Travel Inspiration

Top 10 things to do on the Great Barrier Reef

Easily one of the biggest drawcards to visitors to Australia's tropical north Queensland every year, the Great Barrier Reef is a natural marvel that has been a boon to the tourism industry as it offers such a massive range of activities, sights and things to do in general.

As the world's largest and most spectacular coral reef system, the Great Barrier Reef comprises of over 400 types of coral and is home to over 6,600 species of sea life, which, along with the hundreds of islands which populate the area, make the opportunities for exploration and sightseeing in the region nearly endless.

With so many potential things to do in the Great Barrier Reef the array of choices can sometimes seem overwhelming, we've put together a list of recommended tours, cruises, activities and more to help you get the most out of planning your Great Barrier Reef itinerary.

Check out the list below and, as always, if you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact Experience Oz at any time!

10. Explore the Daintree Rainforest

Departs: Cairns

The amazing blues of the ocean that blankets the Great Barrier Reef is not the only visually incredible display on offer in the region; look inland and you'll soon come across the vibrant greens of some of the oldest and most beautiful rainforest in the world – the ancient and World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest.

Regardless of whether you choose to divide the day between the reef and the rainforest or spend your time exploring this wondrous green ecological playground, the Daintree will doubtlessly leave an impression on you that will last a long time.

Brimming with wonderful wildlife and lush surroundings that make this area of far north QLD one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world, you'll find some of the last vestiges of the most ancient rainforest where a combination of primitive animals, plants and an indigenous culture still thrive to this day.

9. Whitewater rafting

Departs: Cairns

Pristine rainforest, crystal-clear rivers and breathtaking scenery are just a few of the reasons to take a whitewater rafting trip on the beautiful Russell and Barron Rivers, located just a short distance inland from the Great Barrier Reef.

As some of the most popular rafting destinations in the world, these two great waterways offer unequalled chances for an affordable, exciting and exhilarating day out.

A series of different rapid courses ranging from grades one to four ensure that there is something available for people of all experience and skill levels, and most packages also include a relaxing picnic lunch.

All rafting trips are guided by skilled guides who will show you the best ways to negotiate the rapids while maintaining a premium on safety so that you can simply enjoy the feeling of excitement without ever feeling a true sense of danger.

Whether travelling as an individual, couple, or group, whitewater rafting near the Great Barrier Reef is an experience that will serve to make you feel more alive!

8. Hot air balloonin­g

Departs: Cairns

The great heights that hot air ballooning will send you to will provide amazing views not only of the Great Barrier Reef itself but also the incredible natural surroundings that make up the geography of this tropical north Queensland region.

Ascend into the skies above Cairns and experience the sheer wonder, romance and silent serenity of the far north QLD bushland, golden sand beaches and stunning azure waters.

After you've experienced the reef and the rainforest up close, a hot air balloon ride is the next best thing to do at the Great Barrier Reef – a breathtaking experience that cannot be missed!

7. Go snorkelling

Departs: Cairns

A snorkelling trip will allow you to escape into this new world full of surprises, and a cruise that will take you to the magnificent Outer Reef to a spacious activity platform permanently moored at a wonderful site will serve as the ideal springboard for guests of all ages – swimmers and non-swimmers alike – to enjoy a day of discovery.

You can snorkel directly from the platform and instantly find yourself among stunning coral gardens and colourful marine life – or you can take part in the Eco talks, reef presentations, board an air-conditioned semi-submersible for views without getting wet, and enjoy morning and afternoon teas along with a delicious gourmet lunch.

6. Outer Reef Cruise to Activity Platform

Departs: Port Douglas

Port Douglas provides another natural departure point to experience the joys of the Great Barrier Reef, and the Outer Reef, in particular, is in its own class; brimming with vibrant coral gardens and diverse marine life, it makes for one of the best snorkelling destinations in the entire world.

These cruise will take you aboard a speedy, wave-piercing catamaran all while in air-conditioned comfort to the highly regarded Agincourt Reef – a jewel-like ribbon reef on the very outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef proper that showcases a series of unsurpassed coral formations, colourful marine creatures and an outstanding level of underwater visibility.

A spacious activity platform awaits that allows you to participate in a huge range of reef activities including snorkelling and diving, semi-submersible viewing, fish feeding presentations and much more.

