Ride an underwater scooter, meet the traditional owners of the reef, or sleep on a pontoon moored 39 nautical miles from land – these are some of the quirkiest ways to explore the Great Barrier Reef.
The only living structure on Earth visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef is incredibly vast. And there’s a tantalising array of options for exploring it. Whether from above or below, here are five unique ways to experience the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem on your next Great Barrier Reef Holiday.
Sleep on the reef
Fancy drifting off to sleep with nothing but the sounds of the ocean and the call of seabirds as your lullaby, and a canopy of stars as your nightlight? Or waking up to sunrise over an infinite seascape? Sign up for Reefsleep. Located 39 nautical miles from shore, on Hardy Reef, this is accommodation with a difference. A permanently moored pontoon on the outer Great Barrier Reef, it promises practically unparalleled access to the underwater playground.
You’ll arrive by day and have plenty of time to swim and snorkel the reef, ride in a semi-submarine, or visit the pontoon’s underwater observatory. You’ll bed down on a souped-up swag with a proper mattress and pillow on its own small platform, sharing the deck with just a handful of other souls. Each stay includes all food, beer and wine (two morning and two afternoon teas, two lunches, dinner and breakfast).
If the thought of a swag doesn’t quite cut the mustard, then opt for one of the pontoon’s two underwater ‘Reefsuites’ instead, which feature private bathrooms, double beds and floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase the ocean and all its inhabitants.
See Heart Island from above
Perhaps the most iconic sight in all of the Whitsundays (and for international visitors, maybe even one of the most iconic in Australia) Heart Reef has become something of a must-see for visitors to the region.
Because of its protected status, you can’t dive or snorkel at Heart Reef, but really, the best way to view this photogenic wall of coral is from above anyway. A number of different operators offer scenic flights over the reef. Some are combined with an aerial tour of Whitehaven Beach, and others include a stop on the famous stretch of sand, or even a beach picnic. Expect to pay around $330 per person for a one-hour flight.
Uncover Indigenous heritage
There are some 70 Traditional Owner clan groups whose sea country includes the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Yet when you look around the coastal cities and towns that line the Great Barrier Reef, there’s little mention of this heritage that dates back tens of thousands of years. Enter Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel. The company’s full-day Dreamtime Cruise is led by Indigenous sea rangers, and throughout the day there are nods to First Nations culture and local legacy: from an Indigenous welcome and acknowledgment to learning about the Great Barrier Reef creation story, a bush foods tasting, and a lunch spread that includes a smattering of native ingredients (think lemon myrtle roast chicken breast, and native dukkah crusted smoked kangaroo loin).
The cruise, of course, also shows off the reef in all its natural beauty. You’ll visit two outer Great Barrier Reef sites, where you’ll have the opportunity to snorkel or take an introductory or certified dive.
Take an underwater scooter ride
Self-drive, but make it subaquatic: that’s the unusual promise of the Scuba Doo, an optional add-on to Great Adventures’ outer reef tours. Don your scuba dome helmet, jump on your scooter and descend three metres into the deep blue, weaving between schools of fish and technicolour coral reefs on a fully guided tour. The scooter has simple controls for left and right, ‘go’ and ‘stop’. You don’t even have to be able to swim to take the Scuba Doo and experience life underwater. Plus, you can keep your glasses on rather than fiddling around with contacts or getting a prescription snorkel mask made.
Stroll around on the seafloor
If you’re nervous at the prospect of snorkelling or scuba diving, and the thought of an underwater scooter ride has piqued your interest then another unique option worth considering is the Seawalker Helmet Dive Tour.
Gear up à la Jacques Cousteau (though with a much more comfortable and modern helmet) and descend five metres to the sandy seafloor, ready to go on a rather unconventional stroll. In the safe hands of an experienced guide you’ll survey the reefs for marine life and admire the multitude of corals that call it home. The Seawalker tour is an optional activity that’s offered as part of Great Adventures’ Green Island cruises.
For more great travel tips read our Ultimate guide to the Great Barrier Reef.