Family Vacations to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Underwater picture of Great Barrier Reef
Diving along the Great Barier Reef (Jeff Hunter/Getty Images)

Great Barrier Reef Family Travel Tips

  • The Great Barrier Reef enjoys a tropical climate with around 300 sunny days a year. However, it still has two distinct seasons. The wet season (often referred to locally as the green season) runs from November to May, with the majority of the region's rainfall falling during this period. The dry season (May to October) is the high season, when accommodations are more expensive and reservations with tour companies advisable.
  • Bring sunscreen, sun hats, and plenty of drinking water regardless of when you visit. This is a sunny, often hot place.

The Great Barrier Reef stretches for over 1,200 miles, all the way from Australia north to New Guinea. It's a massive attraction beyond any superlative you can hurl at it, one that could disappoint only the most world-weary travelers. For children, it's a multisensory outdoor adventure no theme park can match.

Australia's chunk is offshore from Queensland, making this sunshine state a mecca for snorkelers and scuba divers. They come to explore the richly populated marine environment in and around the coral reefs. Beneath the waves, children can witness all sorts of aquatic life, from ruby-red starfish and thousand-strong shoals of fish to meandering sea turtles to sharks of every size and demeanor.

Generally, staying farther north on the mainland gets you closer to the reef. Some of the resort towns in the north, Cairns in particular, are especially geared toward families, with glass-bottomed boat tours for those who don't want to get wet. There are also platforms and cays (sandy islands) where you can taste a slice of reef action without having to swim or snorkel.

But getting into the water adds another whole dimension to a reef excursion, and scuba diving and snorkeling are the two most popular ways of exploring the Great Barrier Reef. All but the very youngest of children can enjoy snorkeling under the supervision of parents, while scuba diving is a more serious sport that requires training and is better suited to older children. Among the astounding number of tour operators who go to the reef, two are particularly good for families. Quicksilver runs fast catamarans from Port Douglas to its excellent platform on the Outer Barrier Reef. Lady Musgrave Cruises takes families out to Lady Musgrave Island and the Outer Barrier Reef from the town of 1770.

Experiences on the Great Barrier Reef do not end at the water's edge, and those with wobbly sea legs can see live reef creatures at the Reef HQ Aquarium in Townsville. An altogether different experience, but still great for families, is the Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary in Port Douglas, which showcases the rich fauna and flora of the rainforests along the Queensland coastline.

However you choose to experience the Great Barrier Reef, few adults, and even fewer children, leave disappointed by a vacation to one of Australia's top environmental spots, deservedly rated as a world wonder.

Published: 29 Apr 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



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