5. Green Island Day Trip

Departs: Cairns

Green Island is a stunningly beautiful coral cay that lies approximately 45 minutes off the coast of Cairns via catamaran that has existed for around 6000 years, and today acts as home to over 120 native species of plants and colourful birdlife.

A paradise for nature-lovers, this day trip to Green Island includes snorkelling as well as an informative glass bottom boat tour that will allow you to fully explore this lovely island destination.

Many additional inclusions are provided within the package, such as the use of the island's great swimming pool and an eco island walk to discover some of Green Island's distinctive rainforest flora.

A range of restaurant and cafe-style lunch options along with additional activities including scuba and helmet diving, parasailing and scenic helicopter flights are also available upon request, making the day as involved or laid back as you choose.

4. Low Isles sailing cruise

Departs: Port Douglas

Set sail for the Low Isles of the great barrier reef – a true tropical island paradise – that combines ideally with the inherent romance of sailing aboard a luxurious 30m sailing catamaran on this Low Isles Sailing Cruise.

One of the true jewels of the Great Barrier Reef, the Low Isles is an idyllic series of unspoilt islands that provide a perfect microcosm of what the Reef and its surrounds are all about.

Mooring in a calm, picturesque lagoon, a huge range of reef activities await to be participated in including glass-bottom boat rides to view the wide array of marine life and snorkelling over the colourful coral gardens filled with turtles and brilliantly vibrant fish.

You can also take it easy with guided beach walks, or simply relaxing on the beach or on the decks of the boat while soaking in some sunshine – taking time in the middle of the day to enjoy a delicious tropical buffet lunch.

3. Great Barrier Reef scenic helicopter flight

Departs: Port Douglas

Flying from Port Douglas aboard a helicopter and heading out over the reef is one of the best ways to gaze down through the surface of its pristine, transparent waters to witness the coral and other marine life from directly above.

Helicopter rides offer a vantage point of the Reef rarely seen by most people, as hovering at low altitudes allows you to witness the wonders that leave beneath from close up.

Once we reach your destination we'll land for a hot and cold tropical buffet lunch and give you the chance for a snorkelling adventure, underwater observatory, or semi-submersible viewing session to witness the reef from an under-the-surface perspective.

2. Take a seaplane flight over the Whitsundays

Departs: Airlie Beach

Bordered by the Great Barrier Reef on one side and 74 tropical islands that lie in the calm waters of Tropical North QLD's Coral Sea, the Whitsunday Islands lie midway along Queensland's coast.

A huge number of spectacular destinations can be found within this island chain, including Heart Reef, Hardy Lagoon and Whitehaven Beach, and there are few better ways to gain an appreciation for their beauty than by a scenic seaplane flight that will take you directly above these natural marvels.

Travelling at varying altitudes and the ability to fly close to the ocean's surface means you'll be able to soak in the incredible colours and textures of the Whitsundays and the Barrier Reef in the span of half a day, with numerous different options available that each emphasize a different aspect of this stunningly beautiful Australian archipelago.

1. Visit Whitehaven Beach

Departs: Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island or Daydream Island

Recently dubbed The Best Beach in Australia, Whitehaven Beach is an emblem that embodies what everyone's image of the Great Barrier Reef is all about. With its pristine white silica sand clashing beautifully with the surrounding vibrant blue waters, it's not hard to see why Whitehaven is such a highly regarded travel destination.

Be sure to take some time to simply absorb the beach - it's the perfect excuse for some downtime amongst the cavalcade of water sports and other activities you'll no doubt be otherwise occupying yourself with - by picking up a handful of the finely-grained sand and feeling it run through your fingers.

Various tours are available that will take you to Whitehaven Beach and offer different itineraries, and the majority offer a comprehensive look at all aspects of not just the beach but its surrounding islands and diving/snorkelling spots as well.

Stretching out over a fairly substantial area of around seven kilometres in total, Whitehaven is not just some little pocket of beach that happens to be picture-perfect; it's a true, expansive beach that is large enough to ensure that even in peak seasons you'll likely still be able to garner a sense of solitude.

In addition, if you're looking for more things to do in not only the Great Barrier Reef but also the surrounding regions of Cairns, Port Douglas and the Whitsundays, be sure to check out our region pages for details!

Experience Oz

We acknowledge and pay respect to the Traditional Custodians of Country and their connections and continuous care for the skies, lands and waterways throughout Australia.