East Coast Australia Road Trip – The Great Barrier Reef, Magnetic Island & Whitsunday Islands (Part II)

Snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef was something I desperately wanted to tick off my bucket list when in Queensland, Australia… and I can now say I’ve been lucky enough to do just that.

A visit to Cairns wouldn’t be complete without visiting the world’s largest coral reef system. Made up of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World.

It spans 2,300 kilometres off the East Coast Coastline from Cairns all the way South to near Rockhampton – that’s the size of Holland, Switzerland and the U.K combined.

(To read about our first week on our East Coast Australian Road Trip, click here).

Day Eight – Snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef

Yesterday, I purchased a pair of short-bladed rubber fins from INTERSPORT because I knew I would struggle to get my foot into the standard full-length flippers due to the cramps I get in my left leg. It’s a good job I did because they’re a legal requirement in Queensland.

Taking a trip out to this UNESCO World Heritage Area doesn’t come cheap, but it’s worth every single penny! We paid £127/$215 (AUD) p/p to go on a full day tour with Down Under Cruise and Dive which takes you out to Saxon Reef and Hastings Reef.

In total, we snorkelled five times in the three and a half hours we had in the two outer Greater Barrier Reef locations. We swam with a huge Maori Humpback Wrasse, a Reef Shark and hundreds of other species of fish.

By the end of the day, we were both knackered. Snorkelling is an amazing experience but it isn’t half tiring!

Day Nine – Waterfall Circuit – Atherton Tablelands

Today, we left Cairns and started our journey 219 miles South to Townsville – a coastal city in Queensland.

There were two different routes we could take, but we decided on driving through Atherton Tablelands, an area filled with rainforest, wetland and savannah to the Waterfall Circuit instead of going to Josephine Falls and Babinda Boulders.

(Millaa Falls, Zillie Falls and Ellinja Falls make up the 7.2-mile Waterfall Circuit).

We stripped down to our swimwear, grabbed the GoPro and braved the freezing water at Millaa Millaa. It was lovely and refreshing once our body’s had adjusted to the temperature.

Zillie Falls and Ellinja Falls were much less quiet, but after swimming earlier we decided to head to Tchupala Falls on our way to a nearby campground we had decided to stay at overnight.

Day 10 – Drive to Townsville

Nothing of interest to report. We drove the remaining three hours to reach Townsville.

Day 11 – Day trip to Magnetic Island

Townsville is most popular for day trips to Magnetic Island / ‘Maggie Island’. Other than being home to one of Australia’s largest army barracks, there isn’t a lot else here.

It cost $34/£20 return to get the SeaLink Ferry across to Nelly Bay on Magnetic Island from the port of Townsville, which takes 25 minutes and runs 20 times a day.

We hired a Mitsubishi Eclipse for $119/£70 with Isle Hire, but this was a mistake as we hadn’t realised that you can only drive six miles from Picnic Bay to Horseshoe Bay and that there was also public transport and taxis.

To start with, we saw wild cockatoos along the sandy beach of Picnic Bay before then taking in the views from the Hawkings Point Lookout.

With the temperature now touching a modest 32°C for Australia, we then hiked 2.2-miles to the heritage-listed Fort Complex. Similarly, the views were stunning.

However, without a shadow of a doubt, the highlight of the day was spotting a koala on our way back to the car. This fella wasn’t camera shy!

Before heading back to the mainland, we ambled around Horseshoe Bay and then tanned ourselves on Arcadia Beach.

Day 12 – Drive to Airlie Beach

Our home for the next four nights. Airlie Beach is an extremely popular destination on the East Coast for backpackers and it’s not surprising why.

This coastal locality is the ‘central hub’ for visiting the beautiful 74 Whitsunday Islands (most of which are uninhabited), and is also another gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.

The Heart Reef as well as the popular island resorts of Daydream Island, Hamilton Island and Hayman Island are also easily accessible from here.

When we eventually arrived after a long 170-mile drive, we ambled around the town and then relaxed as we knew we had a busy few days ahead of us…

Day 13 – The Whitsunday Islands

From tours to the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef to bungee jumping, hot air ballooning and sky diving, there’s so much you can do in Airlie Beach. Sailing on a catamaran overnight in the Whitsundays is a popular thing do, but we settled on a day trip instead.

We researched several tour operators and in the end paid $175/£103 to book with a company called Ocean Rafting. The selling point was spending two hours on the southern side of the 7km world-renowned Whitehaven Beach, hiking to the Hill Inlet Lookout and having an hour to snorkel at a ‘secret location’.

The 90-minute cruise across to the Hill Inlet Lookout on Whitehaven Beach from the Coral Sea Marina was exhilarating. Our skipper zig zagged through the ocean at speeds of up to 60 mph whilst blasting out music.

