The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef, known and visited by many. All the way on the other side of the country lies one of Australia’s best-kept secrets, Ningaloo Reef. Although not as popular, it is just as beautiful!
Both reefs offer fantastic snorkeling, diving, and other ocean adventures. Wondering which one you should visit? Read our guide to the Great Barrier Reef vs Ningaloo Reef!
Great Barrier Reef
One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Great Barrier Reef is 1,000 miles long and is actually visible from space!
A snorkel boat at the Great Barrier Reef. Image: Tourism Queensland
Where to Stay: Cairns, Port Douglas, and the Whitsunday Islands offer hotels for every style and budget, couples or families. Read our full guide on where to stay at the Great Barrier Reef.
Accessibility: The Great Barrier Reef is very accessible. If staying in Cairns or Port Douglas, you can fly into the Cairns airport. In the Whitsundays, you can fly to Hamilton Island.
Activities at the Great Barrier Reef:
- Join a day tour to go snorkeling or diving in the reef (read our guide to the marine life you can find there!). You can also take a helicopter to see the Great Barrier Reef from above!
- Enjoy a secluded island picnic on the picturesque Whitehaven Beach.
- Sailing is another activity to try while exploring the Great Barrier Reef. With wind in your sails, venture from Port Douglas for Low Isles, a secluded jewel discovered by Captain Cook in 1770. Charter a boat from Hamilton Island or Airlie Beach and coast through the turquoise water of the Whitsundays.
- The shoreline has some of the oldest rainforest in the world. The Daintree Rainforest is twice as old as the dinosaurs! You can explore the area on an Aboriginal-guided tour or stay at the luxurious Silky Oaks Lodge in the rainforest.
A Clownfish in a Sea Anemone Image: Tourism Queensland
Ningaloo Fringing Reef
Ningaloo is accessible just a few yards off shore. Waddle your flippers to the water and swim right out! This is why it’s called a fringing reef, not a barrier reef.
Where to Stay: Our favorite place to stay is Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef, a fabulous eco-luxe camp located on the beach. Sal Salis is not cheap, but it’s worth the splurge! There are also some more budget hotel options in Exmouth.
Accessibility: Compared to the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo is quite remote. Located off the coast of Western Australia, Ningaloo Reef requires a flight to Perth and a flight to Exmouth.
Activities at Ningaloo Reef:
- Swim with the enormous (but gentle!) whale sharks who arrive between March and July. These massive creatures love to swim with people. Keep in mind, they are not actual sharks, but rather the world’s largest fish! The whale shark spans up to 40 feet long.
- Between June and November, watch humpback whales or join them for a swim.
- Between January and February, watch sea turtle species hatch on guided, eco-interactive trails.
- Grab your snorkel and swim through coral lagoons and gardens in a calm and protected coral bay. Swim by graceful manta rays, dolphins, and brightly colored fish. Beginners are welcome, as well as scuba specialists!
- Because Ningaloo is so close to shore, you can explore sand dunes and outback wilderness as well as the reef.