Winston Aldworth is the Herald's Travel Editor.

Winston Aldworth: Oh for awesome beneath the waves

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Lady Elliot turtles at Southern Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. Photo / Supplied
Lady Elliot turtles at Southern Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. Photo / Supplied

It's taken about 20,000 years to build one of the natural wonders of the world, but Kiwi travellers can put themselves right in the middle of the thing within just a few hours.

Stretching for 2600km along the Queensland coast, the Great Barrier Reef is the only living thing visibile from space. For the best views, however, you need to get a whole lot closer and a whole lot wetter.

In these excitable times, the word awesome is often dangerously over-used. But a brush with our planet's most stunning wonders can invigorate our respect for nature, remind us what the "awe" bit in "awesome" really means and maybe - just maybe - inspire us to take greater care of the planet.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says climate change is the biggest threat to the health of the reef. A dive on the reef - or even a visit to the region - reminds travellers of the stunning beauty of the natural world and gives us enough of a taste of true awe to encourage us to look after the planet.

This week, Herald Travel is exploring the reef - we've gone under the water, on the water and along the land in search of everything the region has to offer.

For anyone with a PADI certificate, a trip to the reef is a must. So we've listed the top dive sites where you can get among the 1500 species of fish and - yes - 500 different types of seaweed. This undersea playground offers plenty for divers of all levels of experience, from the saltiest sea dog to those still, er, wet behind the ears.

Meanwhile back on dry land, our writers have gone for the very best of Queensland's adventurous north and found relaxation in the Daintree.

This place is the jewel in Australia's tourism crown; a bucket-list banker for travellers the world over. The Great Barrier Reef draws in just about two million visitor days annually.

That's a lot of awe. Dive in.

- NZ Herald

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