Mission #5: Great Barrier Reef
One of the most popular trips in the Whitsundays that you cannot miss is the cruise to the Great Barrier Reef.
We actually ended up going twice because it was automatically in our travel package and we also booked the Reefsleep experience for The Adventouriist’s birthday.
What you need to know firstly is that it’s about a three hour ride from Airlie Beach, then you get to spend roughly four hours on the Cruise Whitsundays pontoon. Dubbed ‘Reefworld’, this is almost like a permanent boat on the reef.
- Snorkeling: The most popular activity to do as there are ropes to guide you and lifejackets for those who can’t swim (moi)! It is truly beautiful to see the coral and fish up close, but it’s also crowded. The good thing about the Reefsleep is that you get to stay on board after everyone leaves and snorkel in a more peaceful environment.
- Scuba diving: Both The Adventouriist and I have never gone scuba diving before, so we thought the Great Barrier Reef would be the perfect place to start. For beginners and non-certified divers, a guide pretty much holds your hand and all you have to do is breathe. This still was scary and breathing felt a lot different – but I’m glad we did it!
- Helicopter rides: The reef is truly a sight from above, as you see on the many scenic Instagram photos. And yes – it looks exactly like that! We’d never been on a helicopter before, so another first. We flew over the famous Heart Reef, which is actually quite small so it’s lucky our pilot pointed it out.
- Semi-submersible vessel: We were a little put off by this one as someone vomited right before we boarded…it was not too special. It has an underwater viewing chamber as it moves on a little trip away from and then back to the pontoon whilst our guide speaks about the marine animals and reef. The windows are a little dirty/murky from the many trips. It’s more for people who don’t want to get in the water – but if you can, just go snorkelling!
- Relaxing: You’ll be fighting for a tanning bed but if you stay for the Reefsleep, then the next day you’ll be the first ones on board. There’s also a buffet lunch of the usual, unexciting cold food including prawns.
What is the Reefsleep?
Around 3pm, the cruise will make its journey back to Airlie Beach. The 4 hours on the pontoon can feel quite rushed – it’s packed with people, you need to put on your swimming gear and you also need to line up for lunch (nothing special).
But at 3pm Reefsleepers stay on board with a small group of people and a handful of staff. You get to snorkel with a staff guide after everyone leaves, you can dive the next morning before the crowds and you can also do a night dive, but it’s only for certified divers.
And that’s because you stay overnight and get to sleep in a swag under the stars of the Great. Barrier. Reef.
Our host Skye was lovely. She kept some requested drinks on board for us, she cooked a great BBQ dinner and breakfast and she brought out a sticky date with a sparkler when she heard it was The Adventouriist’s birthday.
The group we were with was great, full of friendly and talkative people and with an almost even split between Americans and Melburnians!
My favourite parts? Laying on the upper deck stargazing and listening to the ocean breeze. We then saw a swarm of clouds slowly edge towards us and I had to wake The Adventouriist up because she became so relaxed.
Unfortunately this meant we had to sleep on the lower deck in case of rain but it was still amazing.
A quirky bonus was watching George, the 3m Maori Wrasse who has taken up residency along the pontoon. He’s big and ugly but he came out for a feed at night, which apparently he hardly does! Let’s just say if I was doing a night dive – I would not want to bump into George.
So my final advice – do the Reefsleep for something a bit extra and a more personal experience. Naturally the Great Barrier Reef is going to be a popular tourist destination but this way you get to appreciate its beauty even more. Read more about it here.