Visit the Great Barrier Reef
Let me be upfront about my snorkeling preferences. My favorite snorkeling trips have been off the coast in Belize where 5 of us cram into a small boat with a (probably unlicensed) local who drives out to a little known “best spot” on the reef near the tiniest emerging islands made of untouched white sand. We snorkel for a few hours, trying to remember to not get lost in staring down at the sea below and snorkel too far from the boat. Next, we jet off to a nearby sandbar where we catch a few pan fish. At a nearby mangrove island housing one little hut , the fish and some potatoes are fried for a deliciously simple lunch. We snorkel some more. There aren’t thousands of fish surrounding me, and the sight of sharks scares me back into the boat. But that’s the kind of snorkeling adventure I like. So I preface my tips for visiting the Great Barrier Reef with this background knowledge of my experiences and likes – if they aren’t yours then think about what you expect from your time at the reef:
- Tour groups
- The safety of swimming boundaries
- To see unnatural numbers of fish
- Sightings of sea turtles (because they a lured close with food)
- Professional photographers to take your photo with said turtles,
- All-in-one-trips (you can snorkel, dive, sea-walk, glass bottom boat, and helicopter all in one day)
and you are short on time – then these tips will help you make the most of a trip to the Great Barrier Reef. (If not, see my comments at the bottom of the post.)
photo credit: Charles Stafford, CRS Photography
How to Visit the Great Barrier Reef Like A Tourist
- Stay on the mainland or an island close to the mainland. This will ensure that you have a 2 hour boat ride out to the reef where you can listen to lectures about what you will see.
- Sign up for a Great Barrier Reef tour on a large boat. Preferably one that can hold 200-300 people.
- Ensure that the ship has a giant pontoon floatation anchored to the Great Barrier Reef. This pontoon acts as a swimming/dinning platform with benches, lockers of snorkeling gear, and an underwater sea walking platform.
- Sign up for all the extra activities onboard such as the sea walker, intro dive, and helicopter ride.
- Snorkel near where they are feeding the fish. But make sure you stay in the roped off boundary area that has lifeguards keeping track of everyone.
- Sign up for the snorkel tour only if you want to be an adventure tourist. Your tour guide will: take you outside the roped boundaries, allow you to hang on to the buoy so you can be pulled along, ensure that no one gets left behind by constantly screaming the name of the person who is furthest behind, and hurry you along past the best parts of the reef to ensure he’s back in time for his next tour.
- For extra tourist points: See the reef without getting wet – by only taking a helicopter ride or the glass bottom boat tour.
- Buy a photo of you getting on the boat, snorkeling next to the turtle, holding a Great Barrier Reef sign, or sea walking next to the sea turtle.
- Buy a t-shirt from the ship’s gift shop.
There you have it – you can see the Great Barrier Reef like a tourist and do it all in a day. Even with an amazingly touristy tour you will still be amazed by the size of the reef, the variety of fish, and the Great Barrier Reef’s colors. After all, there’s a reason it’s called the Great Barrier Reef. Even the most touristy parts are still incredible. And you can rest assured knowing that only this one small part of the reef is being damaged by the hoards of tourists slathered with sunscreen, accidentally touching the reef, and petting the fish.
Don’t get me wrong – I love playing tourist. But it’s not for everyone. It’s best to know your options and consciously choose the type of Great Barrier Reef tour you want to be on. If you want see the Great Barrier Reef in a less touristy way I would recommend doing the opposite of each step I’ve listed here. Hopefully, you’ll wind up with an experience more like my Belizean ones.
Great Barrier Reef Facts: With Infographic
Each year, millions of tourists travel to Queensland, Australia to view the magnificence of the Great Barrier Reef. This amazing natural structure is home to a vast variety of marine wildlife, birds and small living organisms. Viewable even from outer space, the Great Barrier Reef measures more than 2500 kilometers in length and is made up of nearly 3,000 separate coral reefs and more than 900 islands. Learn more amazing facts about this largest and most diverse coral reef in the world:
- The Great Barrier Reef is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. It houses more than 200 species of birds. approximately 400 different species of coral and 500 species of seaweed.
- Marine wildlife living in or around the reef includes over 1,500 species of fish. Seventeen species of sea snakes and at least six species of sea turtles also make their home in the reef. Thirty species of dolphins, whales and porpoises can be found swimming within the reef.
- The Great Barrier Reef attracts more than 1.6 million tourists from around the world yearly. An average of 4.5 million AUD is generated from tourism each year.
- More than 6000 commercial ships can be found operating within the Great Barrier Reef throughout the year.
- It is estimated that the Great Barrier Reef was likely formed about 18 million years ago. Environmental and climatic changes caused new reefs to grow over the original formations. The living reefs visible today are more than 8,000 years old and have been growing since the last Ice Age. The sandy islands surrounding the reef are thought to be only about 6,000 years old
- The Great Barrier Reef embodies an area of approximately 345,000 square kilometers. The reef is larger than many countries in the world. Only 62 countries globally encompass an area larger than the Great Barrier Reef.
- Some of the best places to view the Great Barrier Reef are Heron Island, Day Dream Island, Long Island, Port Douglas, Lizard Island, Green Island, Harrison Island and Whitehaven Beach.
- Scuba diving within and around the Great Barrier Reef is a popular activity. Tourists are welcome to view the magnificence of the reef and observe the amazing underwater world within it. However, it is forbidden to remove any piece of the coral reef. This law is put into place to protect the reef and the wildlife that make their home there. Any violation of this law is a punishable act that could result in large fines.
- The Red Bass is among the oldest species of fish found living in the Great Barrier Reef. This fish has an average life span of approximately 50 to 57 years.
- The Great Barrier Reef represents the most diverse variety of life of any location on the planet.
- A large portion of the reef is protected by the Great Barrier Marine Park. Environmental dangers, such as climate changes and pollution, threaten the health of the reef. The crown-of-thorns starfish is also a natural threat to the Great Barrier Reef. This starfish is a predator of coral polyps. Large populations of this starfish can have a devastating effect on coral reefs. Other dangers include oil spills, fishing, shipping accidents and tropical cyclones. Some estimate that the Great Barrier Reef will be completely wiped out by the middle of the 21st century. At least 40% of mangroves and coral reefs located within the Great Barrier Reef have already been destroyed.
- The Great Barrier Reef was designated a World Heritage Site in 1981.
Great Barrier Reef Facts with InfoGraphic (Click to Enlarge):
Infographic produced by Paradise Bay Whitsunday Resort