29 December 2015 by Daniel Wright
As one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Australia's Great Barrier Reef holds a spot on every traveller's bucket list. One of the world's largest UNESCO World Heritage sites, this coral reef ecosystem supports almost 6,000 species of life, including fish, mollusc and, of course, coral.
People have always been fascinated by both the stunning beauty and sheer abundance of marine life on the reef, visiting in order to witness the whitetip reef sharks, spinner dolphins, dugongs, green sea turtles and tropical fish that grace the waters. Above sea level, over 40 species of birds breed here, including black noddies, ospreys and buff-banded rails. We've picked our favourite itineraries for the Great Barrier Reef, choosing options to cater for coral and marine life, for utter seclusion, families, couples and for nature and eco-lovers.
Best for: Coral and marine life
The northern most island resort on the Great Barrier Reef, Lizard Island has more than 1,000 hectares of national parkland and 24 powdery white sand beaches, which can be accessed by private, motorised dinghies. Privately owned and with a warm and friendly atmosphere, there are just 40 rooms, suites and villas, all of which command stunning views across the turquoise waters of Sunset Beach and Anchor Bay.
Top tip: Lizard Island is one of the only reef islands where guests can snorkel directly from the beach into the coral gardens. Divers can also take a full day Outer Reef Trip to the Cod Hole dive, one of the top ten dive sites in the world.
Best for: Seclusion
Orpheus Island is a secluded jungle hideaway in the far north of Queensland, 80km north of Townsville. The island stretches 11km of immaculate turquoise coastline and sits amidst the magical waters of the Great Barrier Reef. It is also home to a National Park and surrounded by a world-listed Marine Park, and the 28 guests can enjoy guided scuba and snorkelling expeditions on a custom-built dive boat and explore the pristine coves and reefs, home to more than 1000 species of fish.
Top tip: The island’s signature dining experience Dining with the Tides is an intimate dinner for two on the pier. Pre-designing the six-course menu with the culinary team the night before, couples can relax and enjoy a spectacular feast while the sun sets over the Coral Sea.
Best for: Romance
Qualia sits on the northernmost point of Hamilton Island, the only island in the Whitsundays with its own commercial airport. This wonderfully romantic and exclusive adults-only resort has 60 elegant one-bedroom pavilions and a Beach House spread among eucalyptus trees and brilliantly positioned to capture the idyllic views of the emerald waters.
Top tip: Couples can take to the skies and experience the reef from above with Hamilton Island’s Reef Comber Seaplane adventure. This seaplane journey takes in the island itself, the renowned Whitehaven Beach – a 7km stretch of pristine sands and vibrant waters – and a bird’s eye view of the sheer size and scale of the reef’s coral garden, including the iconic Heart Reef.
Best for: Nature and eco-lovers
Lady Elliot Island is the southernmost coral cay of the Great Barrier Reef and sits within a highly protected ‘Green Zone’. A sanctuary for more than 1,200 species of marine life, the island is renowned for its abundance of manta rays, turtles and unspoilt coral reef which can be explored straight off the beach. There are glass bottom boat excursions, guided snorkelling safaris, guided reef walks, turtle snorkelling, diving with manta rays and humpback whale spotting. The eco-resort is home to 41 guest rooms comprising of eco-cabins and two-bedroom island suites.
Top tip: Lady Elliot Island is one of the ‘top five’ locations in the world to go diving with manta rays. Guests can experience special dives with the alfredi species of manta which can be found feeding around the island. May to June is the best time for seeing them, when the water is warm and the visibility is good.
One&Only Hayman Island (closed until late 2018)
Best for: Luxury family holidays
The Tropical Cyclone Debbie in 2017 had a major impact on World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef's Hayman Island, meaning this resort is temporarily closed. It's due to reopen in late 2018. The wonderfully luxurious resort maintains a high-octane glamour but with a natural feel, and among the staff are a host of wildlife experts and marine biologists to take guests out into the surrounding forest and coral reefs surrounding the island. As well as endless snorkelling and diving opportunities, there are secluded beaches to visit, water sports to experience, not to mention relaxing in the luxurious spa and iconic swimming pool.
Top tip: It is one of the only luxury resort islands to cater for kids under 12 and has amazing facilities for all ages. The supervised KidsOnly Club caters for children aged 11 and under and the teens’ club for 12 to 17 year-olds. Activities on offer include reef ranger outings, fish feeding, beach games and nature walks. There are also four tennis courts, two squash courts, a basketball court, and a large fitness centre.
Below are a selection of itineraries and places to stay on the Great Barrier Reef. We can arrange a tailor-made stay at any of these islands or resorts listed above – to speak with one of our tailor-made specialists for expert advice, please contact us today.