Sailing in the Great Barrier Reef
Concierge.com's insider take:
Cruising the Coral Sea, dropping anchor at deserted beaches, and hopping overboard to snorkel and swim: Could there be a more idyllic way to enjoy the reef? Although the sailing weather is best between June and December if you're north of Cairns, it's fabulous year-round further south—especially around the Whitsunday Islands.
A multiday trip on board a crewed luxury yacht is, obviously, the best way to sail here—and there are tons of posh vessels that make three- to seven-day cruises from Cairns and other mainland ports. One of the most opulent choices is the 60-foot Juston motor sailer appropriately named Bliss, based in Airlie Beach. The boat has three queen-size suites and can accommodate up to eight people; you'll need to book the whole boat ( www.bliss.com.au).
Day-sailing trips are a great option for those on tighter budgets. Cairns-based Ocean Spirit takes groups of between 80 and 100 passengers to the beautiful sand islands of Upolo Cay and Michaelmas Cay on luxury catamarans; the boats have attentive crew members, restaurant-quality food, comfortable decks for sunning, and well-maintained snorkeling gear for passengers who want to get wet (61-74-031-2920; www.oceanspirit.com.au).
A comprehensive list of sailing trips and craft—including retired World Cup maxi sailboats and historic square-riggers—can be found at www.whitsundaysailing.com.au.