Review: Great Barrier Reef tour from Hamilton Island explores a hidden world

Hamilton Island is located in the heart of the Queensland Whitsundays, and is renowned as a holidaymaker's playground. Day cruises out to the Great Barrier Reef are one of the most popular activities, and this cruise, snorkel and dive adventure gives a great all-round introduction to the fascinating world beneath the waves. Review: Maxine Steinmetz

Great Barrier Reef tour from Hamilton Island

Great Barrier Reef tour from Hamilton Island

4.5 stars

Great Barrier Reef tour from Hamilton Island with Cruise Whitsundays

This Great Barrier Reef tour from Hamilton Island provides an amazing day out on the world-famous reef for guests of all ages. Go snorkelling or diving, or just relax on the permanently moored ‘Reefworld’ pontoon, which offers a suite of guest facilities. A delicious buffet lunch is included, along with morning and afternoon tea. Snorkelling gear is provided free of charge. Scuba diving incurs an additional fee (payable direct). Duration: 8 hours (approx.)

A shiver shoots up my spine as my feet touch the water for the first time.

Seconds from now I will take my first breath underwater as I scuba dive the famous Great Barrier Reef. It feels like my heart is beating out of my chest, and the oxygen tank on my back seems to weight a ton. I briefly envisage my helpless body sinking to the ocean floor. Perhaps I should have stuck to snorkelling on this Great Barrier Reef tour from Hamilton Island. Before I take the plunge, let me take you back to where this adventure began!

Hamilton Island is the jewel of the Queensland Whitsundays, and it’s a tropical paradise in every sense of the phrase. Flying into Hamilton Island is a magical experience. The Coral Sea is dotted with small islands, some edged by white sandy beaches. My partner and I sit in complete awe as we gaze out the aircraft window at the magnificent vista below.

Great Barrier Reef tour from Hamilton Island

Hamilton Island. Image: Bigstock

Once we’ve checked in, it’s time to explore. Hamilton Island is quite small. It takes just 30 minutes to travel around the entire circumference in a golf buggy (the main form of transport). The island is packed with activities. You can try go-karting, quad-biking and numerous water sports, or play golf on Dent Island (a short 10-minute boat transfer away). However, the top choice for most visitors is to snorkel or dive on the Great Barrier Reef, and we decide to book the popular Great Barrier Reef tour from Hamilton Island with Cruise Whitsundays.

The sleek catamaran departs the Hamilton Island marina at 9am for the journey out to Cruise Whitsunday’s permanently moored pontoon on the edge of Hardy Reef — known as ‘Reefworld’. There are around 100 guests on board the three-level vessel. It can accommodate up to 300 passengers, however, it’s the off-season and I’m grateful for the extra breathing space.

Great Barrier Reef tour from Hamilton Island

Great Barrier Reef tour from Hamilton Island. Image courtesy of Cruise Whitsundays

Scuba-diving is not on my agenda today. I’m content with the complimentary snorkelling. However, when we hear that a licence is not required to dive, my partner and I make a snap decision to give it go. Straight away I feel a pang of anxiety, but there’s no turning back.

Fifty shades of blue surround the vessel as we tie up alongside the pontoon. I feel even more nervous as we disembark. Clutching my stinger suit, flippers and mask, I head to the diving area, where the staff help me suit up.

As I stand up for the first time, I am shocked at the weight of the oxygen tank. I waddle down the ten steps to the reef entry point where my instructor is waiting. She takes my hand. A mix of emotions engulfs me. Can I do this? Am I safe? I kneel down and breathe through my mouth piece as I enter the ocean. Wow! I CAN do it!

Great Barrier Reef tour from Hamilton Island

Great Barrier Reef tour from Hamilton Island

My partner is holding our instructor’s other hand. She grips both of us firmly and I begin to relax. In an almost dream-like state I simply surrender myself to the ocean. I have to, and I’ve never seen such beauty.

I reach out to touch a butterfly fish. There are hundreds of them! Schools of fish invade our personal space. The multi-coloured parrot fish and large groupers are the most magnificent creatures I have ever seen. A coral wall cascades down to the ocean floor about 15 metres below us. It looks like a busy underwater city.

Great Barrier Reef tour from Hamilton Island

Great Barrier Reef tour from Hamilton Island

Our guide doesn’t take us more than 10 metres below the surface and we’re never far from other divers. She is also in control of our BCD (Buoyancy Control Device), so all we have to focus on is enjoying the experience. It’s amazing, although I have to admit that I thought the coral would be more vibrant and colourful. Sadly, coral bleaching has taken its toll. There are many contributing factors. Nevertheless, the reef is enchanting.

Around mid-afternoon we begin the journey back to Hamilton Island, and I promise myself that I’ll return one day soon.

Additional images: Bigstock


Maxine Steinmetz

About the writer

Maxine Steinmetz was born and raised on the Gold Coast and now works as a radio journalist for Southern Cross Austereo. Maxine previously worked for Princess Cruise Lines, which took her far and wide across Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. A true adventurer who loves to get off the beaten track, Maxine has also backpacked through Western Europe, and at only thirteen took the opportunity to study French as an exchange student in Tahiti. Wanderlust runs deep in her veins!

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