You are here

Sleeping On The Great Barrier Reef

Published 22 June 2016

Jayne Gorman

Jayne Gorman

You want me to sleep on the Great Barrier Reef? Images of hammocks balancing precariously over coral came into my mind. Whilst the experience turned out to be not as simplistic as this, it was certainly as close to the reef as I could ever hope to sleep.

Reef World Great Barrier Reef Sleepout

© Jayne Gorman

My adventure was to take place at Reefsleep, an experience run by Cruise Whitsundays, and booked as part of my Journey itinerary. Reefworld is Cruise Whitsunday's permanent pontoon situated near Hardy Reef – 40 nautical miles from shore. During the day the world is a hub for watery-based activities that attracts visitors on a daily basis. At night, the pontoon transforms into a makeshift hotel for nine lucky guests. And l was set to be one of them.

When the transfer boat departs at 3pm, silence descends on the pontoon and I begin to wonder what I have let myself in for. The Reefsleep party gathers on the sun deck and we introduce ourselves to each other, nervously sussing out the people who will be our only human contact for the next 24 hours. Luckily for me I find my fellow reef sleepers are a pair of affable honeymooners from Melbourne and a couple from Sydney who have bought their extended family from Malaysia out to the Barrier Reef.

Corals, Great Barrier Reef

© Jayne Gorman

But we're not completely alone. Reefworld also has two caretakers and Emma, our host, onboard. I am continually impressed with the number of tasks the three of them tackle whilst animatedly making us feel as comfortable and safe as possible. A member of the crew stays on watch each time we enter the water. Within safe supervision I gleefully spend the afternoon working up my appetite swimming with parrot fish, groupers, little Nemos (clownfish) and much more amongst the multi-pronged coral, loving every minute of it as I practically have the whole reef to myself.

Snorkelling, Reef World

© Jayne Gorman

Dinner is served at dusk. Unfortunately the clouds have hindered our sunset view but I only have eyes for the food. Whilst we were changing (Reefworld has one male and one female changing room on board with a hot shower in each) Emma cooked up a veritable Aussie feast on the barbecue. There’s steak, sausage, chicken and fish and with her encouragement we try them all. I finish my meal with a tasty cheesecake and enjoy getting to know more about my fellow guests over the good food and the sparkling wine I’d ordered on my way out to the pontoon.

Lights out is pretty early on the reef as we're set for an early start but just before bed our group heads into the underwater observatory to take a look at the ocean by night. Small fish that are attracted to the light of the pontoon are acting as bait for the giant groupers who hang around hungrily. I watch their game of cat and mouse, fascinated.

Swag, Reef World

© Jayne Gorman

Using my torch for navigation I make my way up to ‘bed’. This is my first experience of sleeping in a swag and I’m pleased to find it’s surprisingly comfortable. Under its cosy canvas there is a light mattress, sheet and pillow. It’s hardly roughing it! As there are a few birds around I zip myself in fully but leave just a section of net above my head so I can watch the stars as I fall asleep. Far away from the lights of the mainland I can see more stars in the sky than I ever knew existed. It’s a staggering sight and a beautiful scene to fall asleep to.

Sunrise, Reef World

© Jayne Gorman

I’d considered setting an alarm so as not to miss the sunrise over the ocean but I needn’t have worried. Around 4.30am the first rays peek above the horizon and a fiery arm of light reaches into my swag. I unzip the hood slightly and gaze in awe at what’s in front of me. Blurry eyed and disorientated I climb out of my cosy pouch to get a better look at the spectacle. The sea has been set alight and glows bright red; the sky and clouds a mixture of oranges and purples. Slowly, the other guests join me on the edge of the pontoon and we watch, subdued and silent, as a sincerely magical sunrise lights up the Great Barrier Reef.

Sea turtle, Great Barrier Reef

© Jayne Gorman

That morning the snorkelling is even better than the day before. The tide is high and the reef is teeming with marine life. I feel like I am caught up in rush hour as giant schools of silver fish pass me just beyond the pontoon. The further I swim, the more I discover. Rainbow, zebra, leopard – I see every pattern possible on the scales of the fish and even a sea turtle floats on by. The honeymooners, who are further out than me, spot an elusive reef shark. This is a highlight for many divers who seek these friendly creatures out but the couple are not so convinced. They inch a bit closer to the pontoon instead!

Sundeck, Reef World

© Jayne Gorman

Having already feasted on a fantastic cooked breakfast earlier, I’m eating again. This time it’s tea and cake. I’m advised to use the showers one last time before they are locked up for the day. Come 11am the day-trippers and new Reefsleep guests will arrive so we lap up our private pontoon for a little while longer.

At the end of the 24 hours we all agree this is the best thing we’ve done at the Great Barrier Reef. Not many people can say they’ve slept in such close proximity to the world’s most famous coral. I feel very luck to have ticked it off my bucket list. 


Fancy sleeping out on the Great Barrier Reef yourself? Talk to one of our Experts today about adding it your Australia holiday itinerary.


You might also like:

7 Unique Travel Experiences in Australia

Top 10 Reasons to Visit Australia

Featured in this blog:

Select an option below to contact one of our experts now, about anything you need

Alternatively, you can email us, request a call back, or live chat with a consultant

Call free on 0800 707 6010

We're open every day from:
9:00am to 8:00pm Mon-Fri
9:00am to 6:00pm Sat
10:00am to 5:00pm Sun and Public Holidays

We're open every day from:
9:00am to 8:00pm Mon-Fri
9:00am to 6:00pm Sat
10:00am to 5:00pm Sun and Public Holidays

Send us your number and we'll call you back.

Your details

When would you like us to call you?
Your details:

Your details

When would you like us to call you?
When would you like us to call you?
Add additional information?
Speak to us about:
Discuss a Trip List

Live Chat