Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef – Bucket List, Check!

A visit to Queensland, Australia without getting underwater on the Great Barrier Reef would be unthinkable! 

As soon as Lady Elliot Island, a highly protected coral cay only accessible by air, came into view, we knew we were about to embark on an unforgettable adventure of a lifetime.

Because the southern tip of the reef is outside the tropics, the cooler water temperatures have kept the coral… CONTINUE READING >>

Huge thanks to Tourism and Events Queensland and Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort for providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.

Veronica snorkels with a sea turtle on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia, GypsyNester.com

A visit to Queensland, Australia without seeing the Great Barrier Reef would be like a morning without coffee, unthinkable!

So bright and early, and with “cuppa” Joe in hand (how’s that for mixing hemispheric slang?), we met a van to take us along with a few other lucky adventurers to the Gold Coast airport for a flight out to Lady Elliot Island. That door-to-door convenience is all part of the service that is included in a trip to the island.

The incredible skyline of high-rises along Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

As a protected part of The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, no one is allowed to visit except by booking through the Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort.

Seair Pacific handles the flying duties for the trip, and the flight was a sightseeing adventure unto itself, with amazing vistas out our windows all the way. We flew past the incredible skyline of high-rises along Gold Coast,

The beautiful Sun Coast from in air of Queensland, Australia

past the Sun Coast where we had skydived a few days before,

Fraser Island from the air in Queensland, Australia

then up the shoreline to Fraser Island and out across the Coral Sea.

Lady Elliot Island from the air in Queensland, Australia

When we approached the southern end of the world’s largest reef, Lady Elliot Island came into view.

The tiny cay is formed from the coral itself. The ocean currents have deposited enough broken up coral remnants on top of the reef to create a small landmass, so even though it is dry land it is actually a part of the reef. 

The grass runway on Lady Elliot Island in Queensland, Australia

As we descended, it became apparent just how small the landmass is, barely big enough to fit the landing strip.

It is not often that we have experienced air travel sans pavement, but the rustic grass runway is the only link to the mainland.

The grass runway on Lady Elliot Island in Queensland, Australia

Primitive as it might have seemed, we hardly noticed in our excitement to be on The Great Barrier Reef, and it’s not like we had a choice of transportation options.

There are no ferries to the mainland since the reef around the island is too shallow and treacherous for anything but small boats.

The coral beach on Lady Elliot Island in Queensland, Australia
David’s swimmers courtesy of Billabong

View from a glass bottomed boat near the lighthouse on Lady Elliot Island in Queensland, Australia

One of those small boats would just so happen to be where we would begin our day of exploration.

After being issued our snorkeling gear, we made our way to the broken coral beach by the lighthouse, where we met a glass bottom boat that would take us to a prime spot for viewing the reef ecosystem.

A reef shark near Lady Elliot Island in Queensland, Australia

Through the glass we had a shark encounter as we passed directly over a reef shark – the best kind of shark – the kind where he’s in the water and we’re not.

But sharks or no sharks we were going in, which was very brave of us considering the extreme lack of any danger to humans from reef sharks.

 

Coral formations at Lady Elliot Island in Queensland, Australia

Obviously we could only see a tiny portion of the over one thousand miles included in the reef system, but the part we saw was phenomenal.

There were so many different varieties of coral, over four hundred are found in the reef, and they are much more colorful than we had ever seen in the Caribbean.

Coral formations at Lady Elliot Island in Queensland, Australia

Because this southern tip of the reef is outside the tropics, the cooler water temperatures have kept the coral healthy.

Further north heat is causing serious bleaching to much of the reef and, along with pollution from shipping and agricultural runoff, is a great threat to this natural wonder.

A vivid blue starfish known as Linckia laevigata on the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef is also a habitat for countless species of sea creatures.

On our first dive we saw many of the fifteen hundred different types of fish that live along the reef, and something completely new and unexpected, a vivid blue starfish known as Linckia laevigata.

David swims with so many fish on the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia

Parrotfish on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia, GypsyNester.com

Angelfish on the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia

Fish pow wow on the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia
We think the guy on the bottom right is the leader and he’s up to no good

Watch: Veronica makes a new sea turtle friend who shows her all the hotspots of his reef and introduces her to his friends (including “Nemo”)!


Veronica’s swimsuit courtesy of 2Chillies

Black noddys come up for a visit on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia

With the end of our first dive it was time for some sustenance to prepare for the afternoon.

Our lunch buffet was dominated by some of the thousands of birds that migrate to Lady Elliot Island every year.

Unbelievable numbers of black noddys filled the trees and were not shy about coming up to us for a closer look.

Black noddys on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia

Preserving this nesting ground for the noddy, and dozens of other seabirds, is a big part of the mission of the Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort.

They have strived to have as little impact as possible on the habitat, and have been instrumental in the revegetation of the island by reintroducing native plants brought in from nearby islands.

The beach at Lady Elliot Island in Queensland, Australia

After chomping on shrimp, oops, I mean prawns, we were chomping at the bit to get back underwater.

This time we walked right off the beach in front restaurant into the lagoon.

The water around this part of the island is a favorite spot for some of the three types of sea turtles common to Lady Elliot, and it didn’t take long for us to find that to be true.

We have encountered sea turtles on several occasions while swimming in the Caribbean and Galapagos Islands, but these seemed to be the least concerned by our presence of any we’d seen.

