If we asked you to picture the Great Barrier Reef, you’d no doubt whip up a mental image of Heart Reef – an iconic arrangement of coral that has naturally formed into the shape of a heart. Now, visitors can experience this famous bucket-lister in a whole new way.
For decades, the only way Whitsundays day-trippers could catch a glimpse of Heart Reef was by helicopter ride, but the newly opened Heart Island now has a once-in-a-lifetime tour letting you swim and snorkel this incredible coral bommie and the surrounding crystal blue waters.
And if you were keen on finally being able to say “get to the chopper,” you’ll be pleased to know the Hamilton Island ‘Journey to the Heart’ tour still involves a baller helicopter ride, it’s just that there’s an extra part where you also get to enjoy a boat ride around it plus dive in nearby.
Promising a “James Bond experience,” the three-hour tour starts off strong, departing the ultra chic Qualia Resort by helicopter, with a 30-minute flight over Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet before reaching the turquoise jewelscape that is the outer reef.
View this post on Instagram
You’ll then land on the private, floating Heart Island Pontoon helipad, where a secret staircase leads you down to a plush ‘boat shed’ where champagne, canapes and a glass-bottom boat awaits. Casual.
You’ll have 90 minutes to explore the lagoon and how you do that is completely up to you. Swim and snorkel the clearest water you’ll likely see in your life, and spend time relaxing on the Pontoon itself (which is essentially a private, floating escape with luxury fittings and its own shaded pool).
But the must, obviously, is getting your host to prep the glass-bottomed boat for an exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime ride around Heart Reef.
Oh and the experience only allows a maximum of six people (plus a host) to really ensure it’s an intimate and unforgettable day.
Thankfully, Heart Reef has a protected status. This means you can’t dive or snorkel at Heart Reef itself, but you’ll drop anchor in a nearby lagoon to explore impressive walls of coral, far from the annoying crowds of any other day trips.
The entire concept is a labour of love of Brad Graves from Hamilton Island Air, explains Tourism Queendland, who spent a decade selling his vision and working with boat builders, environmental scientists, and all manner of tradies and logistics specialists to make Heart Island a reality. He wanted Heart Reef to be seen up close and appreciated in all its glory, without harming the iconic reef in the process.
Working with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the pontoon has an eco-conscious design: it’s powered by wind and solar and carries no waste. It is also moored in sand to avoid any reef degradation.
Protecting the Great Barrier Reef was everyone’s top priority.
While the experience doesn’t come cheap at $1,100 per person, if you were bummed you didn’t get to Greece or the Maldives this year to swim in its island waters, then this could be the trip of a lifetime you didn’t know you could get so close to home.
Tours depart daily, with only six visitors to Hamilton Island able to visit per day.
(Lead Image: Unsplash / Yanguang Lan)
Sonia feels most at home on the road, with travel her greatest passion. But really, she’s hype about a lot of things: beautiful design, tasty food, wellness, nature, interesting people and women’s issues. The Founding Editor of Junkee’s The Cusp and former Homes Editor at Nine, Sonia prides herself on seeking out authentic experiences with charm and loves sharing a personal rec. Catch her on Instagram @sonnietothetee.