When we arrived, one of the crew members took us on a 20-minute guided bush walk to the Hill Inlet Lookout overlooking Whitehaven Beach. I couldn’t stop taking photos.

The views of the stunning silica sands and aqua water were absolutely mind blowing. I’m not surprised that it’s been quoted as being “one of the most magical spots in the world.”

After spending 15 minutes trying to get the perfect shot, we walked back to the boat and headed to a secret snorkelling location. The water was a bit mirkier than what we’ve snorkelled in previously, but I managed to see a turtle swimming on the seabed.

We then spent the next two hours topping up our tan on Whitehaven Beach. Emily described the sand as “being like flour”. We daren’t take any back with us though as we risked getting a fine of up to $28,000!

On our way back, we saw three migrating Humpback Whales. We’ve seen lots of these amazing mammals now, but the excitement is still all the same.

If you’re looking for a day trip out to the Whitsunday Islands, look no further than Ocean Rafting’s Southern Lights tour.

Day 14 – Sleeping overnight on the Great Barrier Reef (Reefsleep)

We’ve had so many highlights from our time travelling around the world and this is definitely another which will live long in the memory – spending a night at Reefworld with Cruise Whitsundays!

Reefsleep was a costly experience at $561/£330 but in my opinion, you can’t put a price on memories like this that will last a lifetime. When else are we going to get the opportunity to sleep under the stars on the Great Barrier Reef?!

The experience is located on a permanently moored pontoon at Hardy Reef, located 39 nautical miles from shore on the outer Great Barrier Reef.

I regretted not going on a helicopter flight when we spent the day at Saxon and Hastings Reef so we paid an additional $155/£91 to see the Great Barrier Reef and specifically the famous Heart Reef.

I’m so glad we did as this amazing natural ecosystem is just as spectacular from above!

Later, Em paid $149/£87 to go on her first introductory scuba dive. She had been having lessons as a Christmas present from my Mum and Gran before we came away with the end goal of becoming PADI certified, but she wasn’t able to complete the course in time.

I didn’t fancy joining her so instead enjoyed the sun from our Reefsleep daybed. Em came back buzzing about her experience, gloating that she had seen a turtle and got GoPro proof! (See below)

For those who had paid to stargaze on Reefsleep or to stay at the Reefsuite (Australia’s first underwater accommodation), we then had the pontoon and reef exclusively to ourselves after 15:00 PM where we snorkelled for the first time.

We had tried to go earlier, but unfortunately the choppy sea conditions made it incredibly hard to do so. Andy, the manager and his crew then put on some canapés and mimosas before serving dinner at 19:00 PM.

By now we’d started to really bond with four couples of a similar age from England and America, which made our experience even better.

One of the couples invited us down to have a peak at their Reefsuite. When we went down, this gigantic fish swam past. I’m not sure it was worth $995/£583 p/night though…

We’ve seen some impressive sunsets but none more so than tonight’s. The sky was on fire! For the rest of the evening, we made the most of the all inclusive bar.

Day 15 – Reefworld

Scientists predict that the Great Barrier Reef could become extinct by 2050 because of the ongoing issues with climate change, and toxic coastal pollution, overfishing and unsustainable tourism also contribute to the damage done.

The following day, we set our alarms for 05:45 AM to watch the sunrise, went snorkelling again and then chilled out on our daybed. Before the day trippers arrived at 11:00 AM, Em went diving again for a reduced price of $60/£35.

All good things must come to an end. By 15:00 PM it was time for us to leave the pontoon and head back to the mainland. A big thank you to Andy for the top-notch hospitality and to his fabulous crew.

If you’re looking for an all inclusive, 24 hour VIP experience sleeping overnight on the Great Barrier Reef, then Reefworld is for you!

In my next blog, we’ll pass through Cape Hillsborough, Seventeen Seventy and Agnes Water in the Gladstone Region on our way to Hervey Bay where we’ll be doing a 4WD day trip on Fraser Island.

If you’d like to keep up-to-date with our adventure, you can either enter your email at the bottom of this article to receive instant notifications every time I post a new blog; click the Follow ‘Al’ Around The World link, or drop me a follow on Twitter at @AlecW95 or on Instagram at @AlecW95 or @alatw95.

Alternatively, you can follow Emily on her travelling TikTok account at @emstraveladventure.

Thanks for reading, until the next time…


One thought on “East Coast Australia Road Trip – The Great Barrier Reef, Magnetic Island & Whitsunday Islands (Part II)

  1. hi Alec and Em those photos brought back happy memories of our Australia adventures in 2018 ENJOY AUS its brilliant only 9 weeks and we will be back in Sydney if you get to Brisbane you could visit the lone pine koala sanctuary with dingos kookaburras kangaroos emus you can get close up and personal and even feed them get your photos taken with the koalas. also nearby to Brisbane is the Gold Coast and surfers paradise

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