Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which stretches along the east coast of Queensland for more than 1,400 miles, is the biggest structure on earth built by non-human organisms. It can even be seen from space. Clearly, this incredible destination, which was just renewed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, tops travel bucket lists for a good reason. To visit the reef, you have many options. Here are three that offer unique and varied perspectives…
For Adventurers: Reef Sleep
Nothing gets you closer to the Great Barrier Reef than this 36-hour experience from Cruise Whitsundays. Intrepid guests stay overnight on a pontoon that’s anchored near Hardy Reef, just offshore from the Whitsunday Islands. You’ll have unlimited opportunities to swim, dive, and snorkel at both high and low tide, or watch the fish swim by from a glass-bottom boat. At night, you’ll share the pontoon with just a few other travelers (groups are limited to eight) and Cruise Whitsundays staffers. Meals are provided, and you’ll sleep under the stars on the pontoon’s top deck in a waterproof camping swag -- a kind of single-person tent that proves surprisingly comfortable. Good luck sleeping, though, when there’s a cloudless sky full of stars overhead, begging to be watched into the wee hours.
Info: Reefsleep includes one night of accommodation aboard the pontoon, all meals, snorkeling equipment and wetsuits, and boat transportation to and from the reef. Prices start at $425 per person ($310 USD). Diving, snorkeling tours, massages on the pontoon’s sundeck, and helicopter rides for a bird’s-eye view of the reef cost extra. Don’t forget to ask about George and Mildred, the giant -- and we do mean giant -- groupers that swim around the pontoon throughout the day.
For Families: Hamilton Island
If you’re seeing the reef with kids, Hamilton Island Resort offers a home base with plenty of activities, easily accessible food, and proximity to the airport. From the port, a range of boats carry visitors out on reef excursions. There’s also a wide range of accommodations, from private bungalows to a high-rise hotel. The latter offers a 100-foot-long swimming pool, private balconies on all of the rooms, and easy access to the Catseye Beach, where you can snorkel just offshore. It’s also in walking distance of a café where kids can cuddle a live koala at breakfast. At night, the grown ups should head straight to Coca Chu, an on-site restaurant serving riffs on South Asian street food.
Info: The Reef View hotel offers rooms starting at $370 per night ($270 USD) that sleep four. Look out for the aggressive -- and beautiful -- cockatoos that will fly straight into your room if you don’t close your balcony doors.
For Style Hounds: Hayman Island
The newly rebooted One & Only resort is, true to its name, the only place to stay on the remote, rainforest-covered Hayman Island. Fresh from a multimillion-dollar renovation, this 5-star enclave is ideal for travelers who want a taste of the reef, but also want to spend a lot of time sunning by the expansive pool, lazing in a cabana, and sleeping in a gauzy canopy bed surrounded by local art. Resort activities range from snorkeling and diving excursions to the sheltered, Instagram-ready Blue Pearl Bay to sea plane rides over the reef. Whatever your request, the hotel’s attentive staff has it covered, including champagne on the boat ride over to the resort.
Info: Rooms at the One & Only Hayman Island start at $800 per night ($585 USD), but book up months in advance. Plan ahead if you want to head to this exclusive spot.