Great Barrier Reef & Whitsundays

Swim with tropical fish on the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Tourism & Events QLD


Map of Great Barrier Reef and Whitsundays

Great Barrier Reef

Add the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsundays to your bucket list of island holidays that can be enjoyed any time of the year. 

What makes the Great Barrier Reef special? It could be that it's the world's largest coral reef and stretches a whopping 2,500km. Or maybe the fact that it's home to more than 1,500 different types of fish and marine life; 30 different kinds of whales and dolphins; and 215 species of birds. Because the Great Barrier Reef is so beautiful, it's been crowned one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Now because the Barrier Reef stretches almost the length of Queensland, it's broken down into the Northern Barrier Reef (which is from Cairns to Townsville), and the Southern Barrier Reef (which is from Bunderberg to Yeppoon. 

If you're wondering what you can do in this outdoor playground, here's just a few suggestions:
  • Go snorkelling. Grab some goggles, a snorkel and a pair of fins and glide past hundreds of colourful coral, tropical fish, sea turtles and dugongs. Snorkelling is something everyone of any age and ability can enjoy. Even better, there’s plenty of shallow reefs for non-swimmers to paddle and watch the underwater world go by.

  • Go scuba diving and really immerse yourself in the magic of the Great Barrier Reef. If you’ve never dived before, book a lesson and take a dive - this is your chance to see one of the 7 wonders of the world for yourself.

  • Book a fishing tour where you can chase tuna, coral trout and mackerel.

  • Take a scenic flight around the Barrier Reef on a seaplane or helicopter.

  • Play on the beach and swim in the warm waters. You are in the tropics!

Northern Barrier Reef islands

Go sailing on the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Tourism Australia

The northern Great Barrier Reef islands are just off Cairns (in far north Queensland), and each has its own unique beauty and experiences. You have:

  • Lizard Island: a luxurious and private 5-star resort. It has its own airstrip, a National Park and some of the best scuba diving, snorkelling and game fishing in the world.

paddle boarding on Lizard Island

* Fitzroy Island and Green Island are only 45 minutes by boat from Cairns Both islands are popular for day trips, but also offer luxurious resort accommodation. Both these island paradises are perfect for swimming, snorkelling, glass-bottom boat tours, kayaking, fish-feeding, and bushwalking. On Fitzroy Island you also have a giant ocean trampoline ready for you to bounce your way into the water.

Paddleboard in the clear waters at Lizard Island. Photo: Tourism Australia

  • Haggerstone Island: a secluded island retreat with just 4 guest lodges. You can only get there by light aircraft at certain times of the year. you can relax and sip cocktails or go spearfishing, beach fishing, jet skiing, water skiing or wakeboarding. This island getaway is where you really do go to digital detox and get back to nature.

  • Magnetic Island is off the coast of Townsville and caters for every budget. It has family apartments, resorts and backpacker hostels, and visitors can kayak, sail, scuba dive, or relax by the beach.

How to get to the Great Barrier Reef

There are plenty of flights to Cairns from all over Australia and from overseas. When you arrive in Cairns, book a ferry to the Great Barrier Reef islands. (You can catch a train or bus from Brisbane to Cairns but it's a 24-hour journey.) 

Southern Barrier Reef islands

couple in the pool at Hayman Island in the Whitsundays

Snorkel and dive in the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Tourism Australia

You'll find the Southern Great Barrier Reef islands just off Bundaberg and Gladstone. They are: 

  • Heron Island: that sits on top of the reef, so you're never far from the local underwater world such as giant shovel-nosed and cow-tail rays, blacktip reef sharks and turtles. If you’re at Herron Island between November and March, you’ll be treated to seeing baby turtles hatching and taking their first steps into the water. Heads up, Herron Island is not your typical sandy beach island. It’s known as a coral cay, meaning that lots of coral debris and sediment have come together over the years to create this island.  
    How to get there: by helicopter or ferry from Gladstone.

  • Wilson Island: is the ultimate grown-up getaway. This stunning coral cay island is reserved for adults only. It has nine luxurious safari tents that can host up to 18 guests at a time. From the moment you arrive, you know you’re somewhere special. Even better, your stay includes all meals and drinks so get ready to be spoilt beyond your wildest dreams.
    How to get there: The only way to access Wilson Island is via a 25-minute boat ride from Herron Island. 

