Of course, the Reef is famous for the marine life. Often described as one of Australia’s most incredible natural gifts, the beauty lies in the coral reef. There are more than 3000 individual reef systems and coral cays and hundreds of islands to explore.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
The Great Barrier Reef is a Marine Park and World Heritage Area, and currently makes up about 10 per cent of the world’s coral reef system. It’s a multiple-use marine park, supporting tourism, fishing, recreation, scientific research and indigenous traditional use. In fact, it’s one of the most complex natural systems on earth. The uniqueness of the Reef is that because of its vast size, there is a huge range of ecological communities, habitats and species. According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park website, the park is home to about 600 types of soft and hard corals, more than 100 species of jellyfish, more than 1600 types of fish and 133 varieties of sharks and rays. That’s a lot to see.
To put its size into perspective, the Marine Park is approximately the same size as Italy or Japan, and is bigger than the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Holland combined.
For those who wish to stay on land, and even for those who want to rush into the water, the Daintree Rainforest should not be missed. The vibrant greens of the forest are truly breathtaking and it’s the oldest tropical rainforest in the world. Here’s a fun fact: the ancient ferns, emerald green vines and lush canopy was the inspiration behind blockbuster smash Avatar.
Trek through the jungle, zip-line through the trees or cruise the winding waterways of the Daintree River. Just keep an eye out for the saltwater crocodiles. It’s also worth a trip to Cape Tribulation where the forest meets the Great Barrier Reef. According to Sir David Attenborough, it’s “the most extraordinary place on earth”.
It’s one of Australia’s most sought-after holiday destinations and once you arrive, it’s not hard to see why. Surrounded by pristine white beaches and a gateway to the magnificent reef, Hamilton Island is the perfect base. There’s a huge selection of bars and restaurants on the island, and heaps of water sports available. Plus, for the sailors out there, there’s the Hamilton Island Yacht Club and for the golfers, the only Australian 18-hole championship course on its own island, the Hamilton Island Golf Club is a must.
The great thing about the island as well is that transport is complimentary. Simply hop onto the Island Shuttle which runs continuously. If you prefer to go at your own pace, there is also the option to hire a buggy. It’s also just a half hour catamaran trip to Whitehaven Beach, one of the world’s most unspoiled and beautiful beaches and often voted the number one beach in Australia as well as the top eco-friendly beach. Stretching for seven kilometres, the beach is most famous for the exceptionally white sand and the exceptionally turquoise, blue and green water.
With quiet, secluded beaches and rugged nature, Magnetic Island is an excellent spot to base yourself to explore the Great Barrier Reef. Best of all, it’s just a 25-minute ferry ride from Townsville. The landscape is a bit different to what is usually associated with Reef islands, mainly due to the rocky terrain and giant boulders that call Magnetic Island home. While the main areas are those on the coast, including Horeshoe Bay and West Point, don’t miss the Hawkings Track for magnificent views across the island.
There are more than 20 beaches to explore and you can even dive the S.S. Yongala wreck, which has often been referred to as one of the world’s top dives site, mainly because of the extensive marine life and the fact that the ship, at 110 metres long, is one of the largest, most intact historic shipwrecks. In fact, more than 10,000 divers visit the wreck every year. The island is also home to Northern Australia’s largest colony of koalas. With eucalypt forests, it’s not hard to understand why so many koalas love the area.