As one of the original Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Great Barrier Reef holds a spot on every traveler’s bucket list. Hugging the east coast of Queensland, Australia, the Great Barrier Reef extends from Cape York in the north all the way to Bundaberg in the south – more than 1,800 miles. With roughly 2,900 coral reefs, 600 islands and 1,500-plus species of fish, the reef leaves its 2 million annual visitors enchanted.
But before diving in, it’s important to get your bearings. The northern part of the reef runs from the Cape York Peninsula to Cairns, a popular home base for many reef visitors. Not only does Cairns provide the closest reef access from the mainland, but it also boasts a few attractions of its own, such as the Kuranda Scenic Railway and the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Other sights like Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures and the Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas are also situated by the reef’s northernmost section.
Travel farther down the coast and you’ll run into the central part of the reef, which includes Townsville and the Whitsunday Islands, where Hamilton Island and Whitehaven Beach reside. And between the Capricorn Coast (along the Tropic of Capricorn) and Fraser Island, you’ll find Airlie Beach and the only section of reef that has not been impacted by severe coral bleaching events.
Wherever you decide to hang your hat, the Great Barrier Reef is a treasure trove of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Whether you’re gazing at marine life through a scuba mask, letting the tropical breeze unfurl your sail or taking in the reef from a plane, the possibilities for exploration are nearly limitless.