Diving Deep into the Wonders of the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef attracts tourists from all over the world for various reasons. Most of them are great sea and wildlife enthusiasts, out to pay homage to the largest reef system in the planet. Others are there for mere adventure, what with the diverse plant, sea, and animal life found on the reef and in its surrounding islands. Others are there just to admire the beauty of the biggest coral reef system that is the Great Barrier Reef.
You don’t necessarily have to be the outdoorsy type to appreciate the Great Barrier Reef. If you don’t like scuba diving, there are glass bottom boats running in the area that ferry visitors who are not too good at swimming, but who would nonetheless want to experience the exhilarating beauty of the reef.
Where the Great Barrier Reef lies
The Great Barrier Reef can be found in the Coral Sea, which is off the coast of Australia’s Queensland. It was dubbed as a World Heritage Site in 1981, and was labeled as CNN’s 7 wonders of the world. Its obvious global popularity also made the Queensland National Trust turn it into a state icon.
Because it is the biggest single structure of living organisms on planet earth, the Great Barrier Reef can be clearly seen from outer space. All in all, is includes 2900 individual reefs, and a total of 900 islands which are impossible to explore in two weeks. You will really have to keep on coming back to get to know that Great Barrier Reef, and even then, every visit will give you a different experience.
Simply because it is a body of living organisms, the reef breathes into Australia’s seascape, providing visitors the added paunch in their summer vacations, and researchers a rich resource for all of their studies.
Finding your daytrips
You won’t be able to explore the Great Reef Barrier if you’re not part of a tourist daytrip. Tourist points for the Great Reef Barrier are found in Cairns and Whitsunday. Depending on what package you’re chosen, you should be taken to one of the Great Reef Barrier’s diving sites through a pontoon or a small boat. From there, you can choose to view coral gardens, go fishing, sun yourself, go scuba diving, and many more. The trip usually lasts for hours per activity, wrapped up by a delectable seafood lunch or dinner.
Remember that the Great Reef Barrier Marine Park is protected by the Queensland government and global environmental organizations. This means that while you may be allowed to fish in most parts of the region, your “catch” will be regulated to make sure that you don’t cause any imbalances in the reef’s natural population.
The best time to go to the reef
It’s best to pay the Great Reef Barrier a visit during the months of April, May, September and November. The waters in this area, probably owing to its location in the globe, remain warm almost all year round. It can get extremely hot during the summer, and slightly colder in the winter, but the area in the reef system generally remains warm and habitable all year round.
Tourists like to visit the Great Reef Barrier during Australia’s winter, because the water temperature during this time is more tolerable. It’s best for those who are planning to dive or go snorkeling to wear protective gears for the legs and feet. Remember that the wildlife of the reef tends to attract bigger fishes like the sting ray mantra, and exploring the reef barebacked and barelegged might not be such a good idea.
Ecosystem in the reef and its islands
If you’re the wildlife lover, and you’re tired of watching films about underwater life, you should go to the Great Barrier Reef for an actual tour around the world’s greatest reef system. Aside from vibrant coral system, you’ll also get the chance so meet sea creatures that may be endemic or migratory to the reefs.
Among the greatest mysteries of the sea is the green sea turtle. You can seldom see this marine turtle anywhere else except on Australian waters, including the Great Reef Barrier. Other sea turtles that can be found in the area include the hawksbill turtle, the flatback turtle, the leatherback sea turtle, and the olive ridley. Giant clams, nudibranchs, cone snails, and mollusks can also be found in this great coral system.
During specific times of the year, visitors can also be so lucky as to catch migratory dolphins making their way to the group of corals and islands. In the islands surrounding the coral reef system, one can observe as much as 215 species of birds. The islands also provide great lodgings, from rustic cabin type resorts to 5 star hotels. These places, like other places surrounding the Great Reef Barrier, celebrate the natural beauty of the region. As a visitor, you can expect guided tours through scuba diving or glass bottom boats across the best highlights of the reef.
Exploring the islands
After exploring the majestic diversity of the Great Reef Barrier, it’s always nice to explore its 900 surrounding islands. The most developed of these islands house five-star hotels and restaurants that can satisfy your craving for high class comfort and the best seafood dishes for your palate.
Among the most visited of the islands are the Whitsunday Islands. This makes up 74 of the 900 islands surrounding the gigantic coral reef system. The Long Island, one of the biggest of these 74 islands, showcases a national park, secluded beaches, dense bush areas, and dramatic headlands. This location is perfect for photo shoots, and daytrip treks. After admiring much of the beauty of the reef, visitors can also experience the divers animal life in these islands.
White Haven Beach
For total beach bums, the White Haven Beach is the perfect destination. It offers a pure, white sanded beach, which runs for about 9 kms, fringed by crystal clear salt waters and rich rain forests. To date, it is still among the most beautiful beaches in the world.
