Great Barrier Reef Day Tours
The Great Barrier Reef stretches along the Queensland coast, so there is a long list of cities and towns to choose from to plan a day trip – or more extended stay – along with your visit.
When planning your itinerary, keep in mind how easy it is to combine a Great Barrier Reef experience with a day trip or more extended to explore iconic Australian destinations. As well as island locations, it is easy to visit coastal destinations and the hinterland, given the long and narrow topography of the Queensland coast. Many of these destinations are also hubs for direct access to the Great Barrier Reef, so it is easy to visit the reef and plan a day trip to explore one of these exciting destinations further.
Cairns is an international airport gateway to the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest. It is a sophisticated, multicultural hub with 5-star accommodation and dining. It is a convenient base to plan and launch land and sea tours to explore the nearby coral reefs and rainforest. It is the largest city in Far North Queensland and boasts extensive transport connections, a lush rural hinterland, world-class infrastructure and a wealth of international culture and Aboriginal heritage.
- Palm Cove
A northern beachside suburb of Cairns, it is a slick off-the-beaten-track hamlet that attracts family holidaymakers, wedding parties and romantic couples happy to escape into its upscale resorts and holiday apartments. It is the last major settlement on the road north to Port Douglas.
Up the hill from northern Cairns on the Atherton Tablelands, Kuranda is a quaint ‘village in the rainforest’ and is an ideal day-tour accessed by road, the Kuranda Rail or Skyrail. It features markets, wildlife experiences, local arts and crafts, two hotels and Aboriginal culture highlights. A range of tours can include a visit to Kuranda.
- Port Douglas
This quaint, trendy holiday resort town 90-minutes drive north from Cairns is an ideal starting point for tours of both the nearby Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest. It has a laid back lifestyle enhanced by many eateries and bars, luxurious holiday homes and resorts, and an all-important marina.
- Daintree Rainforest
The Daintree Rainforest is a World Heritage-protected national treasure trove of around 3,000 plant species, birdlife, insects and frogs. Its wildlife can be spotted during mountain treks, evening tours and along interpretive boardwalks and canopy tours. No visit to this region north of Port Douglas is complete without experiencing the Daintree and all the surrounding infrastructure it has to offer.
- Green Island
Home of the world’s first glass-bottom boat and underwater observatory, Green Island near Cairns is a locally loved tropical playground. One of the few coral cays on the Great Barrier Reef covered in rainforest, visitors can take an easy half, full day or more extended visit to experience two world wonders in one destination. There are options for resort stays, rainforest walks and aquatic activities, including a walk on the seafloor.
- Fitzroy Island
Rainforest walking tracks and coral beaches are a feature of this friendly destination near Cairns that is relaxed and encourages fun activities for all ages. Its steep mountain peak encourages exploring, and it’s ideal for snorkelling, swimming and kayaking.
- Lizard Island
The main island of this small group of five north of Cooktown, Lizard Island is typical of its other reef island cousins with its perfect white beaches, glistening waters and many nearby reefs for snorkelling and diving. Its sole resort offers 5-star luxury accommodation in ideal isolation from any form of other urban life. The island has its airstrip and boasts some magnificent walks.
- Magnetic Island
This large well-developed tropical island not far from Townsville CBD is part-residential and part-tourism, its national park environment consisting of a wealth of scenic walks and wildlife co-existing with locals in forested locales. ts many bays are dedicated to water sports, and it is accessible by ferry. While it is low-key and relaxing, it can also be fun and refreshing, and there is no pretence.
- Mission Beach
The tropical hamlet of Mission Beach is shrouded in World Heritage rainforest which abuts the Coral Sea down to its white-sand beaches. A no-frills community eschews any pace of life in an eco-sensitive village atmosphere that has evolved under swaying palms and fostered a range of mid-level family and backpacker accommodation. Famous for hosting substantial numbers of endangered cassowaries, it is one of the mainland’s closest neighbours to the Great Barrier Reef and a gateway to the formerly trendy Dunk Island.
- Bedarra Island
About 10 km offshore from Mission Beach and sitting on 100 ha of tropical rainforest, Bedarra Island is regarded as one of the marine park region’s most picturesque Great Barrier Reef islands. It’s a favourite escape for day-trippers and access is by ferry or helicopter. There are a few accommodation options in the lush tropical rainforest, including ten guest villas in a 5-star eco-resort which is a favourite with honeymooners, celebrities and romantic couples. Healthy activities abound like swimming, diving or snorkelling in the azure blue waters include jet-skiing, water-skiing and paragliding.
- Haggerstone Island
In the far north extremities of the Great Barrier Reef is Haggerstone Island, which is a tropical wilderness sitting on a bed of unique coral gardens. It is 600 km north of Cairns near the Cape York Peninsula whose rugged beauty contrasts with the idyllic location of the remote island and its teeming sea life and avian population. A private island, its eclectic tropical timber accommodation is surrounded by gardens, orchards and dams. Snorkelling and fishing will help pass the time of day in this isolated location and further afield shipwrecks can be checked out.
