Even before you learn to dive, the Great Barrier Reef looms large on your travel radar. But, once you become a diver, this more than 2,000-kilometer/1,250 mile stretch of undersea adventure will become an obsession. The barrier reef is such a vast destination that it must be visited in small chunks and there are several gateways along the coast of Queensland from which to access it. The main hub is Cairns, where many day boats and live-aboards depart. The town of Cairns offers the best access to the northern section of the reef, known as the Ribbon Reefs, as well as the more remote and wild Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea. Townsville provides access to the SS Yongala, quite possibly the best dive in the world, as well as Bouganville Reef and other sections of the reef. Gladstone is the best hub to get to such diver islands as Heron Island, which sits at the end of the Great Barrier Reef. You can find out more on diving in Australia after you dive the Great Barrier Reef.
When to go:
April through October is peak visibility time on the Great Barrier Reef, but the marine life will amaze you any time of year.
Marine life Seasons:
June and July for Dwarf Minke Whales, with the first week of July usually the peak of the season.
When to Get the Best Deals:
Best deals are found during the rainy season from November to May.
What to Pack:
3/2 mm wetsuit, sunscreen, insect repellent, water-hiking shoes for the rainforest, lightweight clothing and DAN card.
Seasonal averages: 18°C/65°F in winter and 28°C/82°F in summer.
Seasonal averages: 10-20°C/50-70°Fin winter and 20-30°C/70-85°F in summer.
Australian Dollar; credit cards widely accepted.
Passport and electronic visa are required from most countries. Check with your local immigration service to visa requirements. Electronic Visa's can be acquired online for a small fee.
Included in you airfare.
What to Eat:
Barramundi is the fish you'll see on almost every menu along with other delights from the sea like crabs and shellfish. North Australia is crocodile country and you can eat it prepared a variety of ways, including croc burgers. A wide selection of exotic, tropical fruits are grown in Queensland and are crafted into wonderful sauces and desserts.
What to Drink:
With all the tropical fruit, there are lots of great juices and many local wineries that specialize in interesting blends of fruit wine. XXXX is the most popular Queensland beer, but there are several microbreweries and brew pubs where you can enjoy locally crafted beers. Bundaberg is the rum.
Piles of adventures can be had throughout Queensland, from tropical rainforest excursions in the Daintree, Cape Tribulation or Mossman Gorge, saltwater crocodile adventures; cultural shows in places like Tjapukai; waterfalls of the Atherton Tablelands; whitewater rafting on the Barron River; or head deep into the Queensland outback for rock art, kangaroos and more at places like Undara.
Customs and Culture:
Most of the cultural elements of Australia comes from the traditions of the Aboriginal people, from art to celebrations; The Australians themselves have a genuine love for life that make travel to this part of the world so appealing.
Port Douglas Carnivale; Australian Surf Life Saving Championships; Queensland International Air Show, Bundaberg.
Electricity and Internet:
Standard electricity is 240 volts, and 50 Hz. Internet is widely available.
Drink the water?
Water is safe to drink.
Amazing Marine Life
Also known as the Napoleon wrasse, this enormous and vividly colored fish can grow to lengths of up to two meters/six feet.
Hawksbill, loggerhead, and green turtles can be found swimming in leisurely fashion or napping under ledges on most reefs.
The largest of all the parrotfish species, growing up to 1.5 meters/4 feet long, this brilliantly colored reef fish shares the parrot-like "beak" feature of its relatives, with the addition of a distinctive knob atop its head.
Leopard Moray Eel:
Bright orange with black-rimmed white spots, this eel is easy to find even when it's tucked into a hole in the reef.
This huge pelagic fish, native to Australia, grows up to 90 kilograms/200 pounds and likes to get up-close and personal, especially at sites like Cod Hole.
White-tip Reef Shark:
One of the smaller members of the shark family, topping out at 2.5 meters/5 feet long, this iron-gray shark sports bright white patches at the tips of its fins.
Dwarf Minke Whale:
This small whale shows up in June and July along the Great Barrier Reef.
Giant Sea Anemone:
Growing up to a meter/ three feet in diameter, the waving tentacles use stinging cells to stun small prey, but some fish manage to dart among the protection of the tentacles, sheltering from larger, mobile predators.
Also known as a sunfish, this pancake-like white fish with pale brown stripes helps keep the reef healthy by eating algae that might otherwise overgrow the coral.
These "Nemo" stars of the reef are always a diver favorite and the Great Barrier Reef harbors several different species, and they can be found on almost every dive site.
Top Dive Spots
Predators' Playground, Holmes Reef:
Dive operators adding chum to the water often help this shark dive along. White-tip and grey reef sharks are the regular diners.
Dwarf Minke Whale Dives:
In late June and early July, dwarf minke whales show up on the northern Great Barrier Reef and actually seem to seek out live-aboards and divers. Lucky us.
Osprey Reef, Coral Sea:
This lagoon features spectacular soft corals, green and loggerhead turtles, manta and eagle rays, barracuda, and tuna. Its proximity to open water means divers may also see whale sharks, beaked whales, sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins, and marlin.
This towering coral head extends from 36 meters/120 feet to the surface. Spiral around the pinnacle to admire the corals and invertebrates, and look for potato cods, stonefish, rays, lionfish, moray eels, and white-tip reef sharks.
The famous giant potato cod, which congregate here, gave the site its name. Also look for leopard moray eels and Maori wrasse.
Barracuda Pass, Opal Reef:
Noted for its giant clams, this site also features titan triggerfish, black-tip reef sharks, and of course barracuda.
Named for the resident sea snakes, this site consists of eight coral bommies marching across a sandy bottom. Look for leather and palm corals, sea fans, sponges, clams, sea stars, nudibranchs, sea cucumbers, trevally, mackerel, batfish, parrotfish, stingrays, barracuda, and hawksbill turtles.
Probably the best dive in the world. The 109-meter/350 foot Yongala, which sits off Townsville, is the only game in town for marine life, and everything on this wreck is super sized.
Off Gladstone, this island sits at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. With more than 20 dive sites, it's a haven for savvy divers. The manta cleaning station is world-renowned, and dozens of species of nudibranch writhe on these reefs.
Massive sea fans predominate this region of the Coral Sea.