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A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Great Barrier reef is the world's largest coral reef system, made up of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands, covering approximately 344,400 square kilometres.

Visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Lying anything between 15 and 150 kilometres offshore, and almost 65 kilometres wide in parts, the reef is a gathering of brilliant, vivid coral that offers divers the most spectacular underwater experience imaginable. A closer encounter with the Great Barrier Reef's impressive coral gardens reveals many astounding underwater attractions including the world's largest collection of corals (in fact, more than 400 different kinds of coral), coral sponges, molluscs, rays, dolphins, over 1500 species of tropical fish, more than 200 types of birds, around 20 types of reptiles including sea turtles and giant clams over 120 years old.

It supports many vulnerable or endangered species, some of which are endemic to the reef system. Thirty species of cetaceans i.e. whales, dolphins, and porpoises have been recorded; these include dwarf minke whale, humpback whale, and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin. There are also large populations of dugongs (sea cows). 

Six species of sea turtles come to the reef to breed: the green sea turtle, leatherback sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, flatback turtle, and the olive ridley. The Great Barrier Reef’s green sea turtles are divided into two genetically distinct populations, one in the northern part of the reef and the other in the south. Fifteen species of seagrass in beds attract the attentions of grazing dugongs and turtles, and provide a safe habitat for fish.

Saltwater crocodiles live in the coastal mangroves and salt marshes coast near the reef. Nesting has not been reported, and the saltwater crocodile population in the GBRWHA is wide-ranging but low density. Around 125 species of shark, stingray, skates and chimaera live on the reef. Close to 5,000 species of mollusc have been recorded, including the giant clam and various nudibranchs and cone snails. Forty-nine species of pipefish and nine species of seahorse have been recorded. At least seven species of frog inhabit the islands.

215 species of birds (including 22 species of seabirds and 32 species of shorebirds) visit the reef or nest or roost on the islands, including the white-bellied sea eagle and roseate tern. Most nesting sites are on islands in the northern and southern regions of the reef, with 1.4 to 1.7 million birds using the sites to breed. The islands of the Great Barrier Reef also support 2,195 known plant species; three of these are endemic. The northern islands have 300–350 plant species which tend to be woody, whereas the southern islands have 200 which tend to be herbaceous; the Whitsunday region is the most diverse, supporting 1,141 species. 

Because of its natural beauty, the Great Barrier Reef has become one of the world’s most sought after tourist destinations. A visitor can enjoy many experiences including snorkelling, scuba diving, aircraft or helicopter tours, bare boats (self-sail), glass-bottomed boat viewing, semi-submersibles and educational trips, cruise ship tours, whale watching and swimming with dolphins.

View suggested itineraries

Key info

  • Ideal for viewing: dugong, green turtle, saltwater crocodile, white-bellied sea eagle, roseate tern
  • Where: Queensland / East Coast, Australia

Wildlife trips

This wildlife location is featured in the following itineraries:

Tablelands, Reef & Rainforest Self-drive

This comprehensive self-drive visit to Northern Queensland includes the great ‘must-dos’ – a relaxing cruise on the Great Barrier Reef and a stay in Daintree Rainforest – as well as an opportunity to explore lesser known places and see the region’s wildlife on excursions with expert local operators.

  • When to go: Apr-Nov
  • Duration inc. flights: 17 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £4,195 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea

Northern Queensland in Style

Northern Queensland boasts an astonishing diversity of habitat, flora and fauna. This distinctive journey visits iconic locations such as the Daintree Rainforest, Great Barrier Reef and the Outback, to see the best of this rugged land while staying in unabashed comfort at the finest accommodation.

  • When to go: Apr-Nov
  • Duration inc. flights: 14 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £8,295 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea
Suggested accommodation options are shown below. Please contact us for further recommendations.

Bedarra Island Resort

The ultimate in barefoot luxury, Bedarra Island is a tropical haven and sanctuary of tranquillity. With only eight private villas hidden amongst 45 hectares of rainforest, you can enjoy exclusive picturesque views of the crystal blue waters of the outer Great Barrier Reef.

Hamilton Island - Qualia Resort

A world-class luxury resort located on the northern tip of Hamilton Island, Qualia is a great place to relax and explore the beautiful underwater paradise of the Great Barrier Reef. Stay in a secluded private pavilion with uninterrupted views of the Coral Sea and surrounding Whitsunday Islands.

Heron Island

An exclusive island for guests, Heron Island is a paradise for wildlife enthusiasts, with numerous birds, turtles and humpback whales frequently seen in the surrounding waters. Situated on the Great Barrier Reef, it is possible to snorkel or explore the 20 diving sites within minutes of the island.

Lady Elliot Eco Resort

With its 41-rooms, this simple eco-resort provides genuine experiences via stimulating land and water-based activities. Visitors enjoy the fragile ecosystem with minimal impact and reach an understanding of the importance of conservation and sustainable management to the Great Barrier Reef.

Lizard Island Resort

Located 27 kilometres off the Tropical North Queensland coast, Lizard Island is Australia’s northern most beach resort. A tranquil retreat, right on the Great Barrier Reef, with beautiful white sandy beaches fringed by coral reefs, it accommodates up to 40 guests in elegant rooms and suites.

Orpheus Island Resort

Occupying an idyllic location on Orpheus Island on the Great Barrier Reef, surrounded by the clear turquoise waters of the Coral Sea, this exclusive, secluded island hideaway accommodates no more than 28 guests at a time in relaxed and indulgent luxury with the highest standards of service.

Recommended cruise vessel:

Coral Expeditions I & II

Coral Expeditions I & II are fully equipped for the ultimate expedition cruising experience in Australian coastal waters, and are the ideal choice for discovering the natural wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, Western Australia’s remarkable Kimberley region, Cape York, Arnhem Land and Tasmania.