It's a long way from Melbourne to the Great Barrier Reef. For perspective in North America, think of going from Miami to Quebec City and you'll have an idea of the distance, which is 1,829 miles (2,943 km) from Melbourne to Cairns. It's a bit closer to go to Airlie Beach, the southern jumping-off spot for the reef (1,536 miles or 2,471 km), but you're still looking at a great distance to cover (think Miami to Portland, Maine).
That means that unless you are ready to take a very long drive, the fastest and quickest way to get from Melbourne to the Great Barrier Reef is to fly. There is the possibility of taking a train, but that mode of transport will take over two days to cover the distance. Driving is another option, which will also take a few days if you're not in a great hurry.
Covering the distance and seeing the sights is simple if you book our The Best of Melbourne, Sydney, & Cairns - 7 Days tour, which covers touring, hotels and flights. If you have more time to see the wonders of Down Under, consider The Authentic Aussie Adventure: Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, & Cairns - 10 Days trip and we will take care of all your flights and other transfers as part of the tour.
Duration: 6 hours
Catching a nonstop flight from Melbourne (MEL) to Cairns (CNS) is easy, as numerous airlines offer service, including Qantas, Virgin Australia, Tigerair and Jetstar. It will take approximately six hours to fly between the two cities. Once in Cairns, staying near the waterfront in the center of town will put you within walking distance to the boats that will take you on the two- to three-hour trip out to the reef.
To get to the southern part of the reef, fly from Melbourne to Townsville or Mackay, then continue by car to Airlie Beach (where boats head out to the reef) or go by smaller plane or boat to one of the beautiful Whitsunday Islands.
Duration: 34 hours
If you love to drive, then heading north from Melbourne to Cairns is a way to spend a long time in the car (or camper van). The most direct route takes a day and a half, driving nonstop. Of course, stopping along the way makes more sense, so plan for a road trip that lasts for a few days.
Duration: 2 days
If seeing the whole east coast of Australia along the way sounds like a fun way to spend two days, then you can catch a series of trains from Melbourne to Sydney to Brisbane to Cairns. You'll find food and drink on the trains along the way. If you combine two of the Australia Rail Passes available to tourists, the Discovery Pass and the Queensland Explorer Pass, you can take the trip at your own pace, getting on and off trains at interesting spots all along the way.