Exploring Australia’s Great Barrier Reef
January 4, 2017Amy Trumpeter
*This article is a guest post by Katie Dundas, travel blogger from The Accidental Australian.
If there’s one spot that consistently comes up on bucket lists of world travellers, it would be Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The Reef is the world’s largest coral reef, and underwater oasis of marine life and colourful corals. Set just below the turquoise waters of the Coral Sea, just off the Eastern Coast of Australia’s Queensland, the reef is a protected marine park and a World Heritage Listed site.
The Great Barrier Reef – The Facts
Home to an incredibly diverse ecosystem, over 1,500 species of fish live with the reef, which spans over a distance of 1,800 miles. To put its size into perspective, it is the only living thing on earth which is visible from space, and it is larger than the Great Wall of China. (greatbarrierreef.org)
How to Get to the Great Barrier Reef
The Reef spans thousands of miles, starting from off the coast of the town of Bundaberg, and as far north as Cape York. Most visitors would access the reef from Cairns or the Whitsunday Islands, but there are tour operators throughout the Queensland coast who will do reef trips, ranging from day trips to multi-day live aboard dive boats. Unless you are staying on an island resort, you will need to book a day trip with a licensed reef tour operator to take a trip out to the reef.
It is important to note that the trip from the mainland to the reef can take anywhere from 2-3 hours each way, depending on where you are visiting from. I’ve taken several trips out to the Reef, and a word of warning- the conditions are often very choppy, with winds and rough waves creating the perfect conditions for sea-sickness.
Luckily it doesn’t bother me much, but even I found myself feeling pretty nauseus on a few reef trips, a miserable prospect at the start of a two-hour boat ride. Trial and error is the best way to find out what works for you- many swear by seasickness tablets, or even ginger, but I tend to find a corner of the boat where I can lay down and close my eyes. A Coke or ginger ale might help too.
Best Ways to Explore the Great Barrier Reef
If you are a water lover, I definitely recommend snorkelling or diving on the reef. Having done both, there are pros and cons to each, but both give you amazing experiences. Snorkeling day trips are often cheaper than diving trips, and give visitors the chance to explore the reef from the surface of the water. As many reef sites have shallow depths, this still provides great views, and snorkelling is easy for anyone comfortable in water, and is a competent swimmer.
Diving trips, while more expensive, allow visitors to fully submerge into the reef, taking in fish, turtles, and the intricate varieties of coral in more detail than could be seen by just a snorkeler. Even if you aren’t qualified, many companies will still let you do a supervised dive with staff, although diving is best enjoyed when you are confident and familiar with the equipment and techniques.
Whether you are diving or snorkelling, most tour operators will visit 2-3 reef sites on the day, will include lunch and equipment, and often offer underwater photos for purchase. Day trip prices vary, but will run approximately $200-300 AUD. If you’re in Cairns, check out the Cairns Dive Centre or Tusa Dive for more information.
If you’re a non-swimmer, or prefer to stay dry, a day trip out on the boat is still a way to see the reef from above, and some companies even offer chartered helicopter flights over reefs, such as the Heart Reef.
Another option is to find a tour operator with a semi-submarine. From the tour operator’s pontoon, they take visitors into a semi-submersible which takes guests underwater to get up close and personal with curious marine life. I think the experience is better enjoyed as a snorkeler or diver, but this is a good way to make the beauty of the reef accessible to everyone.
Why it Matters – Ecotourism and Climate Change
It would be amiss to write on the Great Barrier Reef without bringing to light some of the issues it’s currently facing. Climate change is a major threat to the reef, with the coral having a narrow temperature window in which it can thrive. The wrong temperature can lead to widespread coral bleaching.
Pollution and pesticides can also damage reef health, although not-for-profit organisations are working hard to limit this. Coral bleaching and pollution can kill coral, threatening the delicate balance of the eco-system in which thousands of species depend on the reef as a source of protection and food.
You can do your part as a tourist by visiting the reef only with accredited tour operators who have the safety of the reef at heart, by ensuring everything you take to the ocean leaves with you, and also by applying sunscreen in advance of entering the water, as this limits the reef’s chemical exposure from your sunscreen.
There are few places more incredible in Australia than the Great Barrier Reef, so enjoy your visit and make the most of it!
About the Author – Katie Dundas
Katie writes for The Accidental Australian, a quirky travel blog for Sydney, Australian and Asia travel, and a one-stop-shop for advice for expats, backpackers, and adventurers. You can like her blog on Facebook.
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