As bushfires continue to impact parts of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef remains safe to visit — and tourism remains an important part of the local economy. In the area around Australia’s chief natural wonder, a number of resorts continue to pair luxury with sustainability to appeal to the next generation of visitors and make a positive difference today.
Despite its oceanfront real estate and proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, the city of Cairns and the surrounding area were always lacking in high-end properties to match those million-dollar views. Now a host of recent arrivals and overhauled stalwarts are rolling out the red carpet — along with initiatives that ensure the delicate reef ecosystem will endure.
Some travelers have expressed concerns about visiting Australia at the moment, as fires have burned more than 17 million acres. Yet Queensland, the northeastern state that serves as a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, has not been impacted by the fires, according to Tourism Australia. (The agency’s frequently updated travel alerts are an invaluable source of current information.) And travel remains a key economic driver for the country, particularly in Queensland, where a visit can have a positive impact at a critical time. “The best thing that we can do at a time like this is rally around our tourism industry and affected communities with support,” says Phillipa Harrison, managing director of Tourism Australia.
In Cairns proper, visitors can catch views of the glittering Marlin Marina from the updated Shangri-La Hotel, the Marina (doubles from $149). All 255 guest rooms have balconies and a modern, airy aesthetic. The Riley (doubles from $209) and the Bailey (from $209) are the first of three Crystalbrook Collection hotels in Cairns, all of which emphasize responsible luxury, with local sourcing, plastic-free policies, and partnerships with conservation groups such as Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef. The final property, the Flynn, is slated to open this spring.
Located off Cairns in the Whitsundays, the family-friendly, 277-room Daydream Island (doubles from $271) relaunched in April with neutral tones and objets d’art. At the Living Reef, a shallow lagoon that wraps around the resort’s main building, guests can observe coral and more than 100 species of other sea life, and learn how they can help preserve these unique marine environments.
Travelers can get a deeper look at the ecosystem with an overnight at Reefsuites (doubles from $799 per person), a two-suite moored pontoon with beds that face floor-to-ceiling underwater windows. Coral farming and transplant efforts help keep the reef healthy and thriving. There are new reasons to journey inland, too, such as Silky Oaks Lodge (tree houses from $440), a collection of secluded tree houses on rehabilitated farmland in the Daintree Rainforest. It’s within reach of the reef, with a lush setting that’s a refreshing change of scenery from the usual beach retreat, and has a low-impact approach that prizes the natural environment. In addition to sailing tours, Silky Oaks offers bushwalks and driving safaris — just the thing to cap off a coastal adventure.
For help planning a Great Barrier Reef itinerary, contact T+L A-List travel advisor Suzy Mercien-Ferol (suzy.mercien@touringtreasures).
A version of this story first appeared in the February 2020 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline New Gateways to the Barrier Reef.