... a dreamer, massage therapist, naturopath, freelance writer, mother & drop-out social work student living, working and writing in the Blue Mountains. When not occupied with the real world, she writes fantasy.
Published July 26th 2012
Writer explores Aussie wonder of the world
Beautiful George the wrasse - one of the amazing sights on Reefworld.
Half my life I'd dreamed of seeing the Great Barrier Reef. I'd written about coral kingdoms of underwater sea-monkeys and singing angels in the fantasy tales that often murmured at me from the side-lines of a busy life.
When my boyfriend indulged me with a birthday surprise to the Whitsundays, I was suddenly about to come face to face with my dream.
What would it look like up close, in reality?
Up close, the reef looks like a very crammed and beautiful garden. Giant clams and corals sparkle magically.
Coloured fish (ranging from parrot fish to angel fish) flit like happy birds through the reef's azure skies. Ahhh, so paradise is real.
The beautiful great barrier reef
Reefworld offers an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the amazing world of the reef and experience an adventure you will remember the rest of your life.
What is Reefworld? Reefworld is essentially a floating pontoon located in the Coral Sea, that provides a supervised opportunity for the tourist to view the Great Barrier Reef and its creatures. The Great Barrier Reef, in its entirety covers approximately 344,400 square kilometres of the Coral Sea and is not called 'Great' for nothing. What you will see of it at Reefworld is akin to a crumb, yet a delicious and highly satisfying one at that.
Reefworld consists of an upper sun deck, mid and lower deck, a viewing platform of the ocean and the resident groper George and his harem, and an underwater viewing room (in the lower deck). On site, there is a small kiosk serving tourist trinkets, chips, drinks and chocolate bars. This is not gourmetsville for good reason – it takes about 2 hours for a high-speed catamaran to get out here from Hamilton Island, the major commercial island of the Whitsundays group. Think about the logistics of supplying and storing fresh food out here. Besides, the main attraction of Reefworld isn't eating, but the reef.
The semi-submersible glass bottom boat hovers over the reef.
From Reefworld one can pursue additional adventures such as a helicopter flight over the reef and a dive. Included in the fee to Reefworld is a ride in the semi-submersible glass bottomed boat over the nearby reef and supervised snorkelling – all equipment provided.
How to get to Reefworld
Reefworld is accessed via Fantasea Adventure Cruising, a multi-award winning marine tour and transport operator in the Whitsundays. You can catch a Fantasea cruise to Reefworld from Shute Harbour, Daydream Island, Long Island or Hamilton Island.
The high-speed Fantasea Catamaran ride to Reefworld passes through the beautiful Whitsundays passage. Don't forget the seasickness pills.
Be warned that the high-speed catamaran ride out to Reefworld takes for example, 2 hours from Hamilton Island and is a rough ride. Many on the boat succumbed to travel sickness including my partner who vomited despite having taken travel sickness pills. Bring travel sickness pills and take them. They need to be swallowed in advance in order to work. I don't normally get motion sickness, but did on this occasion, and it ruined this part of the trip. Vomit bags aren't handed out on the boat for nothing.
The Fantasea Catamaran that takes you out to Reefworld
Cost of Reefworld
The Reefworld experience costs $210 for an adult and $95 for children aged between 5 and 15. This includes the trip out there, a simple, rather unexciting buffet lunch, basic morning and afternoon tea, use of all facilities on Reefworld such as the semi-submersible boat and the provision of snorkelling gear. Everything else (such as massage, diving, helicopter flights) costs extra. For more information on Reefworld, go to this link.
Snorkelling the reef
After donning the requisite gear (mask, snorkel, fins and wetsuit) it is a mere hop, skip and jump into the ocean to see the reef. Everything has been done to make this an easy and accessible experience. There are floating ropes one can cling to which provide both guidance and something to hold onto for a rest break.
Floating balls and ropes offer guidance along the reef wall and something to cling to for a rest break.
Environmental conservation of the reef is adhered to strongly by the tour operators and staff members. You are not allowed to touch the reef or stand upon it, which at times can be difficult when floating mere inches above it.
The floating pontoon of Reefworld is located alongside a reef wall in shallow and calm waters that promote a pleasant and peaceful experience.
Aboard Reefworld - wear the wetsuit and you'll last longer in the water.
In winter the water is cold, yet not unbearable. I can still recall the tortured tones of an Asian tourist as he screamed out the word 'cold' in his own language, racing out of the water, shivering and hugging himself. Despite the language barrier, it was clear to all what he meant. Wear the wetsuit, the pink body-suit and anything else the tour operator throws at you. It's all in the aid of seeing the miracle that is the Barrier Reef, so shut up and get it on. It will ultimately give you longer in the water. Take it from me - your snorkelling adventure is over all too soon.
In winter, temperatures hover at a mean of between 21-22 degrees. If the sun is out you can warm up on the upper deck. However, if it's overcast, you'll more likely be huddling in a jacket. Be sure to bring something warm or don't say I didn't warn you. In summer, there's also plenty of shade to be found on the pontoon or alternatively in the boat that got you there - which stays alongside Reefworld until you re-board and from whence lunch is also served. There's some debate over when is a good time to visit the reef but most advocate avoiding the rainy season that begins in November / December.
The staff on ReefWorld, some of whom amazingly live on this pontoon, are exceptionally helpful and professional. I personally found their patience and empathy with the many issues presented to them, quite touching. The fear and anxiety many tourists felt about entering the cold, deep water – you are in the midst of the ocean hours from the coast remember – never seemed to irk them despite how many times they must deal with this on a daily basis.
Reefworld - supervised adventure to the reef amongst trained staff.
Both myself and my boyfriend had seen larger schools of fish snorkelling in other parts of the world (Vanuatu and Dubai), however, we both agreed that the amount and variation of corals and giant clams was something we'd never seen before. It is the corals and other features of the reef that truly stand out as remarkable.
Fish flit like butterflies through the blue skies of the sea.
There is a strange unexpected peace to be found when one enters the paradise like under-water garden of the reef. There is also awe at the discovery of something so exquisite and beautiful – like finding another planet and its creatures living conjointly in the same time yet on another sphere to ours. On the catamaran ride back, much to reflect upon.
I am still searching for those sea-angels and monkey kingdoms. But, thanks to my boyfriend, I am glad I finally got to see the Barrier Reef.