February 24, 2010

NATURAL ATTRACTIONS

Top-rated in our survey, for its gorgeous white-sand beaches, virgin rain forests, and the incomparable reef itself—the largest protected underwater environment in the world and the Holy Grail for divers and snorkelers.ACTIVITIES/SIGHTS

Most travelers pick a resort and spend time exploring its environment both onshore and off. Divers might consider an expedition to swim with one of the reef's most spectacular—and terrifying—denizens: the great white shark.RESTAURANTS/FOOD

Food on the reef islands tends toward the uninspired. So get your fix en route at restaurants like the Boomerang in Smithfield, where baked reef shark with hokkien noodles epitomizes the local version of New Australian cooking.PEOPLE

Along with the expected "mate" and "barbie," the local lingo includes such gems as "dead horse}" (tomato sauce). Learn it to communicate better with the "banana benders" (Queenslanders).VALUE

Don't want to commit to a whole vacation on the reef?You can get a taste of its attractions on a day trip to Green Island, a World Heritage Site. The catamaran ride from Cairns, plus lunch at Green Island Resort, costs about $45.

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