Whitsundays: Must Do...
There can be few more unique experiences offered in the world than the chance to sleep under the stars, 40 nautical miles from shore on the Great Barrier Reef! Cruise Whitsundays’ “Reefworld” is located on Hardy Reef – one of the most spectacular stretches of the Great Barrier Reef and this is the destination for our day visitors, but for a lucky few, it’s a once in a lifetime, breathtaking and memorable overnight experience.
THAT GREAT REEF
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is the largest coral reef system in the world, stretching 2,300 kilometres long and up to 230 kilometres wide in places. Only 6% of the marine park is made up of Coral Reef, the rest is populated with seagrass, mangroves, sponge gardens, inter-reefal communities, sand and other habitats. But that 6% of coral reef is beyond spectacular. Words do not do this natural wonder justice. You simply have to see it with your own eyes.
Cruise Whitsundays do day trips out to the reef. They leave from the Maritime Terminal at Port of Airlie at 8am with a drop-off/pick-up stop at Hamilton Island on the way out and back to the reef. By 11.30am you’re on Hardy Reef.
While you’re cruising out to the reef, morning tea is served on the boat. It is a massive cruiser transporting about 350 people to the reef. On the way out you have the opportunity to book in to do additional activities such as a scuba dive, a helicopter ride over Heart Reef, or have a massage out on the pontoon. We’re down for both Scuba and helicopter. We want to see as much under and over the reef as we can.
These guys are true professionals and they run the show like clock-work. As the boat pulls up alongside Reefworld – a massive pontoon on Hardy Reef – all guests know what time their dive is, or helicopter ride, and pile off onto the pontoon to get their stinger suit, snorkel gear and head out onto the reef to be amazed.
For the next 3.5 hours you can swim, snorkel, dive or relax on the boat or pontoon. Lunch is a buffet onboard the boat and served between 12 and 2pm. The time goes quick, but the experience is etched in your mind forever.
The helicopter Flight over Heart Reef is pure spectacular-ness! Like the first time you see the Opera House or the Taj Mahal. You’re surprised by its size, but blown away by its beauty. And the colours! Every shade of blue and green you can imagine.
At 3pm, all the day-trippers go back on board the boat and make their way back to Airlie Beach.
We stand on the top deck of Reefworld (the giant pontoon) and wave the day-trippers off. We (and ten others) now have the entire Hardy Reef to ourselves. And this is an experience of a lifetime.
Without flippers in your face, and the churn of hundred of other divers and snorkelers in the water, you can take in the reef on your own, in total silence. At one point, there is just the two of us snorkeling the Great Barrier reef (or Hardy Reef to be precise). We get up close and personal with a giant Maori Russ, we play chasings with Chip the sea turtle (his knickname since he has a big chip in his shell as a result of Debbie) and feed the fish. All experiences that only the Reef Sleepers can enjoy.
We watch the sunset over the reef while enjoying mezze platter and drinks, and then a beautiful dinner. The calm. The serenity. The tranquility. No words! It is now that the reef really comes to life in the darkness of the night. You can hear the fish talk, the coral breath, the birds sing. I’ve never been so encased by nature. Ever.
We sleep under the stars in our comfy swag on the top deck of the pontoon. The soothing, slow lapping of the ocean lulls us to sleep. In the morning, we wake up with the sun. As it rises in the sky, you can see the tips of the coral reef break the water. It is low tide.
After a home-cooked breakfast, we enjoy more private time with the reef before the next lot of day guests join us. We hear it’s 320 people. We feel we’ve bonded with the reef and the animals, and the day-trippers won’t enjoy the same connection we have.
We enjoy another full day on the reef before heading back to civilisation that afternoon with the rest of the day-trippers. The difference being we shared something special and intimate. We were up-close and very personal with one of the greatest wonders of the world. It’s a massive ten out of 10 on the experience scale.
SAIL THE SEAS
If you can’t do a Reef Sleep, you can still sleep under the stars on board a luxury Catamaran or Monohulls. Dream Yacht Charter, who operate out of Airlie Beach, can get you sailing without having a boat license. They will teach you everything you need to know before you set sail. They will also let you board 4pm the day before your departure. This gives you time to settle in and get your sea legs. This extra night is at no additional fee. They are a world class operation and teach you all you need to know to sail the Whitsundays. They’ll even kit you out with a few toys like kayaks, paddle boards, and snorkeling gear if you need.
PROVIDENCE SAILING SUNSET CRUISE
You can not visit The Whitsundays and not board a yacht, if even just for a few hours. It is a sailing mecca offering some of the world’s best sailing. And on the water, that is as blue as blue itself, you can fully appreciate the beauty that surrounds.
For me, the prettiest time is at sunset, when the colours constantly change and there is a soothing stillness as the day morphs into night. Definitely do a sunset cruise. Providence V is a classic 62-ft gaff-rigged schooner, which offers day and sunset sails in the Whitsundays. For the boaties, she is a unique vessel built as an American bluenose out of all North Queensland timber. You’ll depart Abell Point for a leisurely two hour sunset sail around Pioneer Bay including nibbles and a glass of bubbles. If you go on a Sunday, get there early and spend time at the marina – there’s usually a band playing, and will put you in the mood for a relaxed sunset. A stunning way to close out the day.
The Reef Gateway Bistro is within walking distance to the Big4 Adventure park and the Mantra Club Croc, so if you want a tasty and easy meal out, you can’t go past the Reef Gateway Bistro. The menu is upmarket pub food, as well as healthy light meals and pizza & pasta. The menu changes to incorporate what is local and seasonal. Typical Airlie Beach relaxed and welcoming.
Fat Frog Cafe
Funky, friendly and unique in one of Airlie's most spectacular beachfront locations. The Fat Frog serves up scrumptious, healthy food ... made in-house with love!!! Whether you choose to sit indoors or out the view is like a postcard. Great coffee too. This fast became our favourite place to eat.
Peach & Pear
Peach & Pear specialise in picnic hampers, gourmet platters, canapes and individual breakfast, lunch, and dinners for resort arrivals, boat whatever really. We used Peach & Pear to cater for us while staying at Palm Bay. It was delivered to the boat so we didn’t have to do a thing – except enjoy.