Great Barrier Reef Accommodation
Many visitors to the Great Barrier Reef choose to stay in accommodation in a coastal town or city on the mainland. This strategy provides a broader range of options, from budget to luxury, and can make it easier to combine trips to the Great Barrier Reef with visits to other sites and destinations.
Accommodation is available on some but not all of the islands on the Great Barrier Reef, and hospitality styles vary from camping to 5-star luxury escapes. It is typical for islands and destinations to specialise in a particular type of accommodation. You are unlikely to find a wide range of properties from backpacker to luxury in the one destination. Therefore, your accommodation wishlist and needs will influence the destinations you choose. Alternatively, if you have a must-see destination, you will need to book what’s on offer.
Travellers looking for something different opt for unique experiences: dive enthusiasts may look for live-aboard vessels that cater to early morning and night dives. Adventurous souls might choose to ‘camp’ overnight on a pontoon platform out in the middle of the reef.
Choosing your Great Barrier Reef region
We would all love an endless holiday on the Great Barrier Reef and be able to visit the more than 600 islands. But most visitors tend to choose one of three central regions when planning their holiday or take a longer time to experience the Reef from start to finish.
The Cairns region offers the dynamic city of Cairns and stylish Port Douglas and Palm Cove townships. It is relatively easy to get to the World Heritage Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef and has excellent reef viewing options.
The Whitsundays is a group of islands off the coast of Airlie Beach and is famous as a sailing destination and for iconic Whitehaven Beach and Heart Reef.
The Southern Region of the Great Barrier Reef has convenient favourite locations and facilities accessed from the more significant population centres further south. Smaller points are relatively uncrowded, more laid-back and limited in facilities.
Choosing mainland or island accommodation
Choose to stay on an island for easier and faster access to the reef or multi-day stays, or decide to have more accommodation options and flexibility by staying on the mainland, often at a lower price. Whether you stay on an island or the shore, you will still have numerous tour and trip options to the most spectacular parts of the Great Barrier Reef, whether by boat, helicopter or seaplane. Don’t forget unique live-aboard or sleep-on-the-reef options if you are looking for something completely different!
From inner-city 5-star luxury to beachside escapes, self-catering motels, and camping, there is a vast range of accommodation options in the city of Cairns and surrounding suburbs and towns, including popular seaside destinations Palm Cove and Port Douglas.
Cairns is the mainland hub of Tropical North Queensland and is a lively city with its own safe human-made swimming lagoon on the water’s edge. Port Douglas and Palm Cove are two famous and fashionable seaside towns to the north, along with a string of other beaches. Great eating and shopping options are available in all areas, and there are good family accommodation options to suit all styles and budgets.
The family-friendly islands of Fitzroy Island and Green Island are both quick ferry rides from Cairns and offer coral viewing off the beach, great for the young ones, as well as entertaining activities for families, including rainforest walks, a submarine experience, and crocodiles at Marineland Melanesia. Other islands offering exclusive luxury include Bedarra Island, Lizard Island, Magnetic Island and Haggerstone Island. For something different, there are also great live-aboard or sleep-on-the-reef options out of Cairns.
Renowned for island resorts, visitors to the Whitsunday Islands group can also choose from additional accommodation options in the coastal town of Airlie Beach, a vibrant seaside village with quirky shops, relaxed eateries and a large public swimming lagoon. There are excellent holiday apartment options and surrounding areas which are perfect for families. Family-friendly islands include Daydream Island, Hamilton Resort, Hayman Island and Heron Island.
The Southern Region offers more quaint accommodation options of camping, cottages, and bungalows in keeping with the quiet and less inhabited locations in the region. It is better suited for the weekend or multi-day getaways as it is less developed for tourists. The reef is accessible in this region by the mainland cities of Yeppoon, Agnes Water, Town of 1770, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. All offer different types of accommodation, with several eco-design options. While the islands in this region can be harder to get to, Lady Elliot Island, Lady Musgrave Island, and Pumpkin Island are nature-focused destinations with eco-resorts that offer reef snorkelling straight off the beach.