History of the Great Barrier Reef
For at least 40,000 years Aboriginal Australians have lived around the Great Barrier Reef, and Torres Strait Islanders for about 10,000 years. For both cultures, the reef has long been an important feature in many aspects of their cultures, including the native animals – such as dugongs and turtles – being part of Aboriginal Dreaming.
Although it was believed that a Portuguese expedition first sighted the reef around 1522, the earliest documented evidence of sighting was by the French in the late 1760s. This sighting was closely followed by James Cook in 1770 who struck Endeavour Reef, allowing his botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, alongside four illustrators, to observe the reef whilst the ship was fixed. Also noted are expeditions by William Bligh in 1792 and Matthew Flinders in 1801-03, although much of the research on the reef seen today didn’t occur until 1922 by the Great Barrier Reef Committee.
For thousands of years dead coral have transformed into walls of stone, creating a home for a variety of organisms. Today the reef is home to the largest collection of corals in the world (over 400 species), alongside a variety of marine life including 1,500 species of tropical fish, over 200 types of birds, and home to many endangered species like the Dugong and large Green Sea Turtle. It has also been documented that there are sea turtles and giant clams living within the reef that are over 120 years old. Due to this abundance of life and history, the Great Barrier Reef was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981.
What To See & Do
Stretching over 2,000km in length, there are many things for you to do when visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Featuring over 100 islands within the area, forming the famous Whitsundays, there are infinite opportunities to explore the land and sea such as witnessing turtle hatchings on Heron Island, getting up close to Stingrays on Daydream Island, and snorkelling around Magnetic Island.
Take your explorations to the air with the variety of aircraft and helicopter tours, such as a unique hot air balloon experience that will take you across the islands and the reef for a view like no other, or flying in a seaplane over Heart Reef. For thrill seekers in the area, take up the opportunity to skydive across the reef from Mission Beach, Airlie Beach or Cairns.
If you’d rather keep one foot firmly on the ground there are many opportunities to explore the reef from below. Whether you want to kayak throughout the reef or take a glass bottom boat or jet ski tour, you will have the opportunity to discover the reef, shipwrecks, and marine life like no other. Alternatively, you can explore the reef more closely by diving and snorkelling. But for a unique opportunity, travel through the reef by sea walking and come face to face with turtles, fish and coral a plenty.
Where To Eat
The airy cafe of Manta Ray offers gourmet pizzas, local seafood, and choice-bistro meals for you to enjoy as you overlook the stunning Hamilton Island Marina. Accompanying your meal with one of their cocktails, this is the perfect place to while away the day along the water.
Beach Club Restaurant
For an intimate evening with great food and good wines, the Beach Club Restaurant entices diners to enjoy the modern Aussie cuisine along the beachfront. Whether you want to admire the surrounding water, or have a romantic dinner as the sun sets, this is a stop you must not miss.
Sunset Cruise and Dine
There is no better way to say goodbye to Hamilton Island than dining aboard the Denison Star with a Sunset Cruise. Starting your evening with a fruity cocktail, you will venture out across the reef before being anchored in one of the many bays to enjoy a delicious multi-course meal.
Where To Stay
Airlie Beach YHA Hostel
Located four minutes from the beach lies Airlie Beach YHA Hostel. Featuring basic rooms and dorms and a swimming lagoon, it lies within close proximity to great restaurants and cafés. Suitable for both backpackers and those on a budget, this is the place to stay central to one of the many stunning beaches.
Whitsunday Apartments Hamilton Island
Set in the Great Barrier Reef lies the sleek, modern apartments of Whitsunday Apartments Hamilton Island. These self-contained apartments, located along Catseye Beach and close to the Hamilton Island Marina, offer you the ability to live in your own spacious one-bedroom apartment.
In the heart of the Whitsundays, along the northernmost point of Hamilton Island, lies Australia’s world-class luxury 5-star resort, qualia. This secluded resort allows you to truly escape the busy city life in these spacious villas as you swim through the reef during the day and discover the breathtaking views in the evening.