In the past the turtles would generally swim away once they noticed us, or if we got very close, but these guys not only didn’t flee, they seemed glad to hang around.

David snorkels with a sea turtle on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia, GypsyNester.com

In fact, one of the resident marine experts told us that they like to have the algae scraped off of their shells and will allow humans to perform the honors.

Sure enough, if we approached very slowly, they were happy to have us give them a little back scratching.

David snorkels with a sea turtle on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia, GypsyNester.com

The coral garden at Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia

As hard as it was to tear ourselves away from the turtles, there was one more section of the island that we wanted to explore, the Coral Gardens.

As we said, Lady Elliot is a tiny cay, so we easily walked about halfway around and waded back out into the sea.

The coral garden at Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia

A manta ray on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia

The gardens definitely lived up to their name, we were immediately in awe at the vast array of diverse coral species.

Then we spotted something on the ocean floor. It was trying to hide in the sand, but we thought we saw one of the guys that give the island the nickname “Home of the Manta Ray.” 

Moving in for a closer look it became clear that we had the wrong ray, this was a stingray. We hung around hoping to see him swim off, but we didn’t want to instigate any ray reactions because we were fully convinced that we would come out on the wrong side of any close encounter.

Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort in Queensland, Australia

With time growing short until our return flight departure, we reluctantly made our way back to terra firma one last time.

But before leaving this incredible place we wanted to check out the accommodations for the lucky visitors that get to spend more than a day.

Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort in Queensland, Australia

Manager Andreas Supper agreed to show us around and share some of the green aspects of the Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort.

First among these is the hybrid power station, which has cut fuel consumption by two-thirds by using solar panels. Plans are to add wind turbines, and to be fossil fuel-free in five years.

Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort in Queensland, Australia

Water conservation and recycling programs are also in place, with waste water treated then used for irrigation, and recyclables flown back to the mainland.

The footprint is almost nonexistent, but by far the main attraction to the resort is the location. We could only imagine waking up and stepping outside in the morning.

Boy did we wish we had booked an overnight stay.

40 thoughts on “Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef – Bucket List, Check!”

  1. Amazing underwater photos! I can’t believe the sea turtles let you get so close.

    I did some diving in Australia, but further north by Cape Tribulation, which is worth it if you ever get back. Not as many people as further down south.

    Hopefully the region will continue to develop sustainably so that the reef remains in tact for generations to come.

  2. I’ve snorkelled several times on the GBR – but always further north – Cairns and around. I didn’t realise you could do this from the Gold Coast – going to put it on my “one day” list!

  3. I have to, absolutely must, get over my snorkeling induced claustrophobia because now that I’ve seen your photos and video, I have, absolutely must, visit the Great Barrier Reef. That electric blue star fish was kind of amazing. What type of camera were you using underwater? A GoPro or GoProesque device?

    1. Once you are in the water and seeing all the great stuff you will get lost in it and your fears will disappear. We use a Canon Power Shot with an underwater case, but GoPros are very cool, maybe when this one dies we’ll get one.

  4. Looks like it was a really amazing trip to the island! The water looks clear and colorful! And that’s great the resort is eco-friendly and even uses solar panels and plans to be fossil fuel free in the next few years. Thanks for sharing!

  5. We’ve been lucky enough to snorkle in several places in the Caribbean but your comment about the coral being so much more colorful in the Great Barrier Reef caught my attention. On so many occasions the coral gardens have given the fish a run for their money so I can’t wait to see this Australian treasure one day!

  6. I would love to travel to Australia and be able to see the great barrier reef. I am currently getting my scuba certification right now so I would be able to get an even better look at the reef when compared to the snorkelers.

  7. Wow! These photos are incredible and just the GBR looks just as heavenly as I’ve pictured it! Congratulations on getting so many fantastic underwater photos!

  8. The pictures of the sea turtle is so vibrant and the water so clear. How wonderful to experience being in the water with a world of life all around you for the enjoyment. May it never disappear from to much tourist use.

  9. Loved your post! I have checked this off of the proverbial bucket list, but seeing your beautiful photos makes me want to go back to Australia today! The Great Barrier Reef (and all of Australia) is a remarkable place.

  10. We were in Australia in 2008, seems so long ago, but we didn’t make it to the Great Barrier Reef. I guess that gives us an excuse to go back one day – these photos definitely fuel the fire to do so! Beautiful!

  11. What a gorgeous day!
    And what fabulous clear waters to explore –
    Interesting what you said about the colour of the coral being better there than further north in the warmer water where there’s been bleaching – Sounds like a great endorsement for Lady Elliot – as well as being able to fly out there! 😉

  12. Wow, those photos of the sea turtles are amazing! Lady Eliot Island looks like turtle nirvana! I’m headed to the Caribbean with my grandson and would love to get him an underwater camera that would take great photos. What camera did you use for these photos?

  13. I love that you are super-excited about the turtle you saw and then there’s a turtle on your bed at the end too – perfect! Really makes it, kind of like the mixture of slang… cuppa sounds comforting (I’m an Aussie, so ya know!), joe makes me smile because I think of Americans. Aw, love America…

    I loved the barrier reef! I’ve been twice now, the second time with an old boyfriend who didn’t know how to swim, but he got used to the water/wasn’t given a choice… amazing place! Oh! Your photos!!!

  14. It’s pretty cool how electric the colours can be down in reefs like the Great Barrier … I’ve experienced much the same in Malaysia and the Philippines!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *