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Visiting the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is spectacular. Photographs, movies and books can not do it justice. The coral, fish and bird life are more prolific than anywhere else in the World. A day at the reef is like a day on a post card, everywhere you look is perfect.The Great Barrier Reef is over 2600km long with over 1000 coral reefs and islands. Visiting the reef will be the highlight of your holiday in Cairns.

The Great Barrier Reef islands range from low lying sandy cays with no vegetation, to coral cays covered in rainforest to even larger continental Islands with peaks and ranges and a surrounding or fringing coral reef. Many of the islands are uninhabited. They can be visited by day trippers and in some instances you can camp on them. Other islands have beautiful resorts accommodating a range of travellers from five star to backpackers.

Off the coast of Cairns the two main islands are Green Island and Fitzroy Island, both about a 40 minute boat road. These islands have small resorts on them but they are open to day trippers. They are both very different and equally beautiful. When spending the day on either of these islands you can swim, snorkel, go for walks, enjoy a leisurely meal or lay on the beach and read a book. Visiting Green or Fitzroy Island is relatively inexpensive and many local residents visit the islands on the weekends.

There are many different vessels running day trips to the Great Barrier Reef. From high speed wave piercing catamarans to sleek racing yachts, old pearling luggers and sea planes to mention a few. All offer a slightly different and highly enjoyable experience.

Most Reef trips depart fairly early in the morning. Cruising time can take between one and three hours depending on conditions and how far it is to the particular reef that they visit. Many operators include a brief stop over at an Island (either Green or Fitzroy). On the trip out you can sit back and read a book, perhaps watch a video, listen to a presentation by a Marine Biologist or simply put your feet up and relax.

Once at the Reef it is normally very calm due to the protection that the coral offers. You can swim, snorkel and dive and most operators have some form of coral viewing vessel such as a glass bottom boat or semi - submersible. Change rooms and toilets are available on all vessels.

Lunch is normally buffet style featuring a wide variety of food such as prawns, chicken, salad and tropical fruits. Most operators spend approximately 3 hours at the reef. When it is time to go home everyone is called out of the water, a head count conducted and when all passengers are accounted for the boat will depart for the cruise home.

What to take with you on a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef:

1. Towel
2. Swim suit
3. Hat and Sunscreen
4. Sunglasses
5. Casual Shoes for walking on Islands or hot decks
6. Credit Card/Cash for purchasing souvenirs and snacks
7. Camera and plenty of film
8. Change of clothes

When booking your trip remember to check what is included. Dress lightly and comfortably. It is a good idea to leave passports and other valuables in the hotel safe. All visitors to the reef are charged a small fee for reef tax. This charge goes towards managing and preserving the Great Barrier Reef.

If you are prone to sea sickness take some medication prior to boarding the vessel. If you are not sure if you get seasick take some medication anyway. If you do get seasick don't worry, once you arrive at the reef it is calm and your motion sickness will generally go away. The best way to avoid sea sickness is to have a good breakfast, stay in the fresh air, look at the horizon and keep your mind busy. Swimming also helps sea sickness to disappear quickly.

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