Best of the Great Barrier Reef

Explore Australia's Natural Wonders Aboard Coral Expeditions II


Larger than the Great Wall of China and the only living thing on earth visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world for good reason. Snorkel or dive nearly every day off the 42-passenger Coral Expeditions II as we cruise from Cairns, Australia, to individual reef systems, coral cays, and islands ringed by golden sandy beaches. Swim with potato cod, minke whales, sweetlips, and an abundance of other sea life, walk along Lizard Island keeping an eye out for monitor lizards, and view spectacular rock art on Stanley Island. Take advantage of the ship’s knowledgeable expedition team and conservation biologist during onboard lectures, guided excursions, and daily recaps of this extraordinary world treasure.

Note: This cruise is not exclusive to, nor operated by, Wilderness Travel, who acts solely as agent in booking your reservation with the ship operator. The itinerary, lecturers, and all other arrangements are subject to change at the discretion of the cruise line.


Days 1-2, Jul 14-15, 2020
Fly to Australia

Board your independent flight to Australia, losing a day as you cross the International Date Line.

Day 3, Jul 16, 2020
Cairns, Australia

Arrive in Cairns and transfer to the Shangri-La Cairns for dinner and overnight.

Day 4, Jul 17, 2020
Cairns / Embark Coral Expeditions II

The Daintree Rainforest is one of the most complex ecosystems on Earth, and you will spend a full day seeking out the region’s unique flora and fauna. At Cooya Beach, join members of the Kubirri Warra tribe for a fascinating tour of their private estate. Learn about ancient Aboriginal traditions as you explore beach, mangrove, coastal reef, mudflats, and tidal lagoons.

Or, choose to take a ride along the Kuranda Scenic Railway, passing spectacular tropical forest, majestic mountains, cascading waterfalls, and dramatic gorges. Then visit the Kuranda Koala Gardens for up-close views of these adorable Australian marsupials, as well as kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and a variety of reptiles, including freshwater crocodiles.

Embark the Coral Expeditions II in the afternoon and set sail.

Day 5, Jul 18, 2020
Rachel Carson Reef

Named after the famous American conservationist, Rachel Carson, this well-protected platform reef is the perfect site for your first check-out dive, or to practice your snorkel skills. Keep an eye out for steephead parrotfish, longnose butterflyfish, and scissortail sergeants swimming around the colorful corals.

Day 6, Jul 19, 2020
Ribbon Reef #3 / Ribbon Reef #5

The Ribbon Reefs are long, thin strips of reef that form the outer edges of the Great Barrier Reef and lie on the edge of the continental shelf, an average of 30 to 60 miles away from the coast. Covered in colorful corals, these reefs attract a plethora of marine life, both large and small.

Drop in for a sunrise dive at Steve’s Bommie, an isolated pinnacle which offers a wealth of macro life like anemonefish, nudibranchs, and pipefish; schooling trevally, batfish, snappers, and fusiliers; and large pelagics, most notably barracudas and white-tip reef sharks.

After lunch, explore Ribbon Reef #5 on an afternoon dive, snorkel, or glass-bottom boat excursion. Discover a wealth of healthy corals including brain, staghorn, boulder, and mushroom, as well as colorful soft corals. The corals provide shelter for shimmering clouds of chromis and anthias, while shoals of fusiliers, trevally, barracuda, mackerel, sharks, batfish, and parrotfish can be seen cruising near the dropoff areas. Emperor angelfish, blueline demoiselle, hexagon grouper, bird wrasse, yellowmargin triggerfish, and slingjaw wrasse are other species frequently spotted in this area.

