TheWhitsundays Outer Reef is where the true diving delights of the Great Barrier Reef are to be found. It’s a bit of a trek getting there, but well worth the effort.
It’s a part of the seven natural wonders of the world and is visited by over 2 million tourists each year, so you can’t go past a trip to Whitsundays Outer Reef. This swim is definitely on every Aussie’s bucket list.
What is the Outer Reef?
The Outer Reef refers to the reefs that grow from the ocean floor up, and are typically isolated from the coastal mainlands. Not being surrounded by islands has its advantages, you’ll be able to have 360 uninterrupted views from atop the boat and the entire open-ocean is yours to play in.
Compared to the Inner Fringing Reef (found on islands), the Outer Reef has harder coral and some larger marine species roaming around. Just for your information, it also takes a little longer to get to, generally being a whole day trip to tour.
Where is the Outer Reef?
The true diving delights of the Whitsundays are to be found in its outer limits. Just 30 – 40 kilometres northeast of Hook Island and accessible from Airlie Beach, Shute Harbour and Hamilton Island, if you take no other commercial tours during your Whitsundays experience, you must visit the outer reef.
In fact, if you want to make this a day to file away as one you’ll remember forever, forgo the boat trip and fly out by helicopter or seaplane. Soaring over the islands and intricate reef patterns is mesmerising, even more so if your visit coincides with Humpback Whale migration season (July to September).
Trips to the Outer Reef
Day trips are the regular favourites to visit the reef. There are so many chartered operators out there that it might get a bit hard to choose. Sailing Whitsundays offers a variety of reef day tours, from seaplanes, boats, pontoons and helicopters. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, but don’t want to compromise on the magic of the views, book yourself into the Explore: Great Barrier Reef tour. For only $250 per person, you’ll get to visit two locations on the tour, have access to an onboard shower, buffet lunch and snacks and high-quality snorkelling and scuba gear.
Staying overnight on the Great Barrier Reef is an extraordinary, almost surreal experience. Most extended dive charters will include at least one night on the reef, which is often the highlight of an overnight dive adventure. With a low reef profile just visible above the water at low tide, all reference points completely disappear at high tide, creating an eerie feeling for those unaccustomed to being far from land.
Cruise Whitsundays offer a Reefsleep option for up to eight overnighters on their enormous self-contained pontoon, permanently moored at Hardy Reef, home of the famous Heart Reef. There’s also an underwater observatory and explorer here for those who want to experience the reef with their clothes on. There’s also an underwater observatory and explorer on board for those who want to experience the reef with their clothes on.
What to See
Dive-focused day trips tend to visit Bait Reef and the Stepping Stones dive site, a series of 18 or more flat-topped coral pinnacles with channels and caves to explore. Snorkelers can easily view the coral gardens atop the bommies, which are just a few metres below the surface.
The guided snorkelling tours and introductory/certified dives are a little extra to do on most tours. On the guided snorkel tour you’ll be taken around by a scuba professional and spot a range of creatures and a lot more of the reef’s beauty.
There is a countless number of marine animals that frolic around the Great Barrier Reef. It is home to over 1,500 species of fish and a similar number of coral reef species. You might even see some turtles wading in the water alongside sea birds, whales and dolphins. And if you spot a stingray, don’t worry because your suit will be stinger proof.
While you’re on the journey there and back, put down the phone or camera and just enjoy the scenery around. You’ll be passing through the Whitsundays Passage, past uninhabited islands that will make your jaw drop.
You’ll find a heap of charter operators that can take you out to the outer reef. Take your pick of a day trip or an extended cruise. While if you’re feeling a little need for some luxe in your life, you could book a spot on a Seaplane or Helicopter. These routes depart from both Hamilton Island and Whitsunday Airport.