- Orpheus Island
Perfect snorkelling conditions and hiking through eucalypts are but two of the attractions of this unique 1,300 ha island north of Townsville in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. An eclectic collection of wildlife inhabits the national park, ranging from echidnas and bandicoots to green tree frogs and ospreys. Snorkelling and diving (beware marine stingers) is the best way to appreciate the genuine wonders of the 1,000 species of fish inhabiting the stunning variety of soft and hard coral. The ultra-private Orpheus Island Lodge can accommodate only 30 patrons and offers quintessential luxury throughout its facility. It’s a brilliant complement to the uniqueness of its natural environment.
- Airlie Beach
The starting point for most journeys out to the unique Whitsunday Islands group, Airlie Beach is a thrill-seekers playground for the young and restless, faux trendies and transitioners on a road trip to wherever. Its many accommodation hostels and plentiful beer gardens provide respite in an aquatic playground from which scenic flights or a sailing adventure can be booked and plans made for Great Barrier Reef island visits.
- Hamilton Island
The paradise resort of Hamilton Island is a magnet hotspot due to its luxury accommodation, impressive infrastructure (including the commercial airport), lavish restaurants and bars, steep hills, walking trails and sandy white beaches. If you aren’t booked in for a few days, it’s open and affordable for day-trippers wanting access to its tennis courts, golf facilities and dive experiences. Its unblemished natural features include impressive coral and marine life, and there are cruises available to other islands.
- Daydream Island
Newly positioned as a more chic facility, the popular day-trip destination is the closest resort to the mainland in the region and an ideal R&R escape for locals and travellers looking for a weekend of fun. It’s a small piece of land with its wildlife, 100 species of fish, coral and invertebrates, and expansive views from the pool of a magnificent Great Barrier Reef vista.
- Hayman Island
The northernmost of the Whitsunday Islands group, Hayman is an exclusive tropical resort on 400 ha and is open only to staying guests. Its luxury 5-star resort is sequestered among valleys and beaches and has been the playground for a clientele noted for wealth and fame over many years.
- Whitehaven Beach
Celebrated by many as one of the most beautiful beaches in Australia, this stunning location on Whitsunday Island has azure blue waters lapping pure white silica sand and sandbars linking coloured tidal pools.
- Lady Elliot Island
The Great Barrier Reef starts at its southernmost island Lady Elliot (off Bundaberg). This vegetated and remote coral cay is renowned for the quality of its many dive sites (plus shipwrecks), snorkelling and scuba diving conditions. It is home to coral gardens, seabirds, a colony of nesting turtles, blowholes, giant manta rays, barracuda and leopard sharks. It features an eco-friendly resort with a conservation ethos.
- Fraser Island
The world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island is the only identified location where the rainforest grows in sand. A stunning island featuring freshwater lakes, wetlands, crystal clear creeks, lush forests and massive sand dunes, this sandy paradise is home to lots of birdlife and wildlife, including dingos. It is a hotbed of tourism activity and has a wide range of accommodation, including the luxury Kingfisher Bay Resort, and marine activity services.
- Mon Repos
Near Bundaberg, Mon Repos Conservation Park supports the largest colony of nesting marine turtles on the eastern Australian mainland. The coastal environment is supplemented by walking and cycling tracks and at night from November to March, and visitors can see turtles hatching.
- Seventeen Seventy (Town of 1770)
Established on the site of the second landing in Australia by Captain James Cook, Seventeen Seventy is considered the closest access point to the Southern Great Barrier Reef. Holidaymakers visit for fishing, swimming on deserted beaches, coral cays, national parks that offer wilderness, camping and hiking, and as a launching point for Great Barrier Reef tours.
- Great Keppel Island
The island is 30-minutes off the coast from the small town of Yeppoon and is the largest in the Keppel Group. It has a relaxed style and its white sandy beaches and sparkling waters attract day-trippers and longer-stay guests. It features various forms of accommodation, the largest being a locally-owned resort, and plenty of water sport activities. Located a little north of the Tropic of Capricorn, it has been a magnet for urban travellers seeking sun, sand and sea at its 17 paradise-quality beaches
- Pumpkin Island
A hidden 6 ha gem of an island in the Keppel Group, it is 14 km off the coast from Yeppoon. Despite minimal infrastructure, there is plenty to see, including dolphins, whales and turtles, and do, such as glass-bottom kayaking, snorkelling, fishing and stand-up paddle-boarding. Eco-friendly accommodation caters to a maximum of 34 guests in 7 self-contained units
- Heron Island
The underwater paradise of Heron Island, part of the Capricornia Cays group, is scuba-diving heaven for which it as among the best in the world. Above ground are a resort and research station, thickly treed national park, magnificent beaches offering superb snorkelling conditions, and seasonal turtle activity. Laidback and casual, making it ideal for families, it is blessed with more than 20 sq km of the reef and, 80 km northeast of Gladstone, is accessible by ferry and seaplane.
- Lady Musgrave Island
Lady Musgrave is a coral cay island set on 1,200 ha of the thriving reef. Its sheltered lagoon attracts day-trippers and campers for snorkelling and diving its blue waters, glass-bottom boat coral viewing and leisurely walks among flora and fauna. The waters are teeming with coloured reef fish, manta rays and turtles. Unspoilt and authentic, it is a castaway’s dream.