Peering down into the opalescent waters of the Coral Sea, Reefworld—a three-storey pontoon anchored to the seabed—is the ultimate Great Barrier Reef experience. You can even spend then night here!
We’ve been lucky enough to visit the Great Barrier Reef a few times, either sailing between the stunning archipelago of the Whitsunday Islands or snorkelling amongst its coral. We’ve even driven remote submersibles around the reef.
But this is the first time we’ve been able to spend two days here.
Leaving Hamilton Island—one of the biggest in the Whitsunday group—in the morning, our catamaran hurtles through the water to moor against Reefworld’s 45-metre-long rig a couple of hours later, disgorging its 200 or so passengers.
The majority of them are day-trippers, spending a blissful four hours on the reef before motoring back to dry land at 3pm.
For the two dozen of us that are left, we get the whole place to ourselves until 11am the next day when the Sail Whitsundays boat returns.
Reefworld has become Reefsleep!
Check out our video of our time on Reefworld and Reefsleep here:
What Is Reefworld And What Do You Do Here?
Permanently moored over Hardy Reef 71km from Hamilton Island and some 40km from the nearest land, Reefworld is the perfect destination for anyone wanting to get to know the Great Barrier Reef more intimately than just a quick boat tour.
The structure is almost 50m long and over 10m wide, its two above-water decks providing you with nearly 1,100m² of space—plenty of room for the over-night visitors, which are capped at 24.
Reefworld’s Top Deck
On the top deck, are the 12 surprisingly comfortable Reefsleep beds. These double beds have a twin canopy (one fly-screen/privacy layer and a thick canvas layer) that zips up at night. They are also set up as waterproof daybeds for you to enjoy post-swim, snorkel or scuba.
Also on the top deck are the showers and toilets for Reefsleep as well as the bar, which overnight guests have free rein of (though spirits and cocktails are extra).
Reefworld’s Main Deck And Semi-Submersible
At the water level, things are a bit more functional. Snorkelling gear, including wetsuits and stinger suits, are here. Also the kitchen, where you’ll find breakfast in the morning and where dinner is served at the communal table, are on this level.
This deck gives you access to the patrolled ‘pool’ area where you can snorkel the reef right from the pontoon.
There’s also a scuba base here where you can dive directly too.
If you don’t want to go in the water though, you can access the semi-submersible, which is always moored alongside the pontoon. This half-boat half-submarine has seating and windows in its hull, and regular tours show you round the reef without getting your feet wet.
Reefworld’s Underwater Deck And Reefsuites
Below the waterline, there are also things to see. An observatory has windows that let you see what’s happening under the waves. Sitting here watching the underwater world go by is mesmerising.
In fact, the amazing crew onboard organise a romantic dinner for Christina and me.
While the rest of the overnight guests dine upstairs on the main deck, we’re served our delicious three-course meal at a table for two in the observatory.
We watch the silver flashes of trevally, whitebait and a variety tropical fish—not to mention the gargantuan shadow of George the enormous 300kg giant groper—while we eat. It’s a truly unforgettable experience.
But perhaps most impressive are the two Reefsuite bedrooms that are down here.
Below the level of the water, down a private stairway, these bedroom suites, which have their own bathrooms with full showers, are below sea level. The bed looks directly out into the open ocean through floor-to-ceiling windows to the deep blue yonder. There are even glass panels in the floor.
These Reefsuites are—obviously—very popular and book out early, so make sure you don’t wait too long if you want to stay here in these unique rooms.
Food And Drink On Reefworld
For everyone who comes to Reefworld—overnight guests and day-trippers alike—lunch is provided onboard the catamaran. It’s buffet style with a good range of tasty morsels.
Once the catamaran leaves again at 3pm, the bar opens for people staying overnight. Beer, wine, cider and soft drinks are included in your stay.
Dinner begins with a selection of tasty hors d’oeuvres like grilled prawns, sautéed scallops and fresh oysters.
Mains and desserts are a la carte, and—perhaps for the sake of good taste—there are no fish dishes for us to choose. In fact, Christina and I both go for the thick-cut steak with greens and a rich red-wine jus.
We also go for the same dessert of chocolate brownie, though the cheese selection almost wins me over.
Breakfast is hotel buffet style, with eggs, bacon, sausages and hash browns, as well as fruit, yoghurt and barista-made coffee. You might even be tempted by a breakfast mimosa!
You also have lunch at Reefworld before the catamaran leaves for Hamilton Island at 3pm.
Snorkelling, Scuba Diving And Scenic Flights
Reefworld is situated on the brink of what was once a huge river valley. Since the end of the last Ice Age though, this nutrient-rich river system has been completely submerged, providing the perfect environment for coral to grow.
From the pontoon, you can borrow wet suits, stinger suits, masks, snorkels and fins to check out the reef.
However, there’s an option to go on a guided ‘snorkel safari’ with the amazing divemasters onsite.
A lot of the reef is easily explorable from the surface just with snorkels, but for a more immersive experience (pun intended), scuba dives will show you more of the secrets this ancient river valley holds.
And the best part of this is you can even try a dive if you don’t have a licence.
The divemasters will literally hold your hand and take you deep beneath the waves to see the stunning coral, inquisitive fish and other marine life further down than snorkels can take you.
If you do have a diving licence, you can book dives further afield at some of the designated sites around the reef.
Scuba dives and guided snorkel tours cost extra and it’s a good idea to book them beforehand.
Semi-submersible tours and the underwater observatory are free for everyone to enjoy throughout their stay.
While you’re here, there’s also an opportunity to really take your stay to the next level. Scenic helicopter flights take off and land from a pontoon close to Reefworld!
From the air you get to see evidence of the ancient river system and the reef in all its glory.
As well, you can check out iconic Heart Reef, the ethereal white and blue swirls of Hill Inlet and the pristine stretch of silica sand of Whitehaven Beach.
For us, it’s an experience we’ll never forget.