Great Barrier Reef On A Budget

A visit to the reef doesn’t need to break the budget with many wallet friendly alternatives available to you. The advantage of the vast size of the Great Barrier Reef is that there are many access points to the reef to help you tailor a holiday to your budget without comprising on the activities.

An easy way to automatically reduce the price of your holiday is to stay in accommodation on the mainland instead of island resorts where you are limited to what accommodation and dining options you have. Whilst it is great to stay at a tropical island you will have to pay for that luxury. By staying in a gateway location such as Cairns, Airlie Beach or Townsville you can choose from motels, bed and breakfasts, backpackers, caravan and campsite or budget motels and hotels. Less money spent on accommodation means more money to spend on the activities and tours to see the reef.

If you still want to stay to have that tropical island experience but are willing to stretch the budget a little but not ‘rough it’ and camp then there are a few islands that are budget conscious.


Fitzroy Island is a 45 minute ferry from Cairns and is a relatively unspoilt island with little development. The resort on the island has a good selection of accommodation ranging from ensuited bungalows to resort studios, ocean suites and a beach house that can be rented out. The resort has a swim up pool bar, restaurant, convenience store and water sports centre. Room prices begin from $150 per night. Fitzroy Island is a great option as a day trip as well if you choose to stay in Cairns instead.

Magnetic Island off Townsville, is a popular choice among backpackers and families because of the number of budget accommodation available making it a very accessible destination for everyone. Magnetic Island is the only island in the Great Barrier Reef to have backpacker accommodation. There are also bed and breakfasts, villas, motels and a few higher end resorts which are still reasonably priced and provide all your creature comforts. The island also has a number of beaches, picnic spots, nature walks and snorkel spots straight off the beach making it an incredibly budget friendly location.


The Whitsundays and budget don’t generally go in the same sentence because it is known as a luxury resort destination however there are ways that you can save some money.

Long Island is the closest island to Airlie Beach and is one of the only resorts that offers self-catering accommodation in private houses, villas and ocean front bungalows. The resort does not have a restaurant so all guests need to bring your own food and drink. The location of the island is convenient for you to head to Airlie Beach, island hop or join a day tour.

As mentioned earlier, accommodation on mainland tends to be cheaper so Airlie Beach would be the best gateway location to join tours to the various island of the reef. Many backpackers frequent Airlie Beach but there are also a few budget motels and caravan parks available.

Lastly, another great way to save on money is the travel in off peak seasons. There is no disadvantage in choosing this option because the tropical climate guarantees that temperatures never dip below 24 degrees year round. However, please note that wet season does begin from November to April.