A sea turtle on the Great Barrier Reef

See the local turtles in the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Tourism & Events QLD 

  • North West Island: is perfect for adventure lovers who want to pitch a tent and enjoy a simple life. This coral cay doesn’t come with any bells and whistles, so you need to be fully self-sufficient and ready to camp. 
    How to get there: Catch a ferry from Gladstone right to North West Island.

    a couple kayaking at Pumpkin Island

    The islands have plenty of water activities to keep you busy. Photo: Tourism & Events QLD

  • Great Keppel Island: is just off Yeppoon, and has white sandy beaches and plenty of water sports to enjoy. This island is perfect for the budget-conscious,  with accommodation ranging from tents, cabins to beach houses. 
    How to get there: Fly to Rockhampton. From the airport, book a taxi, or take the very affordable Youngs shuttle bus to Yeppoon. Then catch a ferry to Great Keppel Island.  

  • Pumpkin Island: is shaped like a butternut pumpkin and explains how it got its name. This eco-friendly island has only seven fully self-contained cabins that can accommodate up to 34 guests at a time. If you want to experience owning an island, you can rent the entire island for just over $2000 per night. As for things to do, go snorkelling with turtles and fish, diving, kayaking, swimming or picking fresh oysters off rocks.
    How to get there: take a 20-minute water taxi ride from Great Keppel Island.

aerial view of Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef

Aerial view of Lady Elliot Island. Photo: Tourism & Events QLD 

  • Lady Elliot Island: is just off the coast of Bundaberg, and home to manta rays, turtles dolphins and sharks. This is a diver’s paradise, and its protected lagoon makes it the perfect spot to snorkel and check out the colourful coral and fish. You can glamp, stay in one of the beachside suites or just book a fly-in-fly-out day trip.
    How to get there: Fly from the Gold Coast, Brisbane (Redcliffe), Hervey Bay, and Bundaberg. 

  • Lady Musgrave Island: is a tucked-away coral cay that’s home to more than 1,200 marine animal species including manta rays, turtles, tropical fish, colourful corals, reef sharks, and seabirds. Between July and November, watch the majestic humpback whales doing their annual migration. Book a Lady Musgrave experience day tour where you can snorkel, dive, and enjoy the glass bottom boat cruise. If you want to stay longer, book the Lady Musgrave HQ pontoon and sleep on the reef overnight.
    How to get there: Catch a ferry. This beautiful island is off the coasts of Gladstone, Bundaberg and Town of 1770.

Welcome to the Whitsunday Islands

Heart Reef in the Whitsundays

Take a flight over the famous Heart Reef in the Whitsundays. Photo: Tourism Australia

Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, along come the Whitsunday Islands which are nestled in the Great Barrier Reef (and just off the coast of Airlie beach). While there are 74 tropical islands, only a handful have been made into resorts. Choose from Hayman Island, Hamilton Island, Daydream Island and Long Island – which are all equally beautiful and unique.

  • Hamilton Island is like a small city. It has a great range of accommodation, restaurants, cafes, a supermarket, yacht club and marina, golf course, and an airport. This island is perfect for anyone and everyone.

  • Daydream Island Resort & Spa is a tropical paradise complete with its own spa, open-air cinema and national park. This is a gorgeous island to recharge your batteries or for a family holiday.

  • Hayman Island is pure luxury and indulgence. This 5-star resort is a popular wedding and honeymoon location, and is much loved by the rich and famous. It’s not cheap but it’s worth every penny.

  • Long Island is where you’ll find the luxurious, adults-only and all-inclusive Elysian Eco Retreat. With just 10 private villas, this is one of the most indulgent holidays you’ll ever enjoy.  


Run and play on Daydream Island. Photo: Tourism and Events QLD

How to get to the Whitsundays

The Whitsunday Islands are near Mackay and Townsville, and both have domestic airports. Book flights to Townsville or Mackay, then catch a ferry to the Whitsunday Islands. If you’re heading to Hamilton Island, you can get direct flights.


Things to do in the Whitsundays

Go snorkelling off the pontoon. Photo: Tourism Australia

  • Swim and snorkel or scuba dive with tropical fish, turtles, starfish and sea urchins that live in the Whitsundays.

  • Go on a fishing adventure or zoom around the islands on a jet ski.

  • Go sailing or cruising around the Whitsundays, or see the coral reefs, turtles, fish and other marine life in a glass-bottom boat.

  • Swim, snorkel and play on the beautiful white sands and turquoise water of Whitehaven beach. Book a cruise or scenic flight to get to Whitehaven beach. 

  • Take an unforgettable scenic flight over Heart Reef and see Mother Nature’s quirky sense of humour. Heart Reef gets its name because it’s a coral reef that naturally formed into the shape of a heart. 

  • Resort activities such as kayaking, canoeing, catamarans, tennis, bike riding, lounging by the pools, spas and treatments. 

couple in the pool at Hayman Island in the Whitsundays

Get the best views of the Whitsundays while floating in the pool on Hayman Island. Photo: Tourism Australia