21 May 5 tips for exploring the Great Barrier Reef for first-timers
Extending for around 1430 miles along Australia’s east coast, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the original Seven Natural Wonders of the World. All told, this vast expanse comprises some 2900 coral reefs and 600 islands, and is populated by a stunning variety of marine wildlife. For many people, exploring the Great Barrier Reef is close to the top of their bucket list. But when to go, and how best to discover it? This guide for first-time visitors explains all…
- When to visit the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef can be explored all year-round, but probably the best time is during the winter and spring months, from June to October. The waters are colder, so if you’re planning to snorkel, swim or scuba dive then you’ll need to wear a wetsuit, but the upside is that the weather is milder and rainfall low, so visibility underwater is much clearer. Plus, you avoid the cyclone season which begins around November.
In June, the reef welcomes minke whale – this is the only place in the world you can swim alongside them – while in August humpback whale make an appearance. Visit the reef in October, and you’re there at the start of turtle spawning season, so you may see these beautiful creatures swimming next to you too.
- How to get to the Great Barrier Reef
The vibrant city of Cairns is the most obvious place to base yourself when travelling to the Great Barrier Reef. From here you can easily make day-trips out by boat, or fly on to Hamilton Island, and from there on to other, smaller islands.
Another option is to journey out to the southern part of the reef, which gets fewer visitors but is equally breathtaking. Bundaberg, about 1000 miles south of Cairns, is a good spot to stay.
In terms of accommodation, you’ll usually find that mainland hotels are less expensive than those on the islands. If you’re on a budget then you can also consider camping on the Great Barrier Reef.
- What wildlife will I see on the Great Barrier Reef
If you’re diving, then bringing an underwater camera is highly recommended! This intricate reef system supports everything from whale to shark, turtle to stingray, jellyfish to sea snake, as well as some 1500 species of fish.
Several jellyfish species found on the reef do sting, but a good-quality wetsuit should ensure you’re not overly troubled, and naturally boat operators will keep clear of any large patches of them.
- What activities can I do at the Great Barrier Reef?
There is an immense variety of activities available to you on the reef. Scuba diving is of course the absolute best way to get the most from a visit, but you can also snorkel, or swim. Scenic boat trips to the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns, and between islands are very popular too.
On the mainland, there is even more fun options to choose from, including trekking in the Daintree Rainforest, white water rafting, munching your way through Eastern Australia’s dynamic foodie scene, and even taking a memorable bungee jump in Cairns! A Tinggly experience gift voucher is a great way to get under the skin of this incredible destination.
- How to travel responsibly at the Great Barrier Reef
Tragically, due to a range of factors but principally the effects of climate change, the Great Barrier Reef is being degraded at a rapid rate. Coral is being bleached and dying off, which is having a damaging effect on the species that call it home.
There are many ways in which you can be sure your visit to the reef has a positive effect, and these include:
- Choosing reef-friendly suncream that doesn’t release harmful chemicals
- Booking tours with responsible activity providers
- Not getting too close to the reef or inhabitants, and in particular taking care not to damage coral with fins
- Learning about how you can contribute to conservation efforts, either financially or through volunteering your time