A Day Trip to the Great Barrier Reef

Brisbane is south of the most southern parts of the Great Barrier Reef, but it is still possible to experience the Reef in a day trip to Lady Elliot Island, off the coast near Bundaberg (384 km/238 miles north of Brisbane). If you are pressed for time before heading south or to Central Australia and Uluru, this is an excellent option.

Lady Elliot is a small coral cay ringed by a lagoon filled with coral and marine life. Reef walking, snorkeling, and diving are the main reasons people come to this coral cay, but you can snorkel and reef walk only for the 2 to 3 hours before and after high tide, so your day trip activities will be reliant on nature to some extent.

Keep in mind that you will not be able to dive and fly on the same day. But the snorkeling on Lady Elliott is a wonderful experience and the island has accommodations if you wish to stay longer or do some diving.You will see beautiful corals, brightly colored fish, clams, sponges, urchins, and anemones, and with luck, green and loggerhead turtles (which nest on the beach NovMar) and manta rays. Whales migrate through these waters from June through September.

Be aware that Lady Elliot is a sparse, grassy island rookery, not a sandy tropical paradise. Some find it too spartan; others relish chilling out in a beautiful, peaceful spot with reef all around. Just be prepared for the smell and constant noise of the birds.

Seair (tel. 07/5599 4509; www.seairpacific.com.au) offers a day-trip package from Brisbane for A$699 adults and A$349 children aged 3 to 12. In addition to the flights, the price includes snorkel gear, a glass-bottom-boat ride, lunch, and guided activities (and the Reef tax).

Your day trip begins with a early pickup (around 6am) from your Brisbane hotel to drive to the northern Brisbane suburb of Redcliffe for the coastal scenic flight. The flight takes about 90 minutes. Seair is Lady Elliott Islands own airline and operates a fleet of 9- and 13-seat aircraft. All you need to take is a daypack with swimwear, camera, sunscreen, and footwear suitable for getting wet. Take some cash too, in case you decide to buy an underwater camera or a small souvenir from the resort gift shop.

Youll have around 5 hours to explore the island and Reef. You can take an island orientation tour, a guided reef walk at low tide (if possible), a snorkeling lesson in the resort pool (if you need it), and a glass-bottom-boat or guided snorkel tour, and even feed the fish in the lagoon fish pool.

All snorkel equipment (mask, snorkel, fins, and wetsuit) is provided, along with towels and reef walking shoes. Storage lockers are available, as are resort shower facilities. A hot and cold buffet lunch includes fresh prawns, champagne, wine, beer, and soft drinks.

Youll be boarding your light plane for the return trip at 2:15pm, arriving back at your Brisbane hotel at around 5pmbut youll feel like youve been gone much longer. Such is the magic of a day on the Great Barrier Reef!

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.