Stretching across more than 2300 kilometres and comprising thousands of individual reefs, you could spend a lifetime exploring the Great Barrier Reef. But while there’s plenty of tried and tested ways to see the coral up close, some of the most exciting things to do in this incredible ecosystem might surprise you.

Go deep in a submarine

Great Barrier Reef submarine

Want to see the reef without getting your hair wet? It’s possible. Set off on a miniature submarine ride and you’ll get a look at the coral, sea turtles and tropical fish below – all while breathing (and talking) normally. The rides are cosy, catering to just two guests and a “pilot” guide at a time so there won’t be any crowds blocking the view.

Swim with whales

Dwarf minke whales migrate through the waters of the Great Barrier Reef every winter and it’s possible to swim near them by signing up for a snorkelling or diving trip to the spot where they congregate. They’re extremely friendly mammals and are even known to approach swimmers.

Sleep under the stars

Reefsleep, Great Barrier Reef

Don’t settle for a quick glimpse at the reef. With Reefsleep you get to spend whole night soaking up Australia’s most incredible natural wonder. First, you’ll travel to a pontoon on Hardy Reef, one of the Great Barrier Reef’s best-looking stretches, where you can spend the day swimming and snorkelling or set off on an optional activity such as a dive or scenic helicopter flight. When night falls, you’ll sleep under the stars in a comfy swag – but not before you watch the sunset over the reef, drink in hand, as turtles surface in the surrounding waters. The next morning you’ll be served breakfast and have more time to snorkel with the beautiful Maori Wrasse fish, or look at what lies beneath from the underwater viewing chamber.

Picnic on a private island

Vlasoff Cay

More than 900 islands make up the Great Barrier Reef and you can have one of them to yourself with a daytrip to the sandy shores of Vlasoff Cay. Travel by helicopter to the secluded island, where you and your companions can enjoy lunch in paradise without another soul in sight. Relax on the white sand, swim in the turquoise waters and enjoy a gourmet picnic hamper full of tropical fruits, fine cheeses and fresh oysters – champagne included, of course.

Hang out with the clams

Giant clam, Great Barrier Reef

There’s perhaps no better diving spot at the Great Barrier Reef than the Clam Gardens where these huge molluscs rest on the ocean floor. Each clam can weigh as much as 200 kilograms and extend over a metre in length. Be sure to keep an eye out for the lionfish, octopus, sea stars and giant moray eels that also live throughout the coral.

SEE ALSO: 10 Most Romantic Islands of the Great Barrier Reef

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