How to see the Great Barrier Reef in Australia

Are you going to Australiasoon and want to know how to see the Great Barrier Reef? This is the place for you!

The Great Barrier Reef is Australia’s most beautiful place to see. No trip to Australia would be complete without going to see the Great Barrier Reef.

Obviously, The Great Barrier Reef is in the ocean which makes it a bit of an unusual place to visit.

In this article, we tell you everything you need to know about how to see the Great Barrier Reef.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no extra cost for you!

Where can you see the Great Barrier Reef from?

The Great Barrier Reef is located on the coast of Queensland. The two main places to start your trip to the Great Barrier Reef are Cairns and Airlie Beach.

Cairns is a very popular destination and I would recommend it if you are looking for a nice city to stay and party. 

If, like me, you are a sucker for beautiful landscapes, then Airlie Beach is the place for you! 

Airlie Beach is home to the Whitsunday Islands which means that you will not only get to see the Great Barrier Reef, but also the Whitsundays. 2 for the price of one! What else can we ask for?

So now that you know where you should be starting from. Let’s dive into the cool stuff and by that I mean, how to see the Great Barrier Reef.

Scenic Flight

great barrier reef flight

The Great Barrier Reef covers an area of 344,000 square kilometres and stretches over 2,300 kilometres. It’s absolutely huge and formed of different reefs. It’s so big that you can see it from the sky. As a matter of fact, you should see it from the sky. It’s a completely different experience than when you go diving. 

From the sky, the Great Barrier Reef takes all its beauty. You realise how big and unbelievable magical this beautiful ecosystem actually is. 

heart reef australia

I went onto the scenic flight from Airlie Beach and can just not recommend it enough. That 1 hour flying above the Great Barrier Reef was purely magical. And was the perfect first introduction to the reef. I then did all the following activities and I do actually recommend doing it in that order. 

I wrote a full review of the Great Barrier Reef scenic flight from Airlie Beach so if you want more information, check it out. 

The great thing about the scenic flight is that:

– It gives an opportunity to experience the reef even if you are not a diver

– You will get beautiful views of the reef that you wouldn’t get otherwise

– You get to see the breath-taking White-heaven beach and other Whitsunday islands

– You get to see the heart reef

– The pilot is also a tour guide and tells you plenty of fun facts about the GBR and Whitsundays

– The aircraft is small so you have a window seat guaranteed

HOW TO BOOK: If you wish to book your scenic flight above the Great Barrier Reef, you can do it just here!

Skydiving in Airlie Beach

If you want to mix adrenaline and Great Barrier Reef then skydiving in Airlie Beach is the perfect activity for you!

skydive whitsundays

Skydiving in Airlie Beach is an amazing experience as you will get the thrill that comes with jumping out of a plane and a 360 degree view on the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands

HOW TO BOOK: Again, if you want to check out my full review of the skydive in Airlie Beach, head this way! You can also book your skydive here.

skydiving airlie beach

Cruise in the Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef

A cruise in the Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef is a must-do in Australia. If you can only choose one of these activities, this is the one you want to go for!

cruise whitsunday island

There are many cruises leaving from Airlie Beach every day. 

Ideally, I’d recommend going on a 2 or 3-day cruise. You will also find a lot of day trips but believe me, you’ll want to spend more time there. 

Personally, I chose to go on the Summertime cruise and I absolutely loved it! 

cruise whitsunday islands australia

Back then it was a 3-day cruise but now it’s only 2. Even with 2 days, it would be worth it.

The Summertime cruise is a relaxing sailing trip but you will find other kinds of cruises. You can choose to go on a luxury cruise, a party cruise, a diving cruise… whichever fits your personality best.

No matter what, you always generally get to:

  • Go to Whitehaven beach
  • Snorkel 
  • See dolphins and other animals
  • Activities onboard

If you wish, you can book your cruise in the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef here.

  • Scuba Diving trip on the Great Barrier Reef

If you are a diver, then the Great Barrier Reef will be your holy grail! Diving at the Great Barrier Reef is an experience of a lifetime. You will literally be spoilt with beauty.

You will get to see:

  • Corals
  • Sea turtles
  • Stingrays
  • Lemon sharks
  • And many more!

There are many ways to go diving at the Great Barrier Reef.

If you have time you can go on a diving cruise. You will get to enjoy up to 3 days of fun and dives in the Whitsundays and the reef.

If you are a bit short in time, you can go on a diving trip such as this one.

You will get:

  • Guided snorkel tours
  • Certified diving instructors
  • At 2 least 2 dives

If you are a very experienced diver, you might want to contact a diving centre and see what kind of custom offers they can do for you.

If you don’t have your diving license, don’t you worry, you can still experience it! You can go on a diving introduction. As you are not experienced, you won’t be able to dive deeper than 12 meters but don’t let that stop you. First of all, if you never dived, you will see that 12 meters is actually deeper than you think. Secondly, the beauty of the Great Barrier reef is that you’ve got so many things to see everywhere. You don’t actually need to go into open waters to see a lot.

Your diving instructor will take you on an island. You will start your introduction on the beach or shallow waters and slowly make your way down. Although you can go to these places with a snorkel, it’s a completely different experience when you dive. You get to go so close to the corals and you are surrounded by fish. I highly recommend it.

Snorkelling trip on the Great Barrier Reef

If you don’t have a diving license, snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef will be ideal. That said, even if you are a diver, you might want to give snorkelling a go. It’s a completely different experience and you get to see everything in a different way.

If you go on a cruise, sure enough you will get a chance to go snorkelling at some point. But if you don’t, a snorkelling day trip will be perfect.

You can find different snorkelling day trips here.

You will be provided with snorkelling gear and wetsuit but of course if you have some yourself, feel free to bring them!

Alternatively, if you chose to stay on an island of the Whitsundays such as Hamilton Island, you will find many snorkelling spots. Just ask your hotel for advice (it’s still Australia, you don’t want to go somewhere without being sure it’s safe first).

Sea kayaking on the Great Barrier Reef

Last but not the least: sea kayaking

Although this activity is very often overlooked and clearly shadowed by diving, I personally think that’s one of the best things you can do on the Great Barrier Reef.

I got to go on a sea kayaking half day during my cruise on the Summertime. That said, you can find many other trips here.

It’s a completely different way to experience the reef as you are not actually in the water but on. You get to enjoy both the beauty of the Whitsunday islands and of the reef underneath you. The water is crystal-clear therefore you get to see everything.

You will be able to see corals, sting-rays, turtles, lemon sharks and all sorts of fish!

It’s obviously perfect for people who don’t like swimming. If you like sporty activities, you will be delighted by sea kayaking on the Great Barrier Reef. But if you don’t, don’t worry about it, you can make it at your own pace.

I particularly recommend going on a guided sea kayaking tour. The guide generally is on a paddle-board and because s/he is standing, s/he can spot amazing things and tell you where to look. They also give you a lot of information about the place and wildlife. Finally, they keep you safe! 

You can find sea-kayaking guided tours here and believe me, it’s well worth the money.

So now that you know how to see the Great Barrier Reef and the best activities to do there, grab your swimming costume and go! It’s breath-taking, you won’t regret it!

You may also be interested in:

Places to see in Australia

Best resorts in the Whitsundays

Fun facts about the Great Barrier Reef

Things to do in Daydream Island

Great Barrier Reef Scenic flight from Airlie Beach Review

Summertime Whitsundays Review

Skydive Airlie Beach & Whitsundays : Review

Things to do in Hamilton Island

Best places to skydive in Australia

Australia Travel Guide