The moment all the other snorkellers, divers, semi-sub riders and helicopter fliers leave and you are alone on a pontoon in the middle of the Coral Sea, is a moment of unrivalled peace. It is a peace that only grows on a Reef Sleep Adventure with Queensland's Cruise Whitsundays.
It’s the peace of a sunset that turns the ocean golden, the peace of a blood-red moonrise. The peace of a million-billion-trillion stars, and the peach-coloured candy-floss clouds of morning.
And oh, the Great Barrier Reef. To have these walls of coral, shelves of coral, the shoals of mesmerising, glinty fish and the aquamarine waters of Hardy Reef in the Whitsundays all to yourself is a special privilege.
So let’s begin. Our Reef Sleep adventure started on Hamilton Island, which we had made our base for a Whitsundays sojourn. Board the Cruise Whitsundays’ high-speed cat in the morning for the three-hour trip out to the Reefworld pontoon.
Special seats aboard the vessel are reserved for the handful of Reef Sleepers (numbers are limited to nine) who will spend the night in swags under the stars on the pontoon’s top deck. Morning tea is served along the way.
Hilarious staff give a run down on what to do at the pontoon, how to snorkel, safety precautions and more, while taking bookings for massages (en route and on the pontoon); as well as the highly recommended snorkel tours, diving groups, and scenic flights.
Spend the day in the water exploring the reef. Or for those who want to stay dry, take a scenic flight, hop in the semi-submersible for a spin around the coral shelf; or take to the underwater viewing room. Keep an eye out for turtles Chip, Chunky and Charlie, and the two groupers who can be tricky to spot without help from the on-deck viewing spot.
A buffet lunch is provided – think prawns, and lots of ‘em, chicken and salads. But at 3pm the day guests depart and your Reef Sleep adventure begins.
More Whitsundays inspiration:
The silence is more than golden, the horizon stretches away. Gradually the noddy birds that make the nearby disused pontoon their home come over to say hello, lining the railings and wires.
Relax and sip a sundowner as helpful staff set up your swags on the top deck – comfortable, tent-like cocoons that keep you warm, but let you see the stars. A barbecue dinner is served as the curious noddy birds swoop in for a closer look.
If you’re certified, you might take a night dive, or head into the underwater viewing room to watch the giant trevally patrolling streams of baitfish that gleam in beams of light from the pontoon.
When the lights go out, the darkness is complete. Drift off to the sound of GTs splashing as they jump for food, the chattering of the noddy birds and the gentle lap of the waves. But be warned, the moon can shine so bright you might have trouble sleeping.
Morning brings with it bacon and eggs, orange juice, tea and coffee, and a chance to snorkel again in those empty waters, before the day’s hordes arrive. And then it’s another round of undersea exploration, delicious food, sunbathing and scuba before heading home with the day guests.
Or, if you can swing it, take a helicopter back to Hamilton Island’s airport instead. Those stupendous photographs of the reef from above don’t nearly do it justice. The fractal-like patterns swirl away, as manta rays and turtles make their way through the maze.
From star-scapes to sea-scapes, you really are one of the fortunate few on a Reef Sleep Adventure.