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Diving and Snorkeling picture in Great Barrier Reef
Aquatic Life picture in Great Barrier Reef
Turtles picture in Great Barrier Reef
Sharks picture in Great Barrier Reef
Diving and Snorkeling picture in Great Barrier Reef
Aquatic Life picture in Great Barrier Reef
Turtles picture in Great Barrier Reef
Sharks picture in Great Barrier Reef

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  • Natural Wonders, Sightseeing, Swimming/Pools Type
  • Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
4.8
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    4.0
  • Atmosphere
    5.0

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Many visitors say the Great Barrier Reef is best seen through a scuba mask, but it's no small feat to traverse the area's dive spots. When choosing which regions to explore, consider your skill level, the amount of travel involved and the trip length in that area. Two of the most popular diving and snorkeling locales are listed below:

Cairns Reefs

Hosting a kaleidoscope of fish, sea turtles and humpback whales, Cairns' reefs are teeming with wildlife. Known locally as the Outer Barrier Reef, these reefs are ideal for first-time divers and families because of the one- to three-hour travel times from Cairns' Reef Fleet Terminal. Popular spots by Cairns include Michaelmas Cay, Moore Reef, Green Island and Hastings Reef. Ocean FreeSeastar Cruises and Tusa Dive all offer a variety of half- to full-day cruises; diving and snorkeling cruise packages start at 205 Australian dollars ($152) per adult and AU$120 ($89) for each child.

The Ribbon Reefs

Situated alongside northern Queensland's coast, these 10 narrow reefs – which are numbered one through 10 – are known simply as the Ribbon Reefs. Ribbon Reef No. 10 is home to one of the Great Barrier Reef's most famous dive sites, Cod Hole. Along with its chromatic parade of tropical fish, Cod Hole features massive potato cod and Maori wrasse fish. After many years of being hand-fed by guides, the resident potato cod aren't afraid to approach divers. Dwarf minke whales are occasionally spotted as well in June and July. Dive trips at the Ribbon Reefs require more time since they are approximately 60 miles north of Cairns, but the water is clearer here than it is at Cairns' reefs. Tour operators like Spirit of Freedom and Mike Ball Dive Expeditions offer three- to seven-day trips that start at AU$1720 (roughly $1,262) per person.

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Diving and Snorkeling picture in Great Barrier Reef
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#1 Diving and Snorkeling Many visitors say the Great Barrier Reef is best seen through a scuba mask, but it's no small feat to traverse the area's dive spots. When choosing which ... Read more » chameleonseye / Getty Images

#2 Cairns If you plan on exploring the far northern half of Queensland, Cairns (pronounced "Cahns") offers a convenient home base. About 1,500 miles north of Sydney, Cairns boasts the closest ... Read more » artherng / Getty Images

#3 Whitehaven Beach It's the most photographed beach in all of Australia, and after one look at its white sands, you'll understand why. Stretching across more than 4 miles of Whitsunday ... Read more » DarrenTierney / Getty Images

#4 Hamilton Island If the diving spots closest to the Queensland coast are too crowded for you, consider trekking a few miles east of the mainland to Hamilton Island. It's the largest ... Read more » Tanya Ann Photography / Getty Images

#5 Townsville Located by the central section of the Great Barrier Reef, Townsville is conveniently situated between Cairns and the Whitsunday Islands. It sits a short ferry ride away from Magnetic Island ... Read more » Phil Copp / Getty Images

#6 Sailing Picture it: As the wind-powered craft clips along the Coral Sea, a tropical breeze teases your hair while the ocean spits sea spray on your arms. You drop anchor within ... Read more » RugliG / Getty Images

#7 Air Tours After getting a fish-eye view of the reef, experience a bird's perspective of unique sights like Heart Reef and Hook Reef with an air tour. According to recent travelers ... Read more » Gonzalo Azumendi / Getty Images

#8 Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas The Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas is a wildlife sanctuary that strives to promote conservation through up-close encounters with its creatures. You'll have access to four immersion exhibits – the Woodland ... Read more » Louise_Lantz / Getty Images

#9 Hartley's Crocodile Adventures Visitors who want to enjoy a close encounter with Australia's unique animals will love checking out Hartley's Crocodile Adventures. Though the main draw of this wildlife habitat is ... Read more » Darren Puttock / Flickr

#10 Kuranda Scenic Railway If you need a break from exploring the reef, why not go 1,076 feet above sea level with a ride on the Kuranda Scenic Railway? Departing from Cairns, the ... Read more » chameleonseye / Getty Images

Diving and Snorkeling picture in Great Barrier Reef
Cairns picture in Great Barrier Reef
Whitehaven Beach picture in Great Barrier Reef
Hamilton Island picture in Great Barrier Reef
Townsville picture in Great Barrier Reef
Sailing picture in Great Barrier Reef
Air Tours picture in Great Barrier Reef
Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas picture in Great Barrier Reef
Hartley's Crocodile Adventures picture in Great Barrier Reef
Kuranda Scenic Railway picture in Great Barrier Reef
Diving and Snorkeling picture in Great Barrier Reef
Cairns picture in Great Barrier Reef
Whitehaven Beach picture in Great Barrier Reef
Hamilton Island picture in Great Barrier Reef
Townsville picture in Great Barrier Reef
Sailing picture in Great Barrier Reef
Air Tours picture in Great Barrier Reef
Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas picture in Great Barrier Reef
Hartley's Crocodile Adventures picture in Great Barrier Reef
Kuranda Scenic Railway picture in Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef boasts more than 5,000 dive sites, meaning your possibilities for exploration are nearly limitless. chameleonseye / Getty Images

While the Great Barrier Reef offers an extensive array of underwater sightseeing, don't forget about the mainland. The Queensland city of Cairns is a convenient home base that offers some tourist hot spots of its own. artherng / Getty Images

With just one look at its milky white sands and swirling azure waters, it's easy to see why Whitehaven Beach is Australia's most photographed beach. DarrenTierney / Getty Images

Surrounded by its fellow Whitsunday Islands, Hamilton Island is a playground for adventure-seekers. Snorkel, hike, sail or simply relax on its soft, sugary sands. Tanya Ann Photography / Getty Images

For some of the best views of Townsville and Magnetic Island, climb to the top of Castle Hill. Phil Copp / Getty Images

Take to the seas on a Great Barrier Reef sailing adventure. Whether it's a daytrip or a multiday excursion, there is nothing quite like clipping along the Coral Sea. RugliG / Getty Images

Enjoy a thrilling bird's-eye view of the Great Barrier Reef while on an air tour. Gonzalo Azumendi / Getty Images

At the Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas, you'll encounter a variety of Queensland's local residents, including kangaroos, wallabies, crocodiles and koalas. Louise_Lantz / Getty Images

Large and small crocs, plus quintessential Aussie creatures like kangaroos, koalas and cassowaries can be seen at Hartley's Crocodile Adventures. Darren Puttock / Flickr

For some of Queensland's best views away from the reef, take a ride on the Kuranda Scenic Railway. chameleonseye / Getty Images

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