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  • Coastline Coral islands and castaway shores
  • Coast life Snorkelling, sailing and sun worshipping

With azure waters, powder-white sandy bays and spectacular snorkelling and diving, the sun-kissed tropical islands of the Great Barrier Reef are the kind of escape you dream about, but wake up here and they’re blissfully real.

Stretching 2,300-kilometres up the length of Queensland, the reef can be seen from space, but you don’t have to work for NASA to suss why its unique geography has been declared a World Heritage Area. With over 90 islands, you’re sure to find your own pocket of paradise, with a boho mix of backpackers and millionaires for company, or many uninhabited coral cays if you want ‘quality time’ solo. Even if donning a scuba suit isn’t your bag, you’ll encounter awesome nature, exciting aquatic activities and some mouth-watering restaurants and luxe bars for après-sun lounging.

Do go/Don’t go

With average temperatures of 27°C, it’s warm year-round. Reef visibility is better in winter when the seas are calmer, and days are clear and sunny, but the water temperature is cooler than in summer. The hotter but rainier part of the year spans November to December and April to May, peaking in the wet from January to March, when storms can threaten.

Getting thereView map

  • Planes Regular flights are up for grabs from all major Australian cities to the Great Barrier Reef, with Qantas (www.qantas.com.au), Virgin Blue (www.virginblue.com.au) and Jetstar (www.jetstar.com). Rex (www.rex.com.au), Tiger Airways (www.tigerairways.com) and Alliance Airlines (www.allianceairlines.com.au) also service the area. Cairns Airport (www.cairns airport.com) is the jumping-off point for the northern part of the reef, including charter flights to Lizard Island (www.lizardisland.com.au) and Dunk Island (for Bedarra) with Hinterland Aviation (www.hinterlandaviation.com.au); central Hamilton Island Airport serves the Whitsunday Islands. Sunlover Helicopters (www.sunloverheli.com.au) offers transfers from Cairns Airport to most resort islands.
  • Boats Fantasea (www.fantasea.com.au) operates daily 30-minute catamaran trips between Shute Harbour at mainland Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island, as well as other Whitsunday islands.
  • Trains The high-speed Tilt Train and the Sunlander run between Brisbane and Cairns, hugging the scenic coast, but you’re looking at around 25 hours in the saddle. Book via Queensland Rail (www.traveltrain.com.au).
  • Automobiles The usual car hire firms can be found at Queensland’s airports, including Avis (www.avis.com.au) at Cairns, but chances are if you’re island-hopping you won’t need wheels, you’ll want wings or sails. Cars can be left in secure parking at main ferry hubs.
  • Taxis Taxis Outside the larger towns, you’ve more chance of hitching a ride on a dolphin than finding a cab, especially on the islands themselves where transport is often restricted to buggies or hotel transfers. In Cairns, book ahead with Black & White Taxis (131 008).