- Reef meets Riviera
- A meander from the marina
- Low-key tropical luxe
- Iconic private-island retreat
- Reef encounter
- Rugged island Eden
- High-end luxury
- Tropical Hamilton Island idyll
- Cool castaway camping
- Tiny sandy cay
Great Barrier Reef Overview
- 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.
Genuinely Great Barrier Reef
The world’s biggest reef system meanders 30–300 kilometres offshore, supporting a kaleidoscopic marine world of dazzlingly diverse tropical fish, coral, seaweeds and sponges as well as awesome sea-life sights such as whales, dolphins, turtles, manta rays, reef sharks and sea birds. It’s bigger than the Great Wall of China, one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and has been declared a marine park and World Heritage Area.
- 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).
- Tipping culture
- It's not really expected in most parts of Australia, although if you're impressed with how your evening transpires, a 10 per cent gratuity will be most appreciated.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Most towns in these parts revolve around tourism, so you'll find shops and restaurants open every day. People often eat early in Queensland though, so you'll want to be sitting down and ordering before 9pm lest you miss out.
- Packing tips
- A capsule wardrobe to take you from boat deck to beach in style.
- Recommended reads
- Castaway by British adventurer Lucy Irvine, which inspired the Tom Hanks film, tells of her self-imposed exile on Tuin Island in Queensland’s Torres Strait, and captures the tropical life to a tee. David Colfelt’s 100 Magic Miles of the Great Barrier Reef – the Whitsunday Islands, is considered ‘the bible’ for this popular sailing area, with maps, anchorages and beach details.
- Lipsmacking fish and seafood-snacking opportunities abound, freshly hauled from the reef’s waters. Coral trout is a menu staple, as is wild saltwater barramundi. Shellfish is also a highlight, including the tricky-to-tackle (but worth-the-effort) mud crabs, and barbecued Moreton Bay bugs – an ancient flat-headed lobster creature found only in Queensland. Expect exotic tropical fruit, too.
- Australian dollars (AU$).
- Time zone
- GMT +10 (there's no daylight saving in Queensland).
- Dialling codes
- Country code: 61; Queensland: 07 (drop the zero if dialling from outside Australia).
- 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.
Don't go home without...
spending a day sailing, an elegant way to explore the islands. For divers or snorkellers try the luxurious and eco-friendly Aristocat (www.aristocat.com.au), which sallies forth from coastal Port Douglas to the Agincourt Ribbon Reefs, and has hot showers on board, espresso coffee and offers ‘passive dives’ with minke whales. Lots of sailing trips operate in the Whitsundays, too.