If you’re looking for one of the most incredible and unique experiences on the Great Barrier Reef, how about a sleepover? Right on the reef, with all the colourful fish swimming right below you.
Well, Cruise Whitsundays have created just that – the ultimate Great Barrier Reef experience, giving you the opportunity to sleep on the reef on their permanent pontoon on Hardy Reef, also known as Reef World. It’s the perfect way to completely immerse yourself in life on the reef with an unforgettable experience. Reefsleep is absolutely a once in a lifetime experience.
At Reef World there are a couple of different experiences you can choose from, to make the most of your time on this section of the Great Barrier Reef. You can choose from, including Reefsleep, Reefsuites and the Great Barrier Reef full day adventure (more on each of them down below). We decided to experience the Reefsleep, where you sleep in a sway under the stars, right on the Great Barrier Reef for the whole night.
To begin our trip we caught the ferry from the Cruise Whitsundays terminal at the Port of Airlie. The ferry leaves at 8am in the morning, and it takes about 3 hours to get out to Hardy Reef, with a short stopover at Hamilton Island to pick up a few more passengers. It’s such a huge boat to get to and from Reef World, a very comfortable ride the whole way with no sea sickness from anyone. The passengers on board the ferry are a mixture of people staying the night as well as visitors who have just come out for the day.
As soon as we arrived all the day trippers jumped straight in the water to maximise their time on the reef (very smart I might add). But since we would be on the island for about 27 hours, we thought we would take our time, so we got some lunch and then jumped on board the semi-submarine.
The semi sub takes you for a half hour ride along the drop off of the reef, where you can see lots of beautiful colourful coral and fish through the bottom of the sub. There was plenty of action along the reef, but one of the highlights was checking out the HUGE seven foot Queensland Grouper that actually lives underneath the pontoon. Apparently grouper do not like the day light at all, so they pretty much hang out underneath the pontoon in the dark during the day and then come out to have a bit of a hunt at night time.
There is so much underwater life to see at Reef World, but some of the best was actually right under the pontoon, where you jump in to go snorkelling. There were heaps of BIG GT’s there, as well as plenty of schools of fish swimming around. Swimming with the GT’s was definitely a highlight for Thom, but their faces actually scared me a little bit, so I tried to keep my distance from them a little bit!
The boat departed at about 3pm, taking the day trippers back to Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach, and then we had the whole pontoon to ourselves. There was only about 20 people staying the night when we did, so you have plenty of room to spread out, chill out and go for a snorkel without being kicked in the face by someone elses fins haha.
We had afternoon tea on the deck, canapes as we watched the sunset, had dinner under the stars (which was absolutely delicious by the way), and then it is back to our reefbed for the night. The reefbeds are actually really spacious and comfortable. They are quite large, warm and protective from the weather and the elements, and we had so much fun sleeping over here in the middle of the ocean! During the day they are converted to a day bed, so you have your own little private chill out zone, and then in the evening the team on board convert them into your beds for the night.
The next morning breakfast is served early, and then you can jump back in the water for a snorkel or a dive before the next boat of day trippers arrived. We actually spent a lot of the morning just enjoying the sun and watching the GTs swim by in the underwater observatory.
Extra activities at Reef World
While you’re at Reef World there are lots of extra activities you can add to your visit if you want to get a little more out of your Great Barrier Reef experience.
Diving: Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced scuba diver, the Great Barrier Reef is the perfect location to get underwater on a guided dive. If you choose a beginner dive you will be taught the basics at the pontoons dive centre, before jumping into the open ocean. Certified diving is also available for those with a little more experience, to completely immerse yourself in the underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef.
Introductory dives cost $139 per person, while certified dives are an extra $109 per person. All second dives while you’re on Reef World cost $59.
Guided Snorkel Safari: You can also book yourself onto a guided snorkel safari, where a reef expert will take you out and teach you all about the different types of coral and marine life you find under the sea. A guided snorkel safari costs $59 per adult and goes for around 30 minutes and is a great introduction to this part of the reef.
Heli-scenic flights: Scenic helicopter flights are also available from the Reed World pontoon, giving you a beautiful aerial view of Hardy Reef and the infamous Heart Reef which is not too far away. This is one of my favourite places to see the Great Barrier Reef from the sky, with some of the best photo opportunities.
Great Barrier Reef full day adventure
If you don’t want to sleep out on the reef you can actually just do a day trip out to Reef World. Known as the Great Barrier Reef Full Day Adventure, you will have about 4 hours to spend snorkelling and diving at Hardy Reef from the Reef World pontoon. During your day trip you will also have access to the underwater observatory and the semi-submarine guided tour, and morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea are all provided as well.
You can jump on a day tour to Reef World from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island, and tickets cost $279 per adult for the full day (discounts for children).
Upgrade to Reefsuites
For the ultimate luxury experience, Cruise Whitsundays have created something truly special with the Reefsuites. Australia’s first and only underwater accommodation, you can watch the fish swimming around you all night in this truly special room. One wall and some of the floor is entirely made of glass (including in the bathroom), giving you the ultimate room with a view.
One of the couples who stayed in the Reefsuites while we were on Reef World said they saw sea turtles eating the algae around the windows of their room, and that after dark the GIANT groper from under the pontoon come out to play.
Reefsuites costs $799 per person twin share and is often booked out for up to 6 months in advance. If you want to get out here for a special occasion, make sure you book as early as you can.
What to pack for your Reefsleep
If you’re staying overnight at ReefWorld it’s a good idea to pack a small overnight bag for your stay. You should bring with you a change of clothes, toiletries and a towel to have a shower, bathers and a beach towel, a hat, sunscreen, a jumper or light jacket for when it gets a bit cooler in the evening, and of course your camera.
The reefbeds have a large drawer underneath them for you to store your bags and all your different bits and pieces, as well as smaller hatches in the headboard of the reefbed. They are also powered, so you’re able to charge your phone or camera with a USB cable, but there are no power points.
Important note: It’s probably a good idea to mention that while the day trip boat was alongside the pontoon we had a little bit of 3G phone reception (Telstra only), enough to make a short call or send a text if you need to. However, once the boat left for the evening we didn’t have any reception until it returned the next day. Perfect opportunity to disconnect and unwind.
Price: Reefsleep costs $595 per person twin share.
Departure: The Reefsleep experience departs at 8am from the Port of Airlie at the Cruise Whitsundays terminal. It’s an overnight, 2 full days experience, and will get you back to the Port of Airlie at about 6pm the following day.
Return coach transfers are also available, for $12.50 per adult. Make sure you organise these when you make your booking if you need a lift from your accommodation.
Inclusions: Reefsleep and Reefsuites are all inclusive experiences, which covers all meals (1 breakfast, 2 morning and afternoon teas, 2 buffet lunches and 1 dinner under the stars), beer, wine and soft drink, and a semi-submarine guided tour.
For more information and to book your stay on the reef check out the Cruise Whitsunday website.
We experienced the Reef Sleep as guests of Cruise Whitsunday. All opinions are, as always, our own.