As one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Great Barrier Reef holds a spot on every traveler’s bucket list. Hugging the east coast of Queensland, Australia, the Great Barrier Reef extends from Cape York in the north all the way to Bundaberg in the south — a total of 1,250 miles. With roughly 3,000 coral reefs, 600 islands and 1,625 species of fish, the reef leaves its 1.6 million annual visitors enchanted.
But before diving in, it’s important to get your bearings. The northern half of the reef runs from the Cape York Peninsula to Cairns, a popular home base for many reef visitors. Not only does Cairns provide the closest reef access from the mainland, but it also boasts a few attractions of its own, like the Kuranda Scenic Railway and the Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas. Travel farther down the coast and you’ll run into the southern half of the reef, which stretches from the Capricorn Coast (along the Tropic of Capricorn) to Gladstone and Fraser Island. Airlie Beach is a favored hub for travelers in the south thanks to its array of stylish resorts and its close proximity to a cluster of 74 islands known as the Whitsundays.
Wherever you decide to hang your hat, the Great Barrier Reef is a treasure trove of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Whether you’re gazing at marine life through a scuba mask, letting the tropical breeze unfurl your sail, or in a plane gliding high above it all, the possibilities for exploration are nearly limitless.