Hotel Review: Reefsleep (Whitsundays, Australia)
So a few months ago (sorry, I'm slowly catching up!) I finally got to visit the Great Barrier Reef! As a scuba diver, this was obviously on my bucket list during my time living in Australia. After some research and comparing flights on JetStar, (it's like the EasyJet of Australia), I settled on Airlie Beach as a jumping off point. To get to Airlie Beach, you fly into the Whitsunday Coast (Proserpine) airport, and the price was right, so I booked it! Airlie beach was fun but small, so I wouldn't necessarily plan a visit just to go there unless it was literally a Friday after work to Sunday evening situation, or if you just needed to defrost from Melbourne. Also you can't swim in the ocean at Airlie Beach (because of crocodiles and stingers, eek!) but there is a nice man-made lagoon on the beach.
Airlie Beach is also a great jumping off point for the Whitsunday Islands, but since we had a reasonably short trip (Friday morning-Monday afternoon) and wanted to spend as much time out at the reef as possible, we skipped the visit to the Whitsundays. After some (more) research comparing accommodation and the price of day trips out to the reef, we settled on Reefsleep as a great option to maximize our time (2 full days!) out on the reef.
In Airlie Beach, we stayed at Magnum's Hostel in a private room with A/C. It was all we needed and it sort of balanced out the price of Reefsleep. In the morning, we walked about 15 minutes to Cruise Whitsundays at the Port of Airlie. We hopped on the vessel, where they sat us with the 4 other people who were staying overnight. They told us we were lucky because there could be up to 30 for Reefsleep, and the boat was at capacity for the daytrip out to the pontoon with 300 people!
We were in awe of the color of the water for the whole 3-hour trip, and enjoyed bonding with our fellow Reefsleepers who were all awesome!
Once we reached the pontoon where you stay overnight, we all disembarked and spread out for all of the many activities that they offer on the permanently moored pontoon. Snorkel gear (including stinger suits which are verrry flattering) is available throughout the day and you are free to jump out into the roped off snorkel area. It's a large area and keeps people from drifting too far while they are busy looking at the plateau or the drop off of the reef! There is also an under water viewing area, a semi submersible, constant groups of divers going out, and scenic helicoptor rides.
When we got onto the pontoon, we were stunned by how many fish you could see from the boat! The fish are hard to see in this picture, but you can see the sandy reef in the background.
Our first activity was something I've never done before-- a scenic helicopter flight! Our pilot took us over heart reef, which is just the sweetest (I'm sure there are many of them lol) and I even saw a shark and a sea turtle FROM THE HELICOPTOR! It was unforgettable.
After the flight, I did the first of two dives. I have to say that unfortunately the dives here weren't the greatest I've ever done, mainly because of the crowds of people. I hate when you run into other groups underwater when you're diving! I was also paired with an inexperienced buddy who kept running into me. But it was great practice, and the reef itself was the feature of both dives. Here are some funny pictures of me getting photobombed by fish!
The best part of the day was when the crowd loaded back up on the vessel, we popped a bottle of prosecco, and princess waved as the boat sailed away and left us alone on the pontoon in the middle of the ocean!
Our night on the pontoon was spectacular. As the sun set, the tide slowly lowered and exposed the top of the reef near the pontoon. There was great conversation, the crew made us a delicious spread, and we had access to our (pre-purchased) drinks. I had a seafood platter for dinner that was definitely big enough for two!
I ended the night laying on a deck chair, listening to music and watching the moon rise over the horizon. We slept in swags on the deck (there are good pictures of swags on the Reefsleep website, it took me a very long time to understand what a swag was despite my friend describing it to me 100 times), and it was hot so we had the canvas unzipped and just the mosquito net closed. Waking up to the sunrise in the swag was incredible!
The next morning, before the next shipload of people arrived, we had the snorkeling area all to ourselves! Swimming with Maggie, the resident Maori Wrasse, was definitely a highlight. By then we had found out that the stinger suits were more of a precaution for tourists and the season was over, so we swam just in our swimsuits. (Apologies that my GoPro pictures are terrible!!)
It ended up storming that afternoon and the 3-hour boat ride back to Airlie Beach was ROUGH! Our little crew of 6 (barely) survived without needing a barf bag, but let me tell you, plenty were put to use around us. This is Maddie who was with us overnight-- she's a champion.
All in all, it was a great little trip to the Great Barrier Reef. I wouldn't recommend doing the daytrip to Hardy Reef with Cruise Whitsundays (6 hours on a boat in one day with a few, crowded hours on the reef), but watching the crowd leave in the afternoon, spending the night on the deck of the pontoon, and having the reef all to ourselves the next morning was definitely worth it!
Next time I visit the reef I plan to go farther north, to Port Douglas, and explore the bush up there a bit too!
Have you been to the Great Barrier Reef? Or, where is your favorite dive spot? Comment below!