Location Detail
Great Barrier Reef [close]
Australia & New Zealand - Australia - Great Barrier Reef

Location Overview

One of Australia's greatest assets is the magnificent reef which runs along virtually the entire coast of Queensland. Considered one of the world's natural wonders, it is the most extensive reef system and the biggest structure made by living organisms on earth. In the north, the reef is virtually continuous and is located only 50km from the shore. In the south, individual reefs are more common, and in some places up to 300km offshore. Hundreds of islands dot the reef area. About 20 of them have resort facilities, but it's possible to camp on many others. One of the reef's unforgettable attractions is an underwater encounter with the countless colourful, exotic and bizarre sea creatures that live there. Islands offering great diving opportunities include Heron, Lady Elliot and Lizard. For those wanting pampered and exclusive seclusion, Bedarra, Hayman, Lizard, Green and Orpheus have expensive resorts. The cheaper islands to stay on are Lady Elliot, Magnetic and Hook, and you can camp on Dunk, Great Keppel and Hinchinbrook. Great Keppel and South Molle are mass market destinations. The best beaches are found on Great Keppel and Lizard.

Without its colourful and highly varied reef life, the Great Barrier Reef would just be a great big breakwater. Its coral structure is made up of both dead and living creatures - the living polyps give the coral its colourful appearance, while the dead creatures form the reef's white substructure. The full beauty of the living coral is revealed at night. Soft corals also exist, and is equally varied. Dwelling among the coral are around 2000 species of fish - from tiny gobies to huge whale sharks. Their colours and shapes are fantastic, and are best seen if you can snorkel or scuba dive or take a trip on
a glass-bottomed boat. Shells and shelled creatures, echinoderms (such as sea urchins, starfish and sea cucumbers) and crustaceans (such as crabs, shrimps and lobsters) add even more variety. Dolphins, humpback whales, dugongs and turtles are some of the area's larger visitors. The Southern Reef Islands are particularly noted for their huge breeding populations of birds, while Dunk and Bedarra are home to huge, bright blue Ulysses butterflies. Wallabies can be found on Hinchinbrook Island and koalas and possums on Magnetic Island. The reef lies in the tropics, and the warm conditions increase as you head north. From Cairns northwards, the water is pleasant year round. The southern-hemisphere winter is a good time to visit, although it can get a little chilly in the extreme south of the area between June and August. The
summer brings extreme heat, thunderstorms and the chance of a cyclone (February and March can be extremely wet). Rainfall is heavier as you move northwards, where the division of seasons into just two - dry and wet - is also more noticeable.