with only 1 or 2 other people and about a gazillion fish, turtles and vibrant creatures – it was like rush hour for marine world and I’ll never forget it.

For a bird’s eye view

How to visit the Great Barrier Reef – 5 Queensland Holiday Ideas

As the largest living thing that is visible from outer space you can also be blown away by the Great Barrier Reef without touching the water at all.

One of the best things I have ever done in Queensland is take a scenic helicopter ride over the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Islands.

My ride picked me up after Reefsleep – yes, they also have floating helipads at Hardy Reef – and bought me back to Hamilton Island via some of the reef’s most impressive formations.

How to visit the Great Barrier Reef – 5 Queensland Holiday Ideas

You may recognise the Heart Reef from brochures and articles about Queensland, well I can verify it 100% looks like it does in the pics when viewed from a helicopter. I saw and filmed it with my own eyes and was awestruck.

Another sight that looks sensational from above is Hill Inlet on Whitsunday Island. The trifecta of emerald water, pure white sand and rugged green bushland merges in the most magical way at the inlet – honestly, this is nature at its finest and if you can fit a helicopter ride into your Great Barrier Reef holiday just do it!

How to visit the Great Barrier Reef – 5 Queensland Holiday Ideas

You may also like:

3 incredible ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef

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About the author

I’m Jayne, a travel blogger, content creator and mum to a 4-year-old son. I’ve been blogging since 2010, travelled to 65 countries and share travel guides and tips to help you plan stylish, stress-free trips.

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