Best of the Great Barrier Reef
Below please find the day-by-day itinerary for this expedition. Unless otherwise noted, daily excursion options are included in the cost of the trip. We do our best to adhere to the scheduled itinerary, but in the spirit of our expeditionary style of travel we may deviate slightly to take full advantage of encounters with the destination and its people, culture, and wildlife.
Based on the expeditionary nature of our trips, there may be ongoing enhancements to this itinerary.
Depart USAJuly 14 — July 15
Board your independent flight to Australia, losing a day as you cross the International Date Line.
Cairns, AustraliaJuly 16
Arrive in Cairns and transfer to the Shangri-La Cairns for dinner and overnight.
Cairns / Embark Coral Expeditions IIJuly 17
The Daintree Rainforest is one of the most complex ecosystems on Earth, and you will spend a full day seeking out the region’s unique flora and fauna. At Cooya Beach, join members of the Kubirri Warra tribe for a fascinating tour of their private estate. Learn about ancient Aboriginal traditions as you explore beach, mangrove, coastal reef, mudflats, and tidal lagoons.
Or, choose to take a ride along the Kuranda Scenic Railway, passing spectacular tropical forest, majestic mountains, cascading waterfalls, and dramatic gorges. Then visit the Kuranda Koala Gardens for up-close views of these adorable Australian marsupials, as well as kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and a variety of reptiles, including freshwater crocodiles.
Embark the Coral Expeditions II in the afternoon and set sail.
Escape ReefJuly 18
Escape Reef is a barrier reef with protected ‘lagoon,’ perfect for
your first check-out dive, or to practice your snorkel skills. There is a great variety of hard corals and you’ll also find giant clams dotted about. Keep an eye out for steephead parrotfish, longnose butterflyfish, and scissortail sergeants.
Ribbon Reef #3 / Ribbon Reef #5July 19
The Ribbon Reefs are long, thin strips of reef that form the outer edges of the Great Barrier Reef and lie on the edge of the continental shelf, an average of 30 to 60 miles away from the coast. Covered in colorful corals, these reefs attract a plethora of marine life, both large and small.
Drop in for a sunrise dive at Steve’s Bommie, an isolated pinnacle which offers a wealth of macro life like anemonefish, nudibranchs, and pipefish; schooling trevally, batfish, snappers, and fusiliers; and large pelagics, most notably barracudas and white-tip reef sharks.
After lunch, explore Ribbon Reef #5 on an afternoon dive, snorkel, or glass-bottom boat excursion. Discover a wealth of healthy corals including brain, staghorn, boulder, and mushroom, as well as colorful soft corals. The corals provide shelter for shimmering clouds of chromis and anthias, while shoals of fusiliers, trevally, barracuda, mackerel, sharks, batfish, and parrotfish can be seen cruising near the dropoff areas. Emperor angelfish, blueline demoiselle, hexagon grouper, bird wrasse, yellowmargin triggerfish, and slingjaw wrasse are other species frequently spotted in this area.
Lizard IslandJuly 20
Picturesque Lizard Island was discovered by Captain Cook in 1770, and your morning begins with an optional hike to the highest point of the island, known as Cook’s Look, where the mariner attempted to find a path through the maze of beautiful, but deadly reefs. After breakfast, dive or snorkel among legions of colorful tropical fish and check out the giant clam gardens near the beach. Other activities include walking along the island’s powdery white-sand beaches, or hiking up to Chinaman’s Ridge, searching for goannas (Australian monitor lizards) and a multitude of birds, such as sunbirds, honeyeaters, pheasant coucals, and a variety of terns along the way.
Stanley IslandJuly 21
Take a short walk to view several spectacular rock art sites on Stanley Island. The huge Yintayin, or “Ship,” rock shelter features images of ships painted in red and white ochre on the red sandstone—sailing ships rigged in the distinctive styles of the European lugger, the Macassan (Indonesian) proa, and a dugout canoe with a figure standing upright in it, hands outstretched.
Spend the afternoon snorkeling or diving at a nearby reef.
Ribbon Reef #10 / Cod HoleJuly 22 — July 23
Spend two full days exploring Ribbon Reef #10, which is famous for the large number of dwarf minke whales that migrate past the reef from June to July. With luck, you may have an opportunity to swim with these curious creatures—a simply amazing experience. However, please note, these whales are wild animals and sightings are not guaranteed.
At world-famous Cod Hole, enjoy an unforgettable dive, where you’ll come face-to-face with massive potato cod, which often swim right up to inspect you with child-like curiosity. Other fish that can be found here include coral trout, sweetlips, triggerfish, and trevally.
Osprey Reef / Ribbon ReefsJuly 24 — July 26
Conditions permitting, venture to remote Osprey Reef, a large submerged atoll with a shallow central lagoon. The most northerly and isolated of all the reefs in the Coral Sea, the almost vertical reef walls rise from a depth of over 6,000 feet and offer some of the best diving in the region. This pristine reef is home to colorful soft corals and is frequented by sharks and other large pelagics. As the ship returns to Crains, make a stop on a sand cay for sunset drinks with the local seabirds. Currents channeled by the reefs have created various sand cays that shift and change with the elements over time; they are typically surrounded by amazing reefs and provide calm, sheltered waters perfect for exploration.
If weather and sea conditions do not allow for a visit to Osprey Reef, continue exploring along the protected Ribbon Reefs, where you will find a diverse array of marine life, including anemones, giant clams, hard and soft corals, turtles, and many types of Great Barrier Reef fish.
Cairns / Disembark / Atherton TablelandsJuly 27
Disembark this morning and journey overland to the Atherton Tablelands, a fertile plateau with several stands of protected rainforest. On nature walks, search for a variety of wildlife among the giant trees, such as musky rat kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, and 12 endemic bird species. Along the pristine shores of Lake Barrine, you may spy eastern water dragons, bearded dragons, and saw-shell turtles. Check in to the Shangri-La Cairns for dinner and overnight. Or, choose to search for nocturnal species on an optional spotlighting excursion, returning to Cairns in the late evening.
Cairns / USAJuly 28
Board your independent flight to the USA, arriving the same day.