Whether east or west, our country is blessed with underwater wonderlands. Where will you head first? Tridents sharpened, our duelling experts help you decide.
GREAT BARRIER REEF
By Amy Cooper
Truth be told, this coral quarrel's a win-win for our lucky country, blessed as it is with two of the world's most spectacular reef systems. The Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo bracket our land mass on the west and northeast as if it's a mere aside to their essential point: the ocean is Australia's greatest treasure.
Try to see both reefs. But start with the greatest: the world's largest living thing, the only organism visible from outer space and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Great Barrier Reef's 2300 kilometres and 3000 individual reef systems and coral cays are home to more than 400 different types of coral, 4000 and 1500 mollusc and fish species respectively and 200 kinds of birds.
From 200 kilogram giant clams to mantis shrimps capable of accelerating faster than a .22 calibre bullet to giant sea turtles who defy one-in-a-thousand survival odds at birth for a shot at a 100-year-plus lifespan, the GBR is a mind-boggling kaleidoscope of diverse, dramatic and beautiful marine life. If the Little Mermaid had lived here, she'd never have wanted feet.
Humpback and dwarf minke whales, both much smarter than mermaids, travel 8000 kilometres every year to breed and raise their calves in the GBR's tropical waters. Winter is prime time to join their party and right now, a swim, snorkel or dive with the GBR's many conservation-savvy operators can provide a profoundly moving encounter.
No wonder Nemo made a blockbuster about finding his way back there.
Alternatively, you can sit back and watch from 100-plus idyllic islands off the Queensland coastline, or in multiple picturesque mainland GBR access points stretching from north to south - from Port Douglas and Cairns to Bundaberg and Hervey Bay.
Up top, in the Cape Yorke Peninsula region, you'll find maximum wilderness vibes with unspoiled national parks and hidden havens. Lizard Island alone has 24 beaches, a stunning lagoon and a barefoot luxury resort right on the reef. Haggerstone Island is a remote private retreat for a maximum of six guests, with world-class diving amid one of the world's largest green turtle rookeries.
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Further south, the allure of the Whitsundays has a famous symbol: Heart Reef, the sapphire stunner that's inspired billions of blue heart emojis on unforgettable Insta posts. Take your pick from seven resort islands, including Daydream, Hamilton and Hayman, and hop between others on a bareboat charter, kayak or Scamper transfers between island campsites.
With around 350,000 square kilometres of unparalleled beauty in more shades of blue than a Pantone palette, the GBR definitely takes the coral high ground. No wonder Nemo made a blockbuster about finding his way back there. Incidentally, that movie turns 20 this year - just one more reason to follow the whales and the clownfish and just keep swimming to the world's chief reef.
By Mal Chenu
Tough gig this week. I mean, what's greater than the Great Barrier Reef, right? It's not the Adequate Barrier Reef.
I saw Finding Nemo too and while I don't want to make any anemones, I'm here to tell you Ningaloo Reef has prettier and wittier clown fish, and a whole lot more besides.
Between March and July, Ningaloo is the best place in the world to see and swim with whale sharks, the world's biggest fish at up to 18-metres long. And if you prefer cetaceans, you can frolic with humpback whales between June and November.
Sure, Ningaloo is smaller, but how much coral can you explore at any one time? If 260 kilometres of untainted natural beauty, 250 species of coral and 500-odd species of fish isn't enough for you, perhaps the problem isn't the reef.
Western Australia's unique fringing reef is 1200 kilometres north of Perth, and Amy is probably over there on the other side of the page complaining about how Ningaloo is on the other side of the country.
Well, Qantas flies direct from Melbourne to Exmouth so we can blow that argument out of the lagoon.
And just because you've made it to Cairns or some other port within reach of the GBR, doesn't mean you've made it to the coral. In fact, you probably still have a two- or three-hour boat trip ahead of you.
And a similar ride back to shore, during which you'll be treated to the vocal stylings of a crew member trying to rev up exhausted passengers with his version of Wonderwall.
Ningaloo Reef, on the other hand, is right on the coast. In many places, you can step straight off the sand into a spectacular underwater gallery of Ken Done-ian colour. This is not called the Coral Coast for nothing.
In many places, you can step straight off the sand into a spectacular underwater gallery of Ken Done-ian colour.
A reef stay to remember is Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef, a secluded, luxury safari style tent camp nestled in the sand dunes of Cape Range National Park.
The current runs parallel to the shore and you can wander up the beach, swim the few metres out to the reef and drift back over the coral.
And paddle a sea kayak about 800 metres out to the Blue Lagoon, a natural four-metres deep hole in the reef about the size of a football field.
You can sway in your hammock in the tropical breeze, munch on Margaret River cheddar, listen to the sea and watch a blazing orange Indian Ocean sunset.
And then the stars emerge and shine with a brightness and stillness that is really only possible this far from light pollution, and choruses of Wonderwall.
We could talk eco-this or bio-that, and whether the GBR has more bleaching than Dolly, Marilyn or Shane, but Ningaloo is a reef less travelled, and that will make all the difference.