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Great Barrier Reef Festival 2023

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Talia Jones
Updated Fri 21 Jul 2023

An underwater photo of the Great Barrier Reef

Your Guide to the Great Barrier Reef Festival 2023

The Great Barrier Reef Festival is back and will be held from August 3rd to August 6th 2023! Hosted by Cruise Whitsundays, the festival showcases the best of the Whitsundays. With the local community coming together to show off their creativity, talent and knowledge, you’re in for a highly entertaining weekend of festivities! You can expect live music, parades, competitions, family-friendly activities, and of course educational talks on the Great Barrier Reef 

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and and lucky for us, it’s right on our doorstep! The reef is not only an underwater playground and home to thousands of marine species, but it is filled with a deep and rich history. During the festival, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to dive into the facts about the reef, learn the history and find out why it’s so important we protect it! 

Over the course of the festival weekend there will be plenty of fun-filled events including art installations, firework displays, lantern shows, family fun days, reef experiences, live music on the beach, running races, and much more!  


Immersive Reef Stories

Two people in dark blue shirts with face paint on standing in front of peopleImage source: Great Barrier Reef Festival

  • When: Thursday, 3rd August at 5:30pm to 7:30pm
  • Where: Coral Sea Marina
  • Entry Cost: FREE

If you’re passionate about the reef or want to learn more about it then you’ll definitely want to attend the Immersive Reef Stories experience. The event will be held at the south end of the Coral Sea Marina and will be hosted by the Coral Sea Academy. The evening involves educational talks by two Master Reef Guides who will run you through the history and tell tales of the Great Barrier Reef, accompanied by videos of different the unique marine life and corals. There will be a licensed bar and food available for purchase.


IMMERSE Art Installations

Two whale art sculptures hanging from a treeImage source: Great Barrier Reef Festival

  • When: Friday, 4th August to Sunday, 6th August, all day long
  • Where: Airlie Beach Foreshore
  • Entry Cost: FREE

Immerse Whitsundays is an illuminated underwater-themed art installation which will be displayed under Airlie Beach's beloved fig tree located on the foreshore. Over the festival weekend, Airlie will be teeming with other art installations, created by local artists. The artworks are made using recycled materials and debris found in the ocean. Be sure to keep an eye out for coral sculptures, underwater themed installations, reef creature statues that will be scattered along the foreshore from Friday to Sunday.  


Coral Sea Marina Resort Lantern Parade

A collection of handmade jellyfish lanterns hanging from a treeImage source: Great Barrier Reef Festival

  • When: Friday, 4th August at 5:30pm to 7:00pm
  • Where: Coral Sea Marina
  • Entry Cost: FREE 

Each year, the lantern parade is a crowd favourite during the Great Barrier Reef Festival weekend. The parade starts at the Coral Sea Marina and follows the Bicentennial Boardwalk through to the Airlie Beach foreshore. Anyone is welcome to participate in the parade - all you need is a lantern. You can bring your own lantern, attend a lantern-making workshop prior to the event, or there will be ready-made lanterns available for purchase on the day. There will be different prizes for the most creative lanterns! If you are not participating but would like to watch the parade, Sorrento’s Italian restaurant is a great viewing spot to cheer the parade-goers on! There will also be fireworks at the end of the parade.


 Twilight and Firework Sunset Sail on Camira

A girl standing on a boat smiling at the camera at sunset with a glass of champagne

  • When: Friday, 4th August at 5:30pm to 8:30pm
  • Where: Cruise Whitsundays Terminal, Port of Airlie
  • Entry Cost: $125 for Adults

Looking for an exclusive viewing platform to view the fireworks display from? How does an all-inclusive yacht sound? Camira’s sunset sail is the perfect way to unwind after your busy day of festival activities and watch the sunset over the Whitsundays. Not only will you have a spectacular view, you can enjoy the all-inclusive alcoholic beverages (beers, wines, and ciders) and platters while you wait to watch the firework display! 


Fireworks on the Foreshore

A colourful fireworks displayImage source: Great Barrier Reef Festival

  • When: Friday, 4th August from 6:00pm to 10:30pm
  • Where: Airlie Beach Foreshore
  • Entry Cost: FREE to watch from the beach, $10 for Bar Ticket, $50 for VIP Ticket (includes cocktail, nibbles and great viewing for fireworks) 

As already mentioned, there will be a fireworks show to kick off the celebrations for Airlie’s Great Barrier Reef festival! The festivities will open with a Welcome to Country, Smoking Ceremony, traditional dance and whale story performance by the Yooribaya Cultural Experiences group. From 8:00pm, the fireworks will begin! Find a place on the foreshore, grab a picnic rug and get cosy while you watch the sky light up! After the show there will be live music, carnival rides, food and drink stalls, and more for you to enjoy!


Reef Experience with Master Reef Guides

Two people looking through a glass underwater window with a scuba diver smiling at them

  • When: Saturday, 5th August from 8:00am to 4:00pm
  • Where: Cruise Whitsundays Terminal, Port of Airlie
  • Entry Cost: $229 for Adults, $119 for Children

Journey to the Outer Great Barrier Reef with Cruise Whitsundays on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Hosted by a team of Master Reef Guides, you are guaranteed to gain a deeper understanding of the reef including its ecosystem and the thousands of different marine species that live there. You’ll spend the day on the Heart Pontoon where you can snorkel, check out the underwater observatory, hop on a semi-submersible and listen to tales told by the Master Reef Guides. You’ll also be in for a delicious buffet-style lunch. It’s a fun-filled day, suitable for families, couples, or groups of friends!