The Hayman Island Resort, on the other hand, is located on the northernmost portion of Whitsunday islands. Although it is one of the smallest islands of the group, it is considered a sort of center. It’s accessible to all islands in the region, showcasing high class resorts with spacious pools and cocktail bars.
Coastal Towns of Queensland
You can’t miss the coastal towns of Queensland when you visit the Great Reef Barrier. After taking the guided tour underwater, the next thing you need to ask your tour guide is the way to Ayr, which is located on the northernmost part of Queensland.
Ayr showcases Australia’s most beautiful rivers, creeks, estuaries, and unspoiled mangroves. It is also Australia’s largest sugar and mango producing region, so you may expect delectable delicacies from the coastal town. The coastal town of Ayr is a mecca for windsurfers and water skiers. It is also a great place to go fishing and crabbing with your family and friends.
If you’re looking for sophistication, on the other hand, you should probably stop pitching your tents and go directly to Cairns. This city is also considered the “front door access” to Australia’s Reef, Outback and Rainforest. International restaurants and hotels line the city, and there are also art galleries and theaters available for entertainment. Casinos and botanical gardens are also available in Cairns, and the city reflects over 100 years of Queensland’s culture with its architecture.
The best tourist spot in the city of Cairns is probably the Esplanade, where families can go on picnics in the grassy area, and tourists and residents alike can enjoy sidewalk cafes that mingle with the city’s untouched natural beauty.
If you want to truly experience Australia’s rich environment, though, you should visit Cooktown. The city thrives in centuries of history, what with the first “white settlement” in Australia being established there. Cooktown is also home to the world’s most pristine beaches, with hidden gardens, tropical lagoons, and waterfalls lining its mountains.
Looking at the reef from the wide blue skies
Whoever said that you can only enjoy the reef from underwater? Visitors of the Great Reef Barrier can also choose to go on an on-air trip to view the coral reef system. The bird’s-eye-view also lets you preview the region’s numerous white sand beaches. Why stick to the map when you can go up to the sky and point out your dream destination?
You can choose either to go hot air ballooning, go on long range air tours, take scenic flights though helicopters, and more.
Hot air balloons usually take off from Cairns and end at Port Douglas. Hot air balloons aren’t available all year round, but they are pretty popular during hot air balloon festivals. You’ll be surprised at the majestic view of the Atherton Tablelands from your funky colored hot air balloon.
Long range air tours are also perfect if you truly want to explore the whole Great Reef Barrier. Long range air tours usually begin with a 12-day-tour through Queensland’s outback. You’ll also be flying over Dunk Island, Hinchinbrook Island, Lindeman Island, and Fraser Island.
Heli-scenic joy flights from Cairns are available all-year-round. All you have to do is go to the Pier Marketplace at Shangri-la Marina. The short scenic flight might not allow you an in depth study of the coral system’s flora and fauna, but it does make great photo opportunities possible for you and your group.
Planning the trip to the Great Reef Barrier
When you’re choosing your accommodations while you’re in your Great Barrier Reef tour, you need to think about several things: the activities you want to cover, the exact places you want to visit, and just how much you’re willing to spare for the trip.
Queensland is a great place for many things including scuba diving, lazing around the beach, windsurfing, hot air ballooning, snorkeling, and various other water sports. If it’s your first time in Queensland, you’ll probably cover more ground by going on a tour package, or several daytrips.
Make sure that you’re geared up and ready for all of the activities you’re planning to cover. For example, don’t even think about scuba diving if you don’t know the first thing about swimming. You might be in for risks greater than you’ve signed up for by diving for the coral reef system.
The hotel and/or resort you’ll be staying in will also depend on your budget, first and foremost, and the activities you want to go into. For example, if you’re planning to go scuba diving, you might want to make sure that the hotel or resort you’ll be staying in is close to the port. If you’re planning to view the Great Reef Barrier from the sky, a hotel in Cairns might be the better choice.
If your budget’s a little tight, you can probably sacrifice the five-star-hotel and choose accommodations that are a little lighter on the pocket. Queensland is a region of possibilities, and your Great Reef Barrier tour need not be just packaged in one particular way.
Gastronomic dishes found in Queensland
If there’s one thing you can enjoy though, no matter what kind of tour you’re in while you’re exploring the Great Reef Barrier, it is great seafood. Whether you’re ordering from a menu of the poshest digs in town, or a side street food shop that’s located right by the ports, you can always expect the freshest catches in this region.
You can take your pick of grills from octopuses to squids to parrot fishes and lobsters. It doesn’t really matter where you’re eating. Almost all restaurants around Queensland’s coastal tows offer great seafood dishes, and why shouldn’t they? They live right next door to the world’s biggest coral reef system after all.
When you’re in Queensland, and you’re exploring the rich wildlife, including the Great Coral Reef, all you really need to bring is enough appetite, for food, for water sporting activities, and for life in general.
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