FROM ABOVE: The Fantasea Adventure Platform at Hardy Reef.
FROM ABOVE: The Fantasea Adventure Platform at Hardy Reef. Contributed

Bliss, beauty on the Barrier Reef

STRESSING over what to do for my 50th birthday, I finally decide to do something totally different and just think about myself.

I want an activity that is special and unique.

I settle on Fantasea Reefsleep on the Great Barrier Reef.

Reefsleep offers two days and one night on the Fantasea Adventure Platform at Hardy Reef.

The day trip allows just over three hours to enjoy this stunning environment but it's non-stop trying to fit everything in and you have to share it with other people.

Waving goodbye to the visitors and taking possession of Reefworld is when Reefsleep comes into its own.

With just a few staff and a Reefsleep host to look after you, the magic of having this marine wonderland to yourself for 20 hours cannot be underestimated.

The water clarity is more than 18 metres, so visibility is excellent.

I spend hours snorkelling in low tide late afternoon and again early the next morning. Massive schools of tiny, glowing blue fish swim by.

I say "hello" to pink-lipped damsel fish and enormous gropers and schools of trevally.

Colour, colour everywhere.

It's not that the whole reef is psychedelic but individual fish and coral are magnificent in their colour parade.

The more you look, the more you see.

The joy of snorkelling here reminds me of childhood feelings of delight and amazement.

I feel so young, mesmerised, entranced, and glad that I can still be so impressed.

Fantasea Adventure Cruising employs five marine biologists who are passionate about their work and about educating the tourists who arrive each day.

In a half-hour guided snorkel safari with Bunitj, I learn about aggressive, territorial damsel fish and how they harvest algae, the parrot fish with his pointy beak for scraping coral and the copious amounts of sand he poops, how important grazing herbivores are, and how the ocean is a carbon sink absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Later in the day, we spend time with the Reefworld manager, Paul, talking about the fish and watching the night activity in the underwater viewing chamber.

Our Reefsleep hostess Ebony has served a cheese platter and champagne at sunset and dinner is an al-fresco meal under the stars.

The salty air and the occasional loud splash are reminders that we are happily marooned in the middle of one of the greatest natural wonders in the world.

In warmer months, I am sure you would feel like sleeping under the stars on the top deck. But on a breezy September night, we choose to head off to our cabin to be lulled to sleep by the sea.

Next morning, I am awakened by the rising sun peaking through the porthole. We feast on a colourful fruit platter and full breakfast as all this activity has definitely given us an appetite.

We soak up the morning beauty and enjoy the last few hours we have Reefworld to ourselves, but I am looking forward to the new set of visitors, a scuba dive and an afternoon massage.

I have decided as part and parcel of this new decade I should also try something new. When the ferry arrives for the day, I join two other guests to take a PADI Introductory dive course.

I know nothing. I am the complete novice. I learn about air spaces in the body, about equalisation and ascending, hand signals and my BCD (buoyancy control device) and my DVR (demand valve regulator).

It all sounds logical but when I put the tank on my back and get in the training pool for a dress rehearsal, I freak out. Luckily, I have the absolutely gorgeous, confident Nessy who keeps giving me the "okay" sign and getting me to practise breathing, equalising and clearing water from my mask and I eventually get it together enough to take off.

Oh, I can do this. This is wonderful. I'm free. We hold on to the ropes to start with but then Nessy lets the three of us take off after her and we are swimming unassisted and breathing under water, totally surrounded by the wonders of this special place.

Perfect. The snorkelling was enjoyable but this is truly magical.

To top off this two-day fiesta of self-indulgence, I have the most relaxing massage in the Harmony Hut with Annie and I am truly in harmony with myself and the world.

As we are saying our farewells to the Reefworld staff I hear one little girl say to her mother: "Wouldn't you like to stay here forever?"

If I was a fish, I'd definitely want to live on the Great Barrier Reef.

For a human, this is a great way to spend a few days in another world.

The writer was a guest of Fantasea Adventure Cruising.


Spend two days and one night on the Great Barrier Reef

Where: The Fantasea Adventure Platform at Reefworld on Hardy Reef, approx 40 nautical miles off the coast. Reefworld is the only permanent structure marine accommodation available in Australia. Depart from Shute Harbour or Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays.

What's included: ferry transfers, all Reefworld facilities, sunset snack, dinner and beverages, full breakfast, buffet lunches, morning and afternoon tea, a designated Reefsleep Host to look after you. Also included is a scuba dive or a guided snorkel safari with a Reef Interpreter. Heli scenics and massages are an optional, and enjoyable, extra. Bunk rooms start at $399/person (no dive) and king cabin is $570/person (no dive).

How do I book: Contact your favourite travel agent or book online at Fantasea or call 1800650851.

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