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Ways To See The Great Barrier Reef

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Gabby Boucher
Updated Wed 14 Feb 2024

The best ways to see the Great Barrier Reef in the Whitsundays are boat tours, private charters, or scenic flightsEach option offers a unique experience in the world's largest coral reef system, and there are options to suit all types of travellers. Snorkelling, diving, and admiring the Great Barrier Reef are highlights of visiting the Whitsundays, so make sure you save time to explore the reef!

corals and fish thriving in the great barrier reef whitsundays

The Best Ways To See The Great Barrier Reef in the Whitsundays

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the Seven Wonders of the natural world. It's larger than the Great Wall of China and it's the only living organism visible from space! While you're in the Whitsundays there are 4 main ways in which you can see the Great Barrier Reef for yourself - on a day tourovernight tour, private charter, or scenic flight.

Each option offers a different reef experience, whether you want to admire Heart Reef from above or spend the night on the reef. All of these options can be booked from Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island. To help you make your decision we have summarised each of the options!

Scenic flight over the great barrier reef in the whitsundays

Great Barrier Reef Day Tours

Day tours are the cheapest and easiest way to visit the Great Barrier Reef. Reef day tours take you to a pontoon on the Outer Reef where you can spend the day snorkelling, scuba diving, and enjoying delicious catering and stunning views. These are convenient, family-friendly, and have all gear included. You can book day tours to the Great Barrier Reef from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island!

Check out these day tours to the Great Barrier Reef in the Whitsundays!

outer reef pontoon on the ocean at sunrise

Great Barrier Reef Overnight Tours

Overnight tours offer an extended stay on the Great Barrier Reef. Because it's about 3 hours by boat from Airlie Beach to the Outer Reef, an overnight tour gives you more time to enjoy the reef before you have to take the long journey back to shore. Plus, you get the phenomenal experience of sleeping out on the reef and seeing the sunrise over the ocean!

There are a few different types of overnight reef tours you can choose from:

  • Reefsleep: Allows you to sleep on an Outer Reef pontoon in your own private outdoor reefbed
  • Reefsuites: Stay in an underwater hotel on the Outer Reef pontoon
  • Outer Reef sailing tours like Summer Jo and Kiana: Visit the Outer Reef but sleep overnight onboard the vessel

Summer Jo mega yacht sailing by the Outer Great Barrier Reef

    Great Barrier Reef Private Charters

    If you want to travel to the Great Barrier Reef by boat, you can upgrade your experience by booking a private charterA private charter allows you to rent the entire vessel for just you and your party instead of sharing the tour with other guests. You also get a customisable itinerary, catering packages, and expert skippers to give you an amazing day at sea!

    Because the Outer Reef is quite far from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island, where most charters depart from, not all vessels can go to the Outer Reef. Most day charters won't be able to make it to the Outer Reef and back in a day, unless you book a custom dive vessel from Explore! Overnight charters, particularly superyachts, have a better chance of taking you to the Outer Reef. 

    Enquire with our travel experts to find the perfect private charter for your Great Barrier Reef adventure!

    travellers getting ready to snorkel in the great barrier reef

    Great Barrier Reef Scenic Flights

    The final way you can experience the Great Barrier Reef in the Whitsundays is on a scenic flight! Scenic flights differ from boat tours because you don't actually get to swim and snorkel beneath the surface of the reef, but you can enjoy a stunning aerial view of the reef. We recommend you do both a scenic flight and a snorkel tour during your stay in the Whitsundays. This gives you all different kinds of appreciation for the reef!

    Seaplane tours and helicopter tours let you admire the beauty and scale of the Great Barrier Reef from the sky. They are usually only an hour or so, making them great for those short on time. You can also see the famous Heart Reef, a protected location where you aren't allowed to snorkel.

    seaplane flying over the heart reef in the whitsundays

    Call us at +61 7 4914 2425 or live chat with our friendly travel experts and find the perfect way to explore the Great Barrier Reef!

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