Great Barrier Reef
Photo 'Wally & Snorkeller' by courtesy of Reef Magic Cruises
Once the graveyard of many ships, the Great Barrier Reef is today a tourism playground. A biological marvel which is visible from space, this vast structure is a maze of reefs, and coral cays formed over the millenia from the skeletons of myriads of the polyps which inhabit it. It is also shelter and home to a huge number of other marine organisms - 80% of which are only found in this part of the planet.
Mostly tourism on 'the reef' is conducted by hundreds of day cruise operators from the various coastal towns & cities running along it's length on the Queensland mainland.
'the reef' comes closest to the mainland in the region between Cape Tribulation and Mission Beach making this stretch of coast the most popular as a departure point - less time getting there & back means more time there. Mostly reef cruises are 'day cruises' only, however there are a small number of live aboard vessels accommodating overnighters or longer. Many of the smaller operators will conduct their water activities 'off the back' of the boat, but there are also quite a few who operate a 'pontoon' - a large permanently moored platform, to which the boat berths and passengers are able disembark and move about freely. Some pontoons have quite an array of different facilities, and before deciding on a particular trip it may be wise to research what will be available.
The chief tourist activity on the reef is snorkelling, and for the person who has not done this before, there are many very highly trained guides accompanying each cruise to help & teach. What a great way to view the sites - lying on top of the water and effortlessly moving yourself around all the little nooks & crannies of the reef.
Better still is to dive - although you will be expected to pay more for this. That is because of the expensive equipment which is continually tested to the highest standards, plus the very high degree of training and certification of all personnel involved. Don't worry if you've never dived before - most operators offer what they call an 'intro dive' - where you spend around 15 mins on the surface being taught the basics by very highly qualified dive instructors. When they feel you have sufficient proficiency, they will show you the way under the water in a very safe manner. An 'intro dive' is an experience that even fully qualified divers rarely forget. It changes your life and many intro divers develop the urge to get qualified and make diving a part of their life.
If you have a real aversion to getting wet, then you can always see the reef by glass bottom boat or by mini-submarine - before booking checkout whether your operator offers these facilities. Some operators also offer helicopter trips, enabling you to marvel at the beauty of the reef from the air.
What else is there to do on the reef - well not much really, but some people get a kick out of spending an afternoon on a deserted coral cay, birdwatching, shell collecting, or just lazing about soaking up the sun.
Eating? i hear you ask - most operators offer an included sumptuous lunch, and usually this is served back on board the vessel.