reef feat


Whitsundays v Tropical North Queensland

Published August 12th, 2016

It’s the largest living structure on the planet – teeming with creatures big and small, and bursting with colours like you’ve never seen. But the Great Barrier Reef stretches more than 2,000 kilometres down the Queensland Coast, so where on earth do you start? We’ve got the lowdown on two jumping-off points – the Whitsundays and Tropical North Queensland – to put you in the picture.


Tropical North Queensland

What you can see: Colour! While the Reef north of Port Douglas has taken a bit of a hit with coral bleaching, there’s still plenty of colour around Cairns and south. Look out for hard corals, colourful staghorn, plate and brain coral bommies, as well as large gorgonian sea fans and more.

Don’t miss: The coral gardens of the Low Isles, off Port Douglas.


What you can see: Variety. Look out for soft coral (such as elephant ear coral, cauliflower coral, weeping coral and sea whips) and hard corals (staghorn coral, brain coral, luna coral), and bommies, boulder coral, sponges, and more.

Don’t miss: Snorkelling off Chalkies Beach on Haselwood Island.

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Tropical North Queensland

What you can see: The waters off Tropical North Queensland harbour gazillions of fish, such as clown fish (aka Nemo), snapper, barracuda, trevally, spangled emperors, angelfish – the list is endless. Then there are the sea snakes, moray eels, giant clams, turtles, stingrays, migrating humpback whales, reef sharks, and occasional whale shark.

Don’t miss: Head to the Ribbon Reefs, the only place in the world where you can snorkel with dwarf minke whales. These elusive critters show up every June and July.


What you can see: The Whitsundays are home to tens of thousands of species of colourful fish, as well as playful Maori wrasse, giant trevally, baitfish and giant groupers. Then there are the whales, dolphins, dugongs giant sea turtles, manta rays and migrating humpback whales.

Don’t miss: A turtle tour off Catseye Beach on Hamilton Island.


Tropical North Queensland

What you can do: Go snorkelling or diving from a pontoon on the outer reef or straight off the beach on a Great Barrier Reef island, take a glass-bottomed boat ride, go sailing in a social yacht race, try a scenic flight in a sea plane or helicopter, learn to scuba dive, give stand-up paddleboarding a go, or take a whale watching tour.

Don’t miss: Spend a few days on a live-aboard dive boat, and if you’re lucky take a night dive to see the annual coral spawn.


What you can do: Take a day trip to the Hardy Reef pontoon for snorkelling, diving, scenic flights, semi-submersible boat rides, and more; charter your own vessel for a few days sailing around the green islands; a day trip to Whitehaven Beach for the most beautiful white sand and pristine water you’ve ever seen, snorkelling off the beach on Hamilton Island, Hayman Island or Haslewood Island.

Don’t miss: It’s a toss-up between an overnight Reef Sleep Adventure on the pontoon, and a scenic flight over Heart Reef and Whitehaven Beach. So basically, you can’t go wrong, whatever piece of the Reef you choose (and we haven’t even got started on the Southern Great Barrier Reef). So get out there and start exploring!

Renae Spinks

Travel for me is about conversations and connections. There’s nothing like setting foot in a new land and meeting people a world apart. From talking to North Sea fishermen in Norway’s Lofoten Islands to breakfast chat at a B&B in my own back yard, there’s always a story to share and a tale to tell.