No matter how many photographs or David Attenborough documentaries you’ve seen, once you’ve taken your first look at the world’s biggest aquarium, you’ll agree there’s nothing like the Great Barrier Reef.
Why is it so special? Well for starters – it’s big. Really big. It’s both the world's biggest World Heritage Area and biggest coral reef system, and the biggest thing made out of living creatures on Earth. It’s made up of more than 3,000 individual reefs and 900 coral cays and continental islands that stretch for more than 2,000 kilometres along the coastline of tropical North Queensland.
Some islands are little more than a strip of finely crushed coral sand, precariously held together by the roots of a single palm tree. Others are sites for luxurious resorts and probably more wedding proposals and honeymoons per square metre than anywhere else in Australia.
The Reef’s vivid colours and bizarre life forms are totally spellbinding. It creates a web of life for more than 1,500 species of fish, one third of the world’s soft corals, 600 species of starfish and sea urchins, six species of endangered marine turtles and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins.
The best way to explore the reef is to dive right in with one of the many tour operators that offer diving and snorkelling trips; or if you are romantically inclined, you can sail off into the wild blue yonder on your own yacht. If that’s still not enough, there’s the option of taking a scenic helicopter flight of the whole spectacular extravaganza.
Although you’ll probably be hypnotized by the curious marine life you’ll see during the day, just as many little sea critters that come alive at night. A remarkable way to see them is by sleeping overnight on a pontoon on the reef, where you can view the nightlife from an underwater chamber.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities knew about the treasures of the Great Barrier Reef long before Captain Cook ran his ship aground near Cape Tribulation. He wasn’t the only one as there are around 30 submerged shipwrecks in the area which conveniently now make perfect dive sites.
From the romantically heart-shaped Heart Reef to whiter-than-white Whitehaven Beach, to the place where it meets up with another iconic World Heritage-listed area - the world’s oldest rainforests of the Daintree – the Great Barrier Reef is an Australian icon.
The Great Barrier Reef is also one of 28 nominees in the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition – a global search to recognise the seven most important natural sites in the world as voted by the public. To cast your vote for the Great Barrier Reef go to www.n7w.com/gbr.
If you're planning a trip to Tropical North Queensland, check with Rainbow Tourism for accommodation and tour help.