(Australian Associated Press)
Visitors to the Great Barrier Reef will be able to literally immerse themselves in the natural wonder overnight following the opening of Australia’s first underwater accommodation.
Newly-released pictures of Reefsuites on the reconstructed pontoon at Hardy Reef – which was badly damaged in 2017’s Cyclone Debbie – show aquarium-like partially glass-bottomed rooms with floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
Guests will be able to observe the reef and all its wildlife after dark when the two rooms open to the public from December 1.
Others who are happy to sleep under the stars, and opt for the slightly cheaper option, can go “glamping” in day beds on the top deck.
The company behind the innovative $10 million pontoon rebuild said it had environmental concerns at the top of its priority list – and has taken steps to minimise any damage to a reef already facing threats from climate change and coastal development.
“It’s a balance of allowing people to immerse themselves in this World Heritage-listed natural wonder without doing any damage,” Luke Walker, chief operating officer with experiential travel company Journey Beyond, told AAP.
“In everything we do the sustainability of the reef is part of the conversation, it’s a live topic on the table with any decision we make.”
The proper disposal of wastewater known as greywater in line with the law, use of china crockery instead of single-use plastic and the visitor levy which goes towards the care of the reef are some of the ways in which environmental concerns have been taken into account, Mr Walker said.
The floating pontoon, 39 nautical miles from Airlie Beach, is around 1000 square metres in size and weighs in at 260 tonnes.
Almost 4000 pieces of coral were sustainably removed and replanted onto the existing reef wall when the original pontoon mooring structure was removed in a week-long process the company described as the largest natural coral transplant ever to be achieved there.
Mr Walker said the aim with the new pontoon is to “enhance the attraction to the betterment of the reef” and to take the longstanding tourist hotspot to “another level” with something Australia has never seen before.
He said a marine biologist and a master reef guide form part of the staff, helping to educate guests about the reef, its history and its future and that Cruise Whitsundays had worked closely with the marine park authority during the rebuild.
The 14-month project itself was part-funded – to the tune of $2.75 million – by the Queensland government which has hailed it as an attraction that will draw thousands more visitors to the Whitsundays each year, bringing with it millions more in cash to local businesses.
+ Reefsuites are from $799 per person, while Reefsleep beds on the top deck are from $595 per person (sharing) or $795 for sole occupancy. Prices include a return cruise out to the reef, all meals and beverages and a selection of marine activities.
Reefsuite bookings can now be made via cruisewhitsundays.com/reefsuites or by calling 07 4846 7000.