Australia's Great Barrier Reef is the largest and most extensive reef system in the world, stretching 1429 miles along the east coast of Australia and covering an area of more than 134,000 square miles. At its southern end, the Great Barrier Reef is approximately 185 miles from the mainland, while at its northern end, the Reef continues for long stretches up to 50 miles wide and is only 12 miles offshore at its closest point. Approximately 380 species of coral, 1500 species of fish, 4000 species of mollusks, 500 species of seaweed and six out of seven of the world's sea turtles can be found on the Great Barrier Reef.
Getting to the Great Barrier Reef: There are several jump off points for the Great Barrier Reef. Flights leave daily for Australia from the West Coast of the USA it is then a simple domestic connection to one of the Reef's gateways - the tropical cities of Cairns and Townsville at the northern end of the Reef, Hamilton Island and Proserpine in the Whitsundays and the coastal towns of Bundaberg and Gladstone at the Reef's southern end.
Best time of year to go: There is no "bad" time of year to visit the Great Barrier Reef. Queensland's warm waters are ideal for year-round diving, however the weather is typically at its best between August and January. Coral polyps spawn around October/November. Bear in mind that Queensland's seasons are the reverse of North America's summer months are December to March and winter June to August. Queensland is tropical all year round however, and water and air temperatures will generally be in the range of low 70s to mid 80s year round.
Best ways to dive the Great Barrier Reef: Thanks to moderate depths and clear, calm waters, the Great Barrier Reef is perfect for both novice and experienced divers to explore. The Great Barrier Reef is relatively shallow diving with maximum depths around 60 feet. The reefs of the Coral Sea in the far north-east have deeper dive sites however, with some walls dropping to 300 feet or more. Choose from: Liveaboard dive boats One of the best ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef is aboard a liveaboard dive trip. These range from 2-3 days, to a week or longer and include luxury boats, dive research boats and small, personalized vessels that visit some of the Reef's most remote and amazing dive sites.
Dive Island Resorts Several Great Barrier Reef islands offer excellent diving opportunities some right off the beach. Green, Heron and Lady Elliot Islands are coral cays with superb diving right straight from the beach. Lizard Island in the far north also offers excellent fringing reef and is close to several top dive sites including the famous "Cod Hole" one of the Reef's best-known sites. Many Whitsunday islands are within a short boat ride of some of the Reef's best dive sites. Island resorts also have a wide range of activities for non-divers.
Day boats dive boats catering to experienced and novice divers as well as snorkelers make day trips out to the Reef. Most spend around 4-5 hours on the Reef and offer the chance for up to two dives. Other things to do in Queensland: In addition to its fabulous diving, Queensland is the gateway to some of the world's best vacation experiences including the Daintree Rainforest the world's oldest rainforest, the Australian Outback, amazing beaches and all the fun of the laidback Aussie lifestyle. For more information and great deals on diving Queensland's Great Barrier, go to www.australia.com/dive