Rather than staying in touristy Cairns, the traditional gateway to the reef, where the scene can be more of a raucous party than a wildlife outing, make remote Wilson Island your base camp. Reachable only by boat, this white-sand island (and its six permanent luxury tents with ocean views) lies 48 miles offshore and is actually part of the Great Barrier Reef. Wilson is a coral cay, which means snorkelers can wade in from the shore, dip their heads, and immediately start seeing coral and fish (for half-day diving charters from nearby Heron Island). Though the island's staff leads daily nature and reef walks, your schedule will likely revolve around whatever wildlife is active during your stay. May visitors spot green- and loggerhead-turtle hatchlings emerging from their nests and reef herons preparing their rookeries. In July humpback whales migrate from the south with their calves, and come August, you have a good shot at witnessing them breach. No matter the season, pick up a cup of steaming coffee and watch the sunrise each morning from the Flintstone Chairs – naturally sculpted stone seats situated on the eastern side of the island.
Credit: Jeff Hunter / Getty Images
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