1. Home
  2. Destinations
  3. Australia & New Zealand
  4. Pictures From a Great Barrier Reef Cruise with Coral Expeditions

Pictures From a Great Barrier Reef Cruise with Coral Expeditions

By Briar Jensen
Cruise Critic Contributor
  • 1

    Australia's Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world, extending 2,300 km (1,429 miles) along the country's northeastern coast, from Bundaberg in the south to the tip of northern Queensland. This is roughly the same length as the West Coast of the U.S. from Vancouver to the Mexican border, or an area about the size of Germany or Italy, so it's impossible to explore the whole reef on a single cruise. One of the best options is a four-night Great Barrier Reef cruise aboard Coral Expeditions II, which takes in a 200-km (124-mile) section including islands, reefs and the township of Cooktown on the mainland.

    --By Briar Jensen, Cruise Critic contributor

    Photo: Coral Expeditions

  • 2

    Marine Park

    The Great Barrier Reef was declared a marine park in 1975 and received World Heritage status in 1981. It covers 14 degrees of latitude, from shallow estuarine communities to deep oceanic waters, and encompasses mangroves, sea grasses, sponge gardens and coral reefs.

    Photo: Brian Kinney/Shutterstock

  • 3

    Reef Exploration

    There are 3,000 individual reef systems within the marine park, including fringing and barrier reefs. Coral Expeditions II is purpose-built for this environment, with a shallow draft that allows it to get close inshore to fringing reefs and also moor on the edge of barrier reef outcrops.

    Photo: Coral Expeditions

  • 4


    Named after Captain James Cook, who beached his ship Endeavour in the local river for repairs after damaging the hull on a reef, Cooktown is a laid-back coastal township. Cook spent 48 days in the harbour, the longest stopover of his three-year voyage, and a visit to the James Cook Museum gives a fascinating insight into the difficulties he and his men faced. Other options for the morning stopover are a visit to the Botanic Gardens or a walk up Grassy Hill.

    Photo: Cairns Attractions

  • 5

    Lizard Island

    The Lizard Island group lies 33 km (20 miles) off the Queensland coast, approximately 93 km (58 miles) northeast of Cooktown, and is the only continental island group close to the outer barrier reefs. Coral Expeditions II anchors in picturesque Watsons Bay with its curving white sandy beach. The bay is famous for its clam gardens, which you can snorkel over straight from the beach. The giant clams, a meter (three feet) and more in length, thought to be about 120 years old, can be found amongst the colourful hard and soft corals.

    Photo: Philip Morton/Flickr

  • 6

    Cooks Look

    For those feeling energetic, you can climb the 1,177-foot peak (359 meters) on Lizard Island to Cooks Look, but you need to get up early for the 6 a.m. transfer to shore. The walk takes about 2.5 hours and is very steep in parts, but the 360-degree view is well worth the effort if you're fit. Captain Cook climbed this peak in order to look for a safe passage through the outer barrier reefs. Breakfast is provided on the beach after the climb.

    Photo: Aaron Twa/Shutterstock

  • 7

    Up Close and Personal

    Coral Expeditions owns several reef mornings, meaning you will have reef sites, like Ribbon Reef Number Three, exclusively to yourself. The boat drops anchor and moors stern to the reef, so the swim platform is literally on the edge of the reef, which makes snorkeling and diving a breeze. You can learn to SCUBA dive during the cruise, but you can see just as much snorkeling, and the glass-bottom boat offers another perspective, too. When you get out of the water there's freshly baked biscuits or cake waiting.

    Photo: Coral Expeditions

  • 8

    Coral Gardens

    There are 600 different types of soft and hard corals in the Great Barrier Reef, and as Coral Expeditions II visits five different reef sites, including Two Isles and Escape Reef, you get to see a huge variety of corals. An onboard presentation by the marine biologist identifies the types of corals you will see, including table, mushroom, brain and leather coral.

    Photo: stephan kerkhofs/Shutterstock

  • 9

    Hello Nemo

    Great Barrier Marine Park boasts 1,625 species of fish, including 133 varieties of sharks and rays, and you'll feel like you have seen most of them by the end of your cruise. Tiny darting damsels, dainty clown anemonefish, furtive puffer fish, colourful parrotfish, striped and spotted angelfish, iridescent wrasse and comic triggerfish create an underwater kaleidoscope. On the larger side are batfish, blue-spotted rays and blacktip reef sharks.

    Photo: Tanya Puntti/Shutterstock

  • 10

    Whales and Dolphins

    During whale migration season (June through to November) you are likely to see humpback and minke whales as you cruise between anchorages. The whales migrate from Antarctica during winter to the warmer waters off Australia to breed and give birth. The bridge keeps a constant lookout and if whales are spotted an announcement is made so everyone has an opportunity to see these mighty creatures. You're bound to see spinner dolphins though, at any time of year.

    Photo: Konrad Mostert/Shutterstock

Find a Cruise

Popular on Cruise Critic

Cruise Packing 101
There once was a not-so-savvy seafarer who didn't feel right unless she took two steamer trunks crammed with outfits on every cruise. This, she learned, was not a good idea. Besides incurring the wrath of her male traveling companion, who pointed out that he would have to wrestle with excess baggage through airport terminals and beyond, she quickly tired of cramming her belongings into tiny closets and bureaus. The now savvy seafarer follows her own packing 101 rule: Thou shalt put into one's suitcase only that which will fit neatly in the allocated storage space without hogging every available nook and cranny for thyself. Following that advice is getting easier these days because, for the most part, cruising has become a much more casual vacation -- even on luxury and traditional lines. Plus, with airlines charging to check bags and imposing extra fees for overweight luggage), it's just plain economical to pack light. To do so, you need to have a good sense of what you’re going to wear on a cruise so you don't pack your entire closet. If you're wondering what to bring on your next cruise, here are our guidelines for what you'll need to pack.
Best Time to Cruise
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. Fall foliage enthusiasts, for instance, will find September and October the best time to take that Canada/New England cruise, whereas water sports-lovers (and families) much prefer to sail the region in the summer when school is out and temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.