Great Barrier Reef Day Trips Northern Region

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 Region

  • Cairns

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.

  • Kuranda

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. Combine your visit with a range of other tours.

  • 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, trendy 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. Spot Wildlife 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 that has 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. Its many bays 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 famous 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 and romantic couples. Enjoy healthy activities like a morning of 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.