Five ways to explore the Great Barrier Reef

If you're looking for that 'bucket-list' experience, then look no further as Gillian Birch takes a swim in the Great Barrier Reef ...

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is a place that many adventurous travellers have on their bucket list, and it’s pretty exceptional. The best point of access to this 2,000-mile-long reef is Cairns, in North Queensland, nicknamed “Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef”. Cape Tribulation is rather special as it is where two UNESCO World Heritage Sites meet: the Daintree Rainforest which is an estimated 150 million years old, and the Great Barrier Reef.

Cairns is a top destination with many attractions in both these world-class sites, but for most visitors, getting out and exploring the Barrier Reef is the top priority. There are many booking offices and travel agents in this compact city where you can book day trips to the reef. It’s worth comparing prices online and reading feedback as some trips are better than other.

Snorkelling and scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef

Boat trips depart from the waterfront marina in Cairns and take between 45 and 90 minutes, depending on their destination. A good day trip will take you first to a sandy cay to don your snorkelling equipment (supplied) and take your first snorkel. Then it’s back on board for a further hour or so before stopping over the reef itself.

While some passengers will have opted for scuba diving, most are happy to snorkel and swim from the boat or take a ride in the glass-bottomed boat provided. Once you put your head beneath the water, everything else seems to cease to exist. The beautiful corals are like a garden in full colour with exotic fish the size of dinner plates swimming this way and that. In places, the reef is about ten feet below you, but chasms open up and the waters there are at least 60 feet deep.

As we focused on the amazing underwater world we saw giant clams opening and closing, a huge wrasse nudging snorkelers in a friendly manner and conger eels popping their heads out of their holes to see what’s going on. It is an altogether unforgettable experience and truly one of the natural wonders of the world.

Glass bottom boats

Many boat tour companies have their own glass bottom boats, so when you finally tire of swimming and gazing at the incredible marinelife, dry off on-board and hop into the boat. You can sit and relax while looking down at the floor of the boat which shows exactly what the boat is passing over. Deep chasms appear, large fish and eels look inquisitively upwards as you sail over and smaller shoals of fish can be seen clearly through the glass viewing window.

It’s a great option for those who want to see the reef without getting into the water, and is an alternative way to see the reef further away from the boat.

Scuba-Doo on the Reef

One great way to explore the Great Barrier Reef is with semi-submersibles known as Scuba-doos. This trip with Great Adventures Outer Reef Cruises takes you out to a moored pontoon above the reef. You get an informative training briefing during the boat ride. Once at the pontoon, you sit astride a motorscooter-like vehicle and pop your head up inside the giant bubble dome. There’s no swimming necessary, just drive your eco-friendly Scuba-doo along the reef breathing normally and taking in all the wonderful sights.

The Scuba-doo has a seat, a rear propeller, rechargeable battery and an airtank which feeds oxygen into the clear dome. The laws of physics prevent the helmet from filling with water. This is an excellent option for those who need to wear glasses and contact lenses as you can wear them on the trip and have perfect vision.

Follow your guide and explore the reef at a maximum depth of four meters, viewing some of the 1500 different species of fish from your futuristic self-drive vehicle.

Sport fishing on the Great Barrier Reef

One final way to appreciate the Great Barrier Reef is on a sport fishing charter. You’ll chase billfish in this “Marlin Mecca” which is a battleground between anglers and marlin fish that can weigh over 1,000 pounds. Charters include tackle, bait and experienced crew to help you reel in the big ones!

Now you know just how many ways there are to explore the Great Barrier Reef you need to put this top of your wishlist and experience it for yourself.