Great Barrier Reef, Australia

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.

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Areas in Great Barrier Reef

When to 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.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    Regular flights are up for grabs from all major Australian cities to the Great Barrier Reef, with Qantas (, Virgin Blue ( and Jetstar ( Rex (, Tiger Airways ( and Alliance Airlines ( also service the area. Cairns Airport (www.cairns is the jumping-off point for the northern part of the reef, including charter flights to Lizard Island ( and Dunk Island (for Bedarra) with Hinterland Aviation (; central Hamilton Island Airport serves the Whitsunday Islands. Sunlover Helicopters ( offers transfers from Cairns Airport to most resort islands.
  • Boats

    Fantasea ( 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 (
  • Automobiles

    The usual car hire firms can be found at Queensland’s airports, including Avis ( 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).

Any underwater adventures?

Any underwater adventures?

I spent quite some time diving the Great Barrier Reef, working off a liveaboard boat. Cod Hole, near Lizard Island, was an amazing dive with shoals of giant potato cod, and Lady Elliot Island was good for manta rays – to name but a few. I was bamboozled by the reef’s scale and colours, and the amount of creatures having love-ins with my scuba mask.

Find out more about the Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef, Queensland: five days

Great Barrier Reef, Queensland: five days

For marine marvels, get thee to the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef. Take advantage of the Emirates and Qantas partnership and fly from Sydney to Cairns on the Far North Queensland coast (three hours 10 minutes), then catch a 60-minute flight to Lizard Island. This luxe resort boasts 24 white-sand beaches, mind-blowing snorkelling and diving to startling sites, including Nick’s top tip Cod Hole where you can hand-feed colossal potato cod. Take out a motorised dingy, picnic à deux on the sand, enjoy a massage at Azure Spa or sip cocktails at Osprey’s restaurant. Team three nights here with two back at quirky mainland hotel QT Port Douglas, in tropical Port Douglas, where the reef meets the Daintree rainforest.

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