Sleeping under the stars on Hardy Reef in the Whitsundays
There has always been something special about waking up to the sound of the ocean. The gentle lapping of waves and soft whistle of a salty breeze accompanied by sunshine rising above the horizon. Imagine this experience on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia’s natural wonder off the coast of the Whitsundays in Queensland. During the Reefsleep experience you can spend a night under the stars, wake up to the sun rising over the Coral Sea then snorkel after breakfast, sounds pretty perfect right!?
A few short weeks ago I was lucky enough to take part in the Reefsleep experience with Cruise Whitsundays and I have to say, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Having lived in the Whitsundays for a number of years as a child then again for 6 years as an adult on Hayman Island, I was always curious about what happened out on the reef after dark. Was it silent and a little eerie? Something only sailors with sea legs can do?
Luckily, for my sea sickness prone stomach it was something anyone can do. Sleeping on the Heart Pontoon may as well be like sleeping on solid ground. It’s sturdy and secure meaning you won’t get the usual rocking and rolling feeling you get on yachts. Hooray!
But first, let me start from the beginning and then I’ll fill the page with photos because after all, that’s what a ‘Visual’ hotel review is all about.
Starting bright and early in Airlie Beach, we took the Cruise Whitsundays boat first to Hamilton Island and then onward out to Hardy Reef. Passing by some of the 74 islands that make up the Whitsunday group, we were also treated to some friendly displays by a number of Humpback Whales that visit the region between the months of May to October.
Arriving at Heart Pontoon it felt a little crazy knowing that it would be our home for the night. Two full days of underwater adventures ahead and nothing in sight for miles except glistening seas and coral reef.
During the day as a Reef Sleep guest you do have to share the pontoon with day trippers but after 3pm it’s all yours and you’ll take great glee in waving the boat goodbye as it sails towards the mainland. If you’re suited up and ready to jump back in the water, you can do so the moment the boat leaves the pontoon and you’ll get quite a shock at just how many fish are there!
Two full days of underwater adventures ahead and nothing in sight for miles except glistening seas and coral reef.
Less people in the water means so many more fish are peeping out and swimming about. We took full advantage of the private snorkelling time and made sure we didn’t leave the water until the granny wrinkles were in full force. Part of the reason we were booked on the reef sleep experience was to make the most of the Great Barrier Reef without crowds. To capture the underwater world in it’s most natural state and to photograph a series of underwater portraits (you can find them here).
Come sunset, the hot showers are turned on so you can freshen up for canapes and get ready to watch the sun go down. If like me ‘watching’ the sunset means mainly ‘photographing’ the sunset, then you’ll be surprised that you can actually photograph, watch and eat your way through a spread of canapes at the same time. Drinks and nibbles are brought up to the top deck to enjoy at sunset and because the deck is quite small, you’re never too far away from the food to take a photo!
After a delicious dinner (which you order from a menu before arriving), the fun really begins. Finally all that wondering about what happens after dark is exposed.
There has always been something special about waking up to the sound of the ocean. The gentle lapping of waves and soft whistle of a salty breeze accompanied by sunshine rising above the horizon.
The Great Barrier Reef is alive…really, really alive!
At night you’ll hear splashes, see shadows in the water and get to hand with cute little sea birds that roost for the night on deck. The pontoon has a very cool spot lurking beneath, an underwater viewing chamber which you can access during the day, but at night…wowsers, that’s when things get very interesting.
Giant trevally are darting around, schools of fish slowly cruise past the window and one big surprise, a massive 3 metre long giant grouper called George. We actually saw George’s shadow from above the water and thought he was a giant shark cruising through. You’ve never seen five grown adults screaming and running faster with excitement that our group down to the underwater viewing chamber…to discover that it in fact wasn’t a mega shark, instead a big chunky grouper just getting his dinner.
George kept us occupied for about two hours…who said you need TV!?
The sun rays were gleaming through the clouds and illuminating the shallow pockets of water into a teal tone.
When it came time to get some sleep, the swags were a cosy retreat with plenty of flaps available so you could choose how much, or how little air got inside. We opted to keep our side panel open with just the light fly screen layer so we could watch the stars and get woken by sunrise.
Speaking of sunrise…I’m no morning person but when my weary eyes were greeted by a glimmer or light in the distance I bolted out of the swag to get my camera. The sun rays were gleaming through the clouds and illuminating the shallow pockets of water into a teal tone.
A perfect start to another full day snorkelling and enjoying the underwater magic on the Great Barrier Reef. Actually, mother nature treated us to a glass out, one of those amazing days where the weather is extremely still and the surface of the water is glass-like. So lucky!
Hello! I’m the founder and photographer behind The Wandering Lens. With 14+yrs experience as a professional travel and landscape photographer, all advice found on this site is from my personal experience on the road. I hope it’s useful for your own travels and would love to hear in the comments about your trips and experiences around the world.
I'm Lisa Michele Burns, a professional photographer and founder of The Wandering Lens from Australia. Welcome to your guide to photographing the world, improving your photography and scouting unique and inspiring places to experience with your camera. Click here to start exploring popular guides + articles. After four years online, The Wandering Lens has turned into the leading publisher of photography focused travel guides!