Whether you want to snorkel it, scuba dive it, fly over it, maybe just look at it, or even sleep out on it, the Whitsunday Islands offer everyone –young or old, tepid or intrepid, city slicker or backpacker – the opportunity to experience the Great Barrier Reef, whichever way you want.
The Outer Reef is roughly two hours’ journey from Airlie Beach, and stepping off the ReefWorld platform that’s moored here on Hardy Reef, the warm waters reveal fish of every size and hue, from tiny little yellow fish that hide between the fingers of branching coral to the big blue Maori wrasse.
This is where you get to choose your own adventure.
The ReefWorld pontoon is like a little floating village out on the Reef. It’s a hive of activity for the four hours that the mothership – the Cruise Whitsundays Seaflight – a modern, almost futuristic looking catamaran is moored alongside.
Everyone gets to see a bit of the Great Barrier Reef in their own way, some even taking a scenic helicopter flight over the nearby (and world-famous) Heart Reef.
For non-swimmers, the semisubmersible departs the pontoon every 20 minutes for a guide tour of the reef wall. Stay comfortably dry and gaze out the large flat windows at the marine-scape below, as a marine biologist explains some of the many complex interactions going on before your eyes – like cleaning stations – busy hubs where bigger fish come to get preened by smaller fish – an amazing little reef society hard at work. Once someone points out what to look for, you can see cleaning stations everywhere, and even spot the queue of fish waiting patiently nearby for their turn.
For those who want to get a bit closer to the reef society, floating still and silently above a cleaning station is one of the most rewarding ways to see a great variety marine life.
Discover Scuba Diving
Six metres below the pontoon, and not long after arriving at the Hardy Reef pontoon, people of all ages take the plunge and try their first scuba dive. The pontoon has a submerged platform, which makes it really easy (and less scary) to actually take the plunge. Divers skirt the reef edge, flying over coral bommies and stopping periodically to observe the delicate marine life at close quarters.
Sleepover on the Reef
At 3pm sharp, the Seaflight departs to take guests back to their resorts in the Whitsunday Islands or, if you’re not quite ready to leave the Reef, after the boat departs ReefWorld turns into ReefSleep. Left behind on the pontoon, the ocean stretching in all directions for as far as the eye can see, enjoy a glass of sparkling or a beer or two while watching the sunset.
ReefSleep also provides an opportunity for night diving on the Great Barrier Reef – a chance to see a completely different set of creatures, like the fire urchins, the Lions paw sea cucumbers and the crazy alien-like shrimps who in their hundreds come out and clean up anything that’s been left behind.
After exploring the Reef at night, divers are rewarded with a barbecue dinner before retiring for the night in a swag under the stars, surrounded by the silent, living Coral Sea.
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