best place to stay to experience Great Barrier Reef?

Old Feb 26th, 2011, 05:26 AM
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best place to stay to experience Great Barrier Reef?

Following my other quesitons about New Zealand, I am not focussing on the Australian part of my trip.
I will be in Sydney for some days and poss Melbourne (about 10 days), but would like to end my trip with a few days seeing the GBR. I see several locations mentioned as bases from which to see it - Cairns, Lizard Island, Airle Beach, the Thala Resort nr Port Douglas.
I dont have a huge budget (Thata is fine now, but in April the prices double to about 300 dollars/night) so Lizard Island or exclusive hidewaways arent what I want. But close to beach/activities (mainly snorkelling, not diving) are what Id like for 3-4 days. I dont have transport so would need somewhere I can get to and out of relatively easily. I would fly back to Asia (where I live) from either Brisbane or Cairns.
Failing that, if its too expensive, I may simply skip GBR and stay around Sydney and Melbourne seeing Blue Mountains etc.

Any recommendations?
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Old Feb 26th, 2011, 06:27 AM
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I recommend Heron Island near the southern end of the GBR. It's a small island right on the reef, one resort, no roads, no daytrippers. Excellent snorkeling and snorkelers are well catered for. April would be a great time to go. Lady Elliot Island, in the same area would be a cheaper alternative. Both islands are certain to be less expensive than Lizard.
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Old Feb 26th, 2011, 09:06 AM
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I have not been to any of the islands, but you may find that Cairns or Port Douglas are good choices budget-wise. Each has a wide range of accommodation choices, including hostels, and a wide range of food choices so you can budget for that as well. Both places have boats which offer tours to the Reef for snorkeling and/or diving.
One advantage of PD is that the beach is right in town. In Cairns, you would have to go to one of the northern suburbs for the beach. However, if you go to PD, you will have to arrange for coach transportation to/from the airport. That's easily done, but another added cost.
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Old Feb 27th, 2011, 09:48 AM
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I agree with the recommendation above for Heron Island as the best way to experience GBR. You are right there in the reef, and can snorkel at your leisure (if the tide is right) from the island or take a boat about 10 minutes out for deeper snorkeling a couple times a day. There is also great reef walking at low tide. I also spent some time in the north, Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation. We took a day trip to the outer reef, and although the snorkeling was good (and the water a tad warmer), it was a lot of time in the boat vs. time in the water. If you have time to do only one, I'd choose Heron Island. Three nights there was perfect. I know they changed ownership since I was there, but have a friend who went last year and it sounded like a very similar experience to when I was there a few years back. The accommodations are not deluxe, but there are different levels at varying price points.

Of course, I live in the USA, and have only been to the GBR once, so take my advice for what it's worth. Also, I encourage people to visit the reef now, vs. visiting a city like Melbourne, as no one knows what damage it will suffer due to future climate degradation. Again, JMO.
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Old Feb 27th, 2011, 03:34 PM
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I thought the best way to experience the GBR was to stay overnight on a boat. We spent the night on the Reef Encounter and it was fabulous. The only downside was the the water was VERY choppy due to high winds and we couldn't move around on the reef - we stayed anchored in one spot. But it was amazing!!! I would even consider spending two nights in the future.
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Old Feb 27th, 2011, 06:18 PM
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I'd suggest a liveaboard too for maximum reef contact. Reef Encounter out of Cairns is reasonably priced - from AU$359 pp for two days' snorkelling, one night's accommodation and all meals.
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Old Feb 27th, 2011, 06:49 PM
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Being a tiny island surrounded by reef and having a single resort, Heron is a lot like a liveaboard, only you won't get seasick (with the possible exception of boat ride to/from the island),
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Old Feb 28th, 2011, 02:36 AM
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thanks for the tips! Heron Island looks really nice, but its still pretty expensive once you factor in a flight to gladstone and then a helicopter or boat transfer. Things are expensive these days ig you are working from GB pounds..... but I see that even a one day boat trip to the Reef from PD costs about 200 dollars/day.
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Old Feb 28th, 2011, 01:14 PM
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A day trip from Cairns is about $140-$180 so cheaper.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2011, 04:55 PM
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If you can stretch to a live-aboard, it's a magical experience, traveller2007. And, when you consider it covers accommodation & all meals + all your snorkelling/diving - it's really a pretty good deal, IMHO.
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Old Mar 10th, 2011, 12:11 PM
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If one plan to do a live-aboard trip for the GBR and do scuba divings, is it better to beome a certified diver before coming to Aus or wait until one gets to Aus? Thanks.
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Old Mar 10th, 2011, 12:21 PM
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Do understand that the GBR is very far from any shore. If you stay in Cairns or PD, it takes hours by boat to get to the reef and hours to get back. That doesn't leave much time on the actual reef. You will also be on a boat with hoards of other people. I really didn't realize how far out the reef is located on our first trip. Luckily we did a live aboard -- a small "cruise ship" called the Coral Princess. It was 3 days on the reef. Just wonderful. Have now idea how much it might cost now.
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Old Mar 12th, 2011, 02:07 AM
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TC No need to exaggerate, about 1.5 hours to the very outer reef on a good vessel is not hours and hours. usually 5 hours on the reef on a day trip. Passenegr numbers vary.
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Old Mar 12th, 2011, 02:55 AM
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Yes, about 1.5 hours max, depends on which part of reef. Sea Star out of Cairns and Wavelength out of Port Douglas take a maximum of 30 passengers, hardly hordes of people.
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Old Mar 12th, 2011, 07:12 AM
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I did not mean to exaggerate. With the loading of passengers, setting out to sea, travel time, etc it was a long time before we were actually in the water doing anything. Much, much different than staying somewhere on the reef where one can just dash into the water. I also saw many of the "day boats" taking people to large platforms -- looking much like oil drilling platforms -- for the day. These were loaded with (yes) "hoards" of people from many boats.

My point really was just to say that the reef is further from shore and more complicated to visit than what one might expect.
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Old Mar 12th, 2011, 09:47 AM
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We took Rum Runner out to the barrier reef from Cape Tribulation in 2008. Only 30 people max. It was a wonderful experience and the snorkeling was among the best I've ever experienced. On an earlier trip (1994) we took Quicksilver from Port Douglas out to one of those platforms on the reef. A much larger boat, many more people, less personal, a day I wouldn't repeat. All in all, our best memories of the reef are those from Heron Island with the reef at our doorstep 24/7. Heron was so good we went back four times!
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Old Mar 12th, 2011, 06:52 PM
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My stay at the Thala Beach Lodge was INCREDIBLE. The resort exceeded my wildest expectations. The only way I could afford it was to book it at a special "last-minute winter rate" that included the OMG breakfasts, but not dinner. The views from the restaurant (and everywhere else) were magnificent and we found it a perfect location for day trips to Mossman Gorge; Daintree; Cape Trib., the Wildlife Habitat in Pt. Douglas, etc .... There's so much more to that beautiful area than just the GBR.

Like the previous poster, I took Quicksilver from Pt. Douglas to the reef for a day trip. The semi-submersible sub was phenomenal, as was the snorkeling. One day was enough for me at the reef because there's so much I wanted to do in a limited amount of time. But I'm not a diver and I wanted to see as much scenery as possible -- above and below the water ;-)
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