Revvin the Reef Car Show

A line of colourful cars parked with their bonnets upImage source: Great Barrier Reef Festival

  • When: Saturday, August 5th from 10:00am to 2:00pm.
  • Where: The Main Street of Airlie Beach (Shute Harbour Road)
  • Entry Cost: $15 Per Vehicle, $10 Per Bike, $10 for Miss Revvin Comp

Revvin the Reef is a car show that showcases the best hot rods, muscle cars, motorbikes, trucks, and vintage vehicles in Airlie Beach. From flashy, brand new cars to 1950s style automobiles, there will be plenty to marvel at. Even if you aren't a car enthusiast, the show will still be worth checking out as the main street will come to life with live music, stalls and more! Ladies can even dress up in their favourite vintage clothing and go into the draw to win the 'Miss Revvin the Reef' pageant competition. 


Medibank Magic Mile 

A fun run with young children running through the finish lineImage source: Great Barrier Reef Festival

  • When: Saturday, August 5th from 4:00pm to 5:00pm
  • Where: Main Street of Airlie Beach
  • Entry Cost: $10 for Adults, FREE for Children

Each year during the Great Barrier Reef Festival, the Whitsunday Running Club host the 'Magic Mile Run'. The race isn't meant to be strictly competitive, it's aimed for both runners and non-runners to participate in and have fun together! There will be an open male mile race, and open female mile race and a kids mini-mile race - there will also be exciting prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places. The event will be held along the main street of Airlie Beach, so locals and spectators can cheer on the runners as they pass by.


Rotary and Ray White Street Parade

A red train for children driving up the main street of a townImage source: Great Barrier Reef Festival

  • When: Saturday, August 5th from 5:00pm to 6:00pm
  • Where: Main Street of Airlie Beach
  • Entry cost: FREE for not-for-profit & sponsors and $50 for businesses.

The Rotary and Ray White Street Parade is another Great Barrier Reef Festival highlight. The highly anticipated event involves the community coming together to show off the Whitsundays’ best businesses, schools, community groups and dancers! The theme of this year’s parade is ‘Whales of the Whitsundays’ so expect to see unique and creative underwater-themed floats. If you want to enter but don't have a float, you can also walk through the parade in costume. There will be cash prizes for the best business, the best not-for-profit and the most creative and wacky float. Be sure to head to the main street early to secure a prime spot to view the parade!


Beats on the Beach


A group of women wearing matching blue shirts standing in front of a stage at night time
Image source: Great Barrier Reef Festival

  • When: Saturday, August 5th from 6:00pm to 10:30pm
  • Where: Airlie Beach Foreshore
  • Entry Cost: FREE or $10-$50 for Bar/VIP experience

Saturday Beats on the Beach is an event you don't want to miss! Live music will takeover Airlie's foreshore with bands, both local and from afar, set to bring the house down. The lineup includes Sun Salute, The Wild Sky, Flying Double Kick and Mish n Possible. There will also be pop-up bars and food available from the Whitsunday Foodservice 'Eat Street' pop-up. The event is free to watch from the park or you can purchase a ticket to the bar for $10 or opt for the VIP experience for $50 which includes a cocktail, nibbles and an exclusive viewing spot. 


Team Kerr Family Fun Day


Four children standing with buckets of water over their heads
Image source: Great Barrier Reef Festival

  • When: Sunday, August 6th between 10:00am and 2:00pm
  • Where: Airlie Beach Foreshore
  • Entry Cost: FREE

One Agency Team Kerr are sponsoring this Family Fun Day event! You can expect an action-packed day of rides, games, competitions, performances, activities and more. The activities include donut eating comps, circus workshops, colouring-in competitions, kids yoga, face painting, crazy races, water fights and more! Throughout the day there will be educational presentations on the history of the Great Barrier Reef and why it is important we protect it. There will also pop-up food and drink stalls, a treasure hunt and exciting prizes to be won. Don't miss this awesome free event the whole family can enjoy!


Whitsunday Escape Recyclable Regatta 

Adults and children on homemade rafts on the ocean Image source: Great Barrier Reef Festival

  • When: Sunday, 6th August between 2:00pm and 3:00pm
  • Where: Airlie Beach Foreshore
  • Entry Cost: FREE 

The Whitsunday Escape Recyclable Regatta is a highlight during the Great Barrier Reef festival. The challenge is for participants to build a raft out of recyclable materials and attempt to race around markers off Airlie's main beach. Anyone is welcome to join as there will be two divisions; Open Age 13+, and Children Aged 6-12 Years. The event will definitely be entertaining so if you're not participating, be sure to head to the foreshore to watch the races taking place! There are also exciting prizes to be won on the day. 

*There will be lifeguards and crew in the water to ensure everyone remains safe. 


Spend a night on the Great Barrier Reef

A girl standing with her arms up in front of the ocean

If you want to experience even more of the Great Barrier Reef, why not spend a night out there? Fall asleep to the sounds of the ocean and wake up to the sunrise over the reef. We have a variety of options to choose from, whether you want to sleep under the stars on a pontoon or jump on a yacht and feel like a true sailor. Check out Reefsleep or Reefsuites Underwater Hotel for a luxurious night on the reef or Kiana's 3 Day, 2 Night trip for an exclusive night on the Whitsunday waters (where you can go scuba diving too).


For more information on the Great Barrier Reef festival contact our local travel experts via our live chat who can answer all of your questions!

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