The 5 most unforgettable dining experiences on the Great Barrier Reef

You may have dined on the water’s edge, but dining on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef is something completely new entirely. Within this region is the chance to feast on local flavours, picnic on a sand cay, and have your very own daily catch prepared by a hatted restaurant.

The region is famed for its collection of vibrant coral and tropical fish, but the culinary adventures it offers on land will leave big city restaurants in the dust.

Try it for yourself the next time you’re up this way. Here are the best dining experiences and restaurants of the Great Barrier Reef.

Nu Nu Restaurant, Palm Cove

If you’re based in Palm Cove you’re in luck, and not just because it’s so perfectly located for exploring the rainforest as well as the reef. Just up the road from its idyllic shoreline is the iconic Nu Nu Restaurant. S

ince opening, this restaurant has gained national recognition for a creative menu showcasing regional produce and forgotten flavours of North Queensland. So committed to sourcing fresh ingredients, Nu Nu even makes their own artisanal sourdough using a starter that was born in 2000.

Dishes of whole barramundi, line caught reef fish and palm hearts from Innisfail offer a taste of the tropical North on a plate, all before waterfront views of the Coral Sea.

Orpheus Island Lodge, Townsville

Orpheus Island Lodge offers all-inclusive private island accommodation, right in the centre of the Great Barrier Reef. Just 28 guests at a time have the privilege of waking up to the sounds of the reef and enjoying every main meal by the water. This naturally eases the burden on the island’s hatted restaurant.

With only the freshest seasonal produce in their arsenal (they harvest from the island’s own veggie garden as much as possible), they offer an ever changing tapas-style lunch and a four-course dinner every night. They’ll even prepare an indulgent picnic hamper to accompany adventures to nearby island beaches.

When it comes to protein, Orpheus sources their fresh prawns, Moreton Bay bugs, and lobsters from local fisherman, including their own guests. Given its seclusion, Orpheus is a popular destination for keen fishermen wanting to try their luck in the tides. If your efforts prove fruitful, the kitchen team will prepare your fresh catch for dinner that night.

A taste of Lizard Island

Lizard Island | Dining experiences

Photo by @lizardisland

The northernmost island resort on the Reef, Lizard Island is an ideal getaway for couples who share love of food. They offer a comprehensive suite of dining experiences to round out a day of snorkelling on deserted beaches, from beachside picnics to drinks in a world class wine cellar to a degustation dinner.

Pride of the island is the Salt Water restaurant. We can’t tell you exactly what to order because the menu changes daily. We can say that Salt Water’s offerings are dictated by the produce sourced from the surrounding waters and northern hinterland.

Expect the freshest North Queensland seafood combined with flavours of Asian, Modern Australian and European cuisine, complemented by a premium drop from the island’s cellar. And with 180 degree views over Watsons Bay and Osprey Reef, it doesn’t matter where you sit.

Picnic on Vlasoff Cay

Sitting 40km off the coast of Cairns, Vlasoff Cay is a floating stretch of sand stranded in the middle of the Reef. It can only be reached by watercraft or, for those feeling a little more opulent, helicopter. But no matter how you get there, you’ll soon be floored by the cay’s aquamarine waters and near-white sand; the perfect spot for a picnic.

There are plenty of companies that will deliver you and a boozy brunch to this shard of paradise, GBR Helicopters, Nautilus Aviation and HeliTours North Queensland included. Expect heaped plates of fresh tropical fruit, local seafood, champagne, and the glorious reef before you. Just remember to bring shade and SPF.

Pebble Beach Dining, Qualia, Hamilton Island

While the Great Barrier Reef is home to some of the nation’s most opulent resorts, qualia is its most famed. Their focus on sustainability and ethical practices is felt in every aspect of the resort, and no more so than their restaurant Pebble Beach. If the waterfront views don’t draw you in, the menu will.

Executive chef Mark Jensen utilises ingredients with an ethical edge. Seasonal produce is sourced sustainably, and locally where possible, from like-minded producers all across the country. The resultant dishes give a snapshot of the diversity of Australia’s produce and cuisine. To get a full picture of what this looks like, opt for Pebble Beach’s six course tasting menu.

Reefsuites, Whitsundays

Floating just off Airlie Beach, a night at the Whitsundays’ ReefSuites is one of the most incredible ways to experience the reef. This underwater hotel is the first of its kind, bringing you closer than ever to the thousands of fish, rays, and marine mammals swimming around the heritage-listed waters. Just one look through the floor-to-ceiling windows of your suite is all it takes.

All meals are served on the upper deck of the Hardy Reef pontoon. Whether you’re eating breakfast overlooking the water, or digging into dinner beneath the stars, it’s all but impossible to imagine anything more idyllic.