How to get to the Great Barrier Reef from Gold Coast


A true Anenome Fish, found on The Great Barrier Reef from Cairns.

How to get to the Great Barrier Reef from Gold Coast

For most Australians, this is a funny question, but for international visitors it is a valid question because most people don’t realise how big and long The Great Barrier Reef is!

Also due to the inept marketing of our major tourism marketing bodies we decided to write an article to help answer this very common question!

How to get to the Great Barrier Reef from Gold Coast?

Answer: You have 3 main options, let us explore what these are below:

1 – Drive By Car:
Your first option is you could drive to the Southern Great Barrier Reef which is regarded as the small town of Bundaberg. The only problem is it is nearly a 500klm drive that takes about 6-hours to complete non-stop! So in a nutshell that is too much driving to get to the Great Barrier Reef from the Gold Coast. So generally I wouldn’t recommend this as an option.

2 – Hop on Hop Off Bus:
You could take a Greyhound hop on hop off bus pass. This is not a bad idea but only if you have lots of time and you are planning to travel the entire East coast of Australia from say Gold Coast to Cairns. Generally you will need at least 9-10 days to do this journey at the minimum.

3 – Flight (Recommended)
Take a flight from Gold Coast airport to Cairns or from Brisbane airport to Cairns with either Jetstar or Virgin Airways. It is only a 2-hour flight from the Gold Coast to Cairns. The Great Barrier Reef is at its closest point to the mainland of Australia at Cairns! Because of this there are many day boat tour companies to choose from that visit The Great Barrier Reef.

Tour to The Great Barrier Reef

Day tours to the reef from Cairns are usually in fast high-speed snorkel / dive boats that can carry you to the very Outer Barrier Reef systems in a relatively short amount of time. About 1.2 hours and you will arrive on magnificent coral reef systems where you can snorkel or dive with thousands of reef fish, turtles, sting rays, whales and dolphins (At certain times of the Year).

Cairns is the pioneering gateway city to the Great Barrier Reef. It all started back in the early 1980’s, thousands of people from all over the World started to travel to Cairns, they wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef. Because of this close proximity that Cairns has to The Great Barrier Reef (Just 26klm Offshore) many small reef tour operators started their business here.

Cairns, The Best Place to Visit The Great Barrier Reef

Visiting the reef from Cairns is a quick, easy way to get people to magnificent Outer Barrier Reef systems that offer spectacular coral viewing, swimming with thousands of reef fish in crystal clear blue coloured water.

So if you are choosing to visit the Gold Coast in Australia and at the same time would like to visit the Great Barrier Reef. The quickest and most enjoyable way to do this is take a flight to Cairns base yourself here for 4 or 5 days and soak up the tropical climate that Cairns has to offer. Try snorkeling or diving on the Worlds largest reef system.

Here are a few tips on the best reef tours from Cairns:

1 – Silverswift Dive & Snorkel
This is a fantastic day for those of you who are comfortable in the water. If you like swimming and you have tried snorkeling before then this is the boat for you. You can also try a first time introductory Scuba dive. No experience necessary.

2 – TUSA Dive & Snorkel
If you are a scuba diver. Like if you already have your scuba dive license (PADI, SSI)  then TUSA is the boat for you. Fantastic service and they will let you dive in your own buddy pair so you can explore the reef at your own leisure.

3 – Green Island
Green Island is a great day for families with small children, white sandy beaches, thick tropical rainforest with lots of shade. Green Island will give you a taster of what the Great Barrier Reef is like. It is mostly a sandy island with just a little bit of reef from the beach. So good as a beginner experience with small children.

4 – Green Island + Outer Barrier Reef
This is a fantastic day for all people whether you are a snorkeler, you have children who are active and who can swim or you do not want to get wet and just want to see the reef without touching the water. This trip allows you to spend 2 hours at Green island in the morning,  you will then be taken to the Outer Barrier Reef platform. Here you will experience the Semi-Submarines, Underwater Observatories and snorkeling. You can also add a scenic helicopter flight, scuba dive or even a helmet dive!


We hope this article has helped you to understand how to visit the Great Barrier Reef from the Gold Coast.

Australia is a huge country and it takes allot of time to see everything. But if you do your research you can plan a great little holiday of about 2-3 weeks and see the best spots. Plan a trip to Cairns to visit the Great Barrier Reef you will have a once in a lifetime experience.

Until next time, happy travels everyone!



Clint Carroll

Clint Carroll is the Manager of Cairns Tour Advice & Booking Centre. An adventure travel enthusiast, travel blogger, avid scuba diver and founder of based in Cairns, Australia. Connect with Clint on Twitter.

Visit The Great Barrier Reef from Cairns

Visit the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns with a full day cruise, snorkeling equipment, glass bottom boat, semi-submarine, underwater observatory, hot and cold buffet lunch, morning & afternoon tea.

Clint Carroll

Clint Carroll - Chief Travel writer and Scuba Diving enthusiast at Cairns Tour Info. Follow him on Twitter.

Do you need help choosing?

Can't decide? We have personally been on every Cairns reef and diving trip. We can help you choose the best tour, to suit your experience and budget.


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