The sensation of falling asleep underwater, six feet deep in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, is strangely fantastical. Even more so is the sensation of waking up. Ripples of light fill the room with an aqua hue, as patterns dance on the sheets in unison with the fish on the other side of the glass wall. A turtle glides past, and for a few brief moments it is easy to forget where you are, transfixed by the scene unfolding around you.
Tucked under a duvet in my pyjamas never entered my mind as a potential Great Barrier Reef experience, yet when the opportunity arose, I couldn’t wait to try it out. Reef Suites, as they are called by Cruise Whitsundays, are the first underwater hotel rooms in Australia – located at Hardy Reef pontoon, just 40 nautical miles off the coast of Airlie Beach. With just two suites available to be booked each night, the experience is one of the most exclusive and unique travel offerings in Australia.
Over the course of the two days you have on the pontoon, there are really only two things you should be spending your time doing – in the water snorkelling and diving, or relaxing at the private Reef Suites bar on the pontoon’s top deck. Of course, retreating below deck to your private underwater sanctuary for an afternoon nap is just as blissful.
You might expect the rooms to feel claustrophobic, but they are surprisingly spacious and cosy, especially after the day-trippers depart the pontoon, the sun sets and the water outside fades into darkness. The appeal of falling asleep to the sounds of the ocean really takes on a new meaning here. The noises of the surface drain away as you descend the staircase into the room, leaving you with a peaceful stillness, the sound I imagine many submariners grow all too familiar with.
The rooms even have attached ensuite bathrooms, which have their own ocean-facing windows the full height of the wall. I thought waking up underwater was a strange sensation, but my morning shower was on another level altogether. No turtles spotted, but a couple of Giant trevally unknowingly gave me their best Peeping Tom impression.
After just one night in the suite, I had grown irrationally attached and felt a sense of dread at the thought of having to leave. Reef Suites should be written in bold at the top of the bucket list of any traveller looking for an unforgettable Great Barrier Reef experience.
Words and photography by James Vodicka