Day 7, Jul 20, 2020
Lizard Island

Picturesque Lizard Island was discovered by Captain Cook in 1770, and your morning begins with an optional hike to the highest point of the island, known as Cook’s Look, where the mariner attempted to find a path through the maze of beautiful, but deadly reefs. After breakfast, dive or snorkel among legions of colorful tropical fish and check out the giant clam gardens near the beach. Other activities include walking along the island’s powdery white-sand beaches, or hiking up to Chinaman’s Ridge, searching for goannas (Australian monitor lizards) and a multitude of birds, such as sunbirds, honeyeaters, pheasant coucals, and a variety of terns along the way.

Day 8, Jul 21, 2020
Stanley Island

Take a short walk to view several spectacular rock art sites on Stanley Island. The huge Yintayin, or “Ship,” rock shelter features images of ships painted in red and white ochre on the red sandstone—sailing ships rigged in the distinctive styles of the European lugger, the Macassan (Indonesian) proa, and a dugout canoe with a figure standing upright in it, hands outstretched.

Spend the afternoon snorkeling or diving at a nearby reef.

Days 9-10, Jul 22-23, 2020
Ribbon Reef #10 / Cod Hole

Spend two full days exploring Ribbon Reef #10, which is famous for the large number of dwarf minke whales that migrate past the reef from June to July. With luck, you may have an opportunity to swim with these curious creatures—a simply amazing experience. However, please note, these whales are wild animals and sightings are not guaranteed.

At world-famous Cod Hole, enjoy an unforgettable dive, where you’ll come face-to-face with massive potato cod, which often swim right up to inspect you with child-like curiosity. Other fish that can be found here include coral trout, sweetlips, triggerfish, and trevally.

Days 11-13, Jul 24-26, 2020
Osprey Reef / Ribbon Reefs

Conditions permitting, venture to remote Osprey Reef, a large submerged atoll with a shallow central lagoon. The most northerly and isolated of all the reefs in the Coral Sea, the almost vertical reef walls rise from a depth of over 6,000 feet and offer some of the best diving in the region. This pristine reef is home to colorful soft corals and is frequented by sharks and other large pelagics. As the ship returns to Crains, make a stop on a sand cay for sunset drinks with the local seabirds. Currents channeled by the reefs have created various sand cays that shift and change with the elements over time; they are typically surrounded by amazing reefs and provide calm, sheltered waters perfect for exploration.

If weather and sea conditions do not allow for a visit to Osprey Reef, continue exploring along the protected Ribbon Reefs, where you will find a diverse array of marine life, including anemones, giant clams, hard and soft corals, turtles, and many types of Great Barrier Reef fish.

Day 14, Jul 27, 2020
Cairns / Disembark / Atherton Tablelands

Disembark this morning and journey overland to the Atherton Tablelands, a fertile plateau with several stands of protected rainforest. On nature walks, search for a variety of wildlife among the giant trees, such as musky rat kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, and 12 endemic bird species. Along the pristine shores of Lake Barrine, you may spy eastern water dragons, bearded dragons, and saw-shell turtles. Check in to the Shangri-La Cairns for dinner and overnight. Or, choose to search for nocturnal species on an optional spotlighting excursion, returning to Cairns in the late evening.

Day 15, Jul 28, 2020

Board your independent flight home.



Come face-to-face with massive potato groupers at Cod Hole, and with luck, you'll have the opportunity to swim with the curious minke whales that migrate through these waters.
Enjoy daily excursions to explore pristine reefs and islands far from the tourist track, including remote Osprey Reef.
Take nature walks on Lizard Island, keeping an eye out for Australian montior lizards and a variety of seabirds.
View fascinating Aboriginal art on remote Stanley Island.


Length: 15 days
Cost From: $10,980  
Arrive: Cairns, Australia
Depart: Cairns, Australia
Lodging: 10 nights aboard a 42-passenger vessel, 1 night hotel
Meals: All onboard meals and group meals ashore, including soft drinks, beer, and wine with lunch and dinner
Activity: Snorkeling, Diving, Small Ship Cruising, Wildlife & Natural History, Special Interest
Trip Level:

14-day cruise, cultural explorations and walking tours, excursions by Zodiac
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