One of Australia’s most remarkable natural gifts, the Great Barrier Reef is blessed with the breathtaking beauty of the world’s largest coral reef. The reef contains an abundance of marine life and comprises of over 3000 individual reef systems and coral cays and literally hundreds of picturesque tropical islands with some of the worlds most beautiful sun-soaked, golden beaches.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and pulling away from it, and viewing it from a greater distance, you can understand why. It is larger than the Great Wall of China and the only living thing on earth visible from space. The marine park stretches over 3000km (1800 miles) almost parallel to the Queensland coast, from near the coastal town of Bundaberg, up past the tip of Cape York. The area, scattered with beautiful islands and idyllic coral cays full of wildlife, is made up of more than 3000 reefs which range in size from 1 hectare to over 10,000 hectares. The reef, between 15 kilometres and 150 kilometres off shore and around 65 Km wide in some parts, and a massive 300,000 square kilometres in size. It is a gathering of brilliant, vivid coral providing divers with the most spectacular underwater experience imaginable.
A closer encounter with the Great Barrier Reef’s impressive coral gardens reveals many astounding underwater attractions including the world’s largest collection of corals (in fact, more than 400 different kinds of coral), coral sponges, molluscs, rays, dolphins, over 1500 species of tropical fish, more than 200 types of birds, around 20 types of reptiles including sea turtles and giant clams over 120 years old.
The Great Barrier Reef is a breeding area for humpback whales, migrating from the Antarctic and is also the habitat of a few endangered species including the Dugong (Sea Cow) and large Green Sea Turtle. In recognition of its significance, UNESCO listed the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage Site in 1981.
Because of its natural beauty, both below and above the water’s surface, the Great Barrier Reef has become one of the worlds most sought after tourist destinations. In 2006 there were approximately 820 operators and 1500 vessels and aircraft permitted to operate in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park providing ease of access for all to experience the Great Barrier Reef and learn first hand about its natural delights and World Heritage values.
The Great Barrier Reef spans most of the east coast of Queensland, from north of the tip of Cape York, to just south of Bundaberg, and there are access points all along the coast. There is no direct answer to the question, where is the best place to see the reef? Port Douglas, Cairns and the Whitsundays are the more popular places to see the reef, all having a variety of ways and means to travel to the reef and then explore it when you get there. But to single them out would be unfair to the many other coastal towns which also provide transport to and from the reef.
Whichever town or towns you choose to visit along the eastern coast of Queensland, provided it is north of Bundaberg, the Great Barrier Reef will not be very far away and chances are there will be a cruise or tour ready to take you out to visit this great natural marine wonderland.