I just got back from a two week trip to the Great Barrier Reef/Cairns area. For many this is a bucket list location because there are two World Heritage sites that are connected together here. The Daintree Rainforest which is considered to be the oldest rainforest on Earth and the Great Barrier Reef which is the largest living organism on Earth that can even be seen from outer space. After visiting the area I must say that it is a special place. If you enjoy wildlife, trees on top of trees, waterfalls, beautiful coral reefs, and just really enjoy seeing God's creation there really is no better place in the world. That all being said I have a few tips for traveling to GBR.
If you google whether or not a visa is needed for US citizens to Australia it will tell you to pay the $20 Australian Dollar Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). I did as I was told and paid for the visas online. The interesting part is that at no time was I asked to see a copy of my ETA, not when we arrived or when we left so I'm not going to recommend to not get an ETA but I really question if it is even necessary.
Where to Stay:
There is much debate as to where to stay in the GBR. Many will say Port Douglass which is a small resort town with good access to the Outer Reef for great snorkeling, it's close to the Daintree rainforest, and has quite a few restaurants, shops, and even a couple grocery stores. Some may say Palm Cove is a nice place to stay which is also true. Palm Cove is a very small resort town with very limited restaurants and things to do, so for me I think visiting for a day would be enough. Then of course the biggest town with the airport is Cairns. Cairns has many hotels, restaurants, shops, a mall, casino, and a marina terminal to go out to the reef. I picked this option because I like having a ton of places to choose from. Especially being that I was staying to weeks and since I rented a car, I knew if we could drive to everywhere we wanted to go. Some say break it up, maybe a week in Cairns and a week in Port Douglass. That's actually not a bad idea.
As far as flights, good deals are available on websites like Expedia for hotel/airfare/car. We took New Zealand Air which I enjoyed, the leg room was sufficient, flights were for the most part on time, and the food wasn't terrible as other airlines. There are no direct flights to Cairns so the choices were to stop off in Sydney or Auckland.
What to bring:
Sunscreen is a good idea, if going to the beach or the reef, protecting your skin is a good idea. I'm a slight germ-a-phob so bringing my own snorkel gear was important. Most of the Reef boats offer cheap snorkel gear that has been in about million people's mouths. Gross. Bring an Atm card and credit card. Things cost a lot in Australia, especially food. A burger is about $20. Dinner will be at least $60 or more. I ended up spending a lot more than I had anticipated.
Get a car. There's no way around it. Everything in Australia is far apart and I can't imagine waiting for the bus or taking a taxi everywhere.
Thing to do:
It would too long of a blog to describe everything but here is a list of fun things to do or see:
Daintree Rainforest, Kuranda, Snorkeling the reef, Hartley's, Palm Cove, Port Douglass, Crystal Cascades, Atherton Tablelands, Platypus Park, Aboriginal show, Skyrail and Tully. I'm sure there is more but that's a start.
So if you get the chance to go to GBR, do it. You won't regret it.