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Plan Your Great Barrier Reef Vacation

A maze of 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for 2,600 km (1,616 miles), the Great Barrier Reef is among the world's most spectacular natural attractions. Known as Australia's "Blue Outback," the reef is a haven for thousands of species of marine creatures as well as turtles and birds. Most visitors explore this section of Australia from one of the dozen-plus resorts strung along the coasts of islands in the southern half of the marine park, most of them in or north of the Whitsunday Islands group. Although most Barrier Reef islands are closer to the mainland than they are to the spectacular outer reef, all island resorts offer (or can organize) boat excursions to various outer-reef sites.

The reef was established as a marine park in 1975, and the United Nations designated the Great Barrier Reef a World Heritage site in 1981. Strict legislation was enacted in 2004, prohibiting fishing along most of the reef—a further attempt to protect the underwater treasures of this vast, delicate ecosystem. Any visitor over the age of four must pay an A$3.50 per day Environmental Management Charge ("reef tax") to support ongoing efforts to preserve the reef.

The Great Barrier Reef system began to form approximately 6,000–7,000 years ago, say marine scientists. It's comprised of individual reefs and islands, which lie to the east of the Coral Sea and extend south into the Pacific Ocean. Most of the reef is about 65 km (40 miles) off the Queensland coast, although some parts extend as far as 300 km (186 miles) offshore. Altogether, it covers an area bigger than Great Britain, forming the largest living feature on Earth and the only one visible from space.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Reef Explorations There are thousands of spectacular dive sites scattered along the coral spine of the Great Barrier Reef. Some draw hundreds of divers and snorkelers a day with clouds of fish and coral formations.
  2. Wildlife Watching Flora and fauna on the islands themselves can be fascinating rain forests, hills and rocky areas, and postcard-perfect beaches provide diverse habitat for everything from turtles, birds, and lizards to echidnas and bandicoots. On the mainland, Daintree National Park is home to the endangered southern cassowary.
  3. Cultural Immersion The Kuku Yalanji people have lived in the area between Port Douglas and Cookdown for millennia. A highlight of visiting the region is experiencing this unique landscape from the perspective of its traditional owners. Several day and multiday tours allow you to experience Kuku Yalanji culture and visit some of the area’s spiritually significant sites.

When To Go

When to Go to the Great Barrier Reef

The bulk of the Great Barrier Reef islands lie north of the tropic of Capricorn in a monsoonal climate zone. In the hot, wet season (roughly...

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