Comprising 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands across more than 134,000 square miles off the coast of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef—the world’s largest coral reef system—is an oceanic Valhalla.
Having suffered four mass bleaching events since 2016—including one earlier this year—it’s also under extraordinary threat, a plight that’s especially resonant on World Oceans Day.
Visiting Australia’s greatest natural wonder aids in its conservation. Every tourist pays an environmental management charge which contributes to the day-to-day management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and to funding research that works to improve the reef’s longterm resilience.
Following are three distinct ways to experience one of the world’s most iconic cradles of biodiversity.
- Lizard Island: The only resort located on the Great Barrier Reef and a quick hour’s flight from Cairns, this 40-room, uber-exclusive resort epitomizes secluded luxury. Take a motorized dinghy and a scrumptious picnic lunch to your own private beach for a day, hook a black marlin in Anchor Bay with the help of the marine team, or explore the island’s flora and fauna with one of the in-house naturalists. Produce flown in daily from the coast and the freshest seafood from the waters of north Queensland drive the daily menus at the Salt Water restaurant, where you can pair your dishes with world-class vintages from the resort’s wine cellar.
- Great Barrier Reef Safaris: Keen to have a remote island all to yourself? An idyllic and educational camping trip for couples, families, or friends awaits. Founded by a husband-wife duo—an ex-Australian Royal Navy officer and a retired marine biologist, respectively—the tour company offers private stays on the Family, Barnard and Frankland Island groups, complete with gourmet provisions including local cheeses and wine to toast the sunset. Opt for the Castaway experience and you’ll be dropped off with everything you need, or go for glamping and they’ll prepare the entire campsite prior to your arrival.
- Torres Strait: Stretching from the tip of Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula across to Papua New Guinea and home to 274 islands (of which only 17 are populated), this lesser-known section of the reef warrants a trip. Brimming with indigenous heritage and World War II relics, the islands also boast one of the last pearl farms in Queensland, a slew of fascinating cultural experiences, and the northern-most pub in Australia, the Torres Hotel, a prime spot for an ice-cold beer after an action-packed day. Visitors can choose from an island day trip, a scenic helicopter flight, or an overnight stay.