Three Ways to Experience the Great Barrier Reef

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The Great Barrier Reef is without a doubt one of the world’s most beautiful natural gems. If you’re planning a trip to this amazing destination, guest contributor Patti Morrow from Luggage and Lipstick is here to show us how to make the most out of this unforgettable bucket list trip.

It’s on nearly everyone’s Bucket List, and since I’m a certified scuba diver, it was definitely on mine. So when it came time to celebrate one of those milestone midlife baby boomer birthdays, I could think of no better place than the Great Barrier Reef.

In addition to exploring one of the world’s top scuba destinations, there are other ways to absorb the stunning natural beauty of the reef and islands. I intended to try them all.

woman scuba diving near a coral reef
Photograph by Kerry Kern.

Located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of northeast tropical Queensland, The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef, stretching out for 1,800 miles. It comprises over 3,000 individual reef systems and coral cays.

It’s one of the seven wonders of the natural world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the only structure made up of living organisms visible from space.

people jumping off a boat in the Great Barrier Reef
Photograph by Kerry Kern.

I was a little concerned, because I’d heard reports that the reef was dead due to bleaching. Sure, climate change, causing ocean warming has resulted in coral bleaching in parts of the reef. As global warming continues, it will be a challenge for the coral to keep up with increasing ocean temperatures.

However, I was relieved to discover while some patches have suffered damage, the Great Barrier Reef is most certainly not “dead.”  and that dive operators like Divers Den and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are leading efforts to protect the ecosystems of the reef.

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While the future of the reef may be uncertain, as of now there is an abundance of healthy coral abundant aquatic life. Here are three distinctly different ways to enjoy this fabulous natural resource in tropical Queensland, Australia.

1. Experience the Great Barrier Reef under the sea

Coral on the bottom of the sea floor
Photograph by Kerry Kern.

Diving or snorkeling, the Great Barrier Reef has some of the best ocean life in the world.  Around some of the islands you’ll find calm, shallow spots rich in fish life and perfect for first-timers.  There are deeper sites reached by boat within two hours or less from the mainland.

The reef supports a dizzying array of marine life including more than 400 species of soft and hard coral, over 1,500 species of fish, 6 species of turtles, and dolphins, whales, porpoises, and sharks.

Two scuba divers and a sea turtle
Photograph by Kerry Kern.

The most memorable moment of my Cairns-based dive with Divers Den was when a large-but-friendly Hawksbill turtle circled us a few times, then came over to take a piece of seagrass from my outstretched hand.  Unplanned and unexpected, those opportunities just don’t happen every day!

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2. Explore on the water

two baby boomers kayaking on the ocean
Photograph by Kerry Kern.

Sailboats, catamarans, luxury yachts, kayaks, paddleboards – you’ll see all manner of flotation exploring the reef. We settled on exploring Fitzroy Island, just off the coast of Cairns.

Sea kayaking is a great way to explore remote and hidden beaches and coves along the calm waters in front of the island. It’s also possible to paddle over to Little Fitzroy Island, although there’s a bit more current and effort involved in doing that.

Charter tour boats are also a fun way to see the reef, especially for groups. After dropping anchor at an attractive location, the more adventurous can leap off the ship into the sea for a swim. Don’t worry, there are less adrenaline-inducing ways to access the water!

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3. View the Great Barrier Reef from the air

overhead view of Great Barrier Reef
Photograph by Kerry Kern.
View of the ocean and islands from an airplane
Photograph by Kerry Kern.

Jaw-dropping beauty. There’s no other way to describe gazing down at the Whitsunday region from our small prop plane. The 60-minute scenic flight over the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Islands revealed a bird’s-eye vista unsurpassed in any other flight experience.

Intricate pattern of reef and ocean as seen from an airplane
Photograph by Kerry Kern.

We flew over the famous Heart Reef, Hook Reef and Hayman Island.

I was thrilled to see Whitehaven Beach – one of the top ten beaches in the world. I wanted to stay up there forever.

overhead view of a coral reef in the ocean
Photograph by Kerry Kern.

Visiting Australia, in itself, is a not-be-be missed experience. The über-friendly people, the world’s oldest rainforest, the aborigine culture, the quirky food, and of course the multiple ways to enjoy the stunning reef make it an adventure of a lifetime.

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