Visting Australia? Then chances are a day trip to scuba dive and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef is on the cards. But did you know you can extend your stay and actually spend a night on the reef, in the middle of the ocean, under millions of stars? It’s called the Reefsleep, and we were lucky enough to experience it on our visit. Watch our video below and read on for a summary of our visit!
The Great Barrier Reef
The astounding Great Barrier Reef – one of the 7 wonders of the natural world – is a collection of more than 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands that cover an area over 2,300 kilometers off the coast of Queensland, Australia. Formed millions of years ago, it is the largest structure in the world to be made entirely of living organisms – so large, in fact, that it’s visible from space! These living organisms are known as coral polyps, and billions of them come together to create and nurture one of the richest ecosystems on planet earth – and one of the world’s most breathtaking sites for a snorkel or scuba dive. Oh, and it also happens to be home to Finding Nemo :)
Cruise Whitsundays is a day cruise operator that connects various points of interest around the Whitsundays Islands. They also manage Reefworld, a large pontoon that floats on shallow waters right next to the coral wall of Hardy Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef. After two nights on beautiful Hamilton Island, we jumped onto one of their ferries, and two hours of choppy sailing later, we were smack on top of the reef!
Tip: if you are prone to getting seasick, make sure you pack some motion sickness pills or buy them on board – parts of the ride can be quite rough!
The Great Barrier Reef From Above
Before jumping into our wetsuits and diving underwater, we decided to go in the opposite direction to get true sense of the size and scale of the reef. Cruise Whitsundays operates helicopter rides a short way off the pontoon, and the aerial views are truly spectacular.
The Great Barrier Reef From Below
Once safely back on “land” we were ready to see the reef up close from below the surface. Reefworld provides all the equipment you need to accomplish this: wetsuits (mostly to protect from jellyfish, not the warm 27 degree water), flippers, snorkels, floatation devices, and even scuba gear for those looking to go deeper.
If getting wet is not your idea of fun, you can still catch a glimpse of the rich marine life by hopping on a free semi-submersible ride, also operated by Reefworld.
Tip: While you’ll get to see a decent amount of coral and fish on this ride, it will mostly have a green tinge from the glass. The images below were taken from the semi-submerisble, but we corrected them in Photoshop to draw out the colors we actually saw when we snorkeled and scuba dived.
If you’re wondering why the colors don’t looks exactly like the images you see in magazines or TV shows, it’s because those crews use professional lighting equipment that helps bring out the bright hues in the coral. Divers like you and I won’t be able to recreate those conditions, but the incredible diversity of marine life you’ll see will more than make up for it.
ReefSleep: Sleeping on the Great Barrier Reef
And here’s MissMalini posing up a storm in her Adidas Originals gear :)
Stretching out above the watersports, on the top level of the pontoon, is a sun deck with sun beds for those who want to work on their tan or just chill out. For most people, a day on the reef ends at 3pm when the ferry returns to the mainland. But for up to 12 lucky folks, the sun deck turns into a private camping ground. Sleeping in a “swag” (an Aussie cross between a sleeping bag and a tent) is when you really get to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the reef. Aside from a beautiful sunset & sunrise, the absence of any manmade lights for miles around means you’ll discover more stars in the night sky than you ever imagined existed. And since there are no bugs or creepy-crawlies in the middle of the ocean, you can actually sleep out in the open air!
Tip: When we did our sleep, we shared the pontoon with some rather unwelcome guests: loud, squawking, sh*tting birds who had been displaced from their cave after a nearby cyclone. As a result, we slept with our double-swag mostly closed for the night, so make sure you find out about the birdie situation before you book your trip if that’s a concern for you.
Swaging is definitely a unique experience, more camping than luxury, but one we’d definitely recommend (and there’s a double room available below deck if the swag sounds too intense).
Worried the Reefsleep may be too close to nature for comfort? It’s definitely not a 5 star hotel experience, but what the pontoon lacks in luxury the staff more than makes up for in hospitality. Check out the romantic sunset dinner they put together for us:
And then, of course, there was breakfast at sunrise:
As an added bonus, after a memorable day and night on the reef, you get to spend a second full day snorkeling and diving before you catch the 3pm ferry back. This gives you plenty of time to try out all the various activities on offer get your full fix off the Great Barrier Reef.
Want a great way to wind down 30 hours on the reef? Cap it off with a relaxing massage on the sun deck. Doesn’t get much better than that :)
Whether you spend the night or just make it a day trip, the Great Barrier Reef is a truly unique and memorable holiday destination that will remind you just how incredibly beautiful nature can be when left untouched. Sadly, it’s been estimated that the reef has lost nearly half of its coral cover since 1985, and that trend has not reversed. Bottom line – get out there, and get out there fast!
** MissMalini is one of 22 bloggers from around the world invited to explore Queensland by Tourism & Events Queensland. As always, all editorial control – including our reviews, opinions, and what we choose to cover – remains completely our own.**
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