Seeing the Great Barrier Reef in Australia was on my travel bucket list for 2017. And last May I was fortunate to experience this wonder of the natural world in several ways. Over the course of 10 days, I visited the two popular coastal towns of Townsville and Airlie Beach, offering different perspectives of the Great Barrier.
SCUBA DIVING IN THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
My first contact with the Great Barrier was at Lodestone Reef, about 3 hour-boat ride off Townsville harbour, where I went on 2 scuba dives with Adrenaline Snorkel & Dive. Although there were large schools of little fish and plenty of beautiful coral colours, the variety of fish species was small and the sand patches were too large. Considering this and the 6-hour return boat ride needed, I did not think diving in this part of the Great Barrier Reef was worth it. Next time, I will try the Yongala Wreck Dive and a live-aboard dive trip to the Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reef.
SAILING THE WHITSUNDAYS
I was now eager to get a better impression of the Great Barrier at Airlie Beach while sailing around the Whitsunday Islands for 3 days. Fortunately, this second contact with the Great Barrier was a fantastic experience because of both the fun sailing life and the charming scenery. I will give the details of my sailing trip on a separate blog post. However, the underwater life was again very unsatisfying as the water was extremely murky green with not even 1 meter water visibility. Also the little coral life I could see was very damaged from Cyclone Debbie.
THE GREAT BARRIER REEF FROM THE AIR
Having experienced the Great Barrier Reef below and over the water, I now needed to get a bird´s eye view of the reef to grasp its vastness. So, I decided to have a third and last contact with it but this time would be from the air. I went on a 1 hour scenic flight over the Whitsundays and Hardy Reef and was one of the best experiences of my life. The intense turquoise blue water shades in combination with the shining beige sand and darker brown corals was ethereal! The Great Barrier Reef finally impressed me with its insane beauty.
WHEN IS IT BEST TO GO TO THE GREAT BARRIER REEF?
There are two main seasons to consider here: dry and rainy. From May to November, temperatures are milder (at lowest in July and August) but still warm with very little rainfall. This changes from Christmas time to April when it gets very hot, wet and humid. As the water temperature increases, the dangerous jelly fish invade the waters, restricting the swimming to inside netted sea areas. The use of stinger suits during these months is also highly recommended. Summarising, the dry months correspond to the high season and the wetter months to the low season.
As a general recommendation, the months between May and November are the best ones to visit the Great Barrier Reef. However, I would suggest picking the month on the basis of what you want to see, specially if you are scuba diving. The Dwarf Minke Whales are seen in June and July. Hatching of turtles occur end of January and February, increasing the chances to dive with plenty of sharks. And the spawning of corals and many fish breeding is best seen in November or December.