Four fabulous ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef

Explore the Great Barrier Reef a little differently. Picture: Shutterstock
Explore the Great Barrier Reef a little differently. Picture: Shutterstock

Pontoon, glamping, island budget and super green - four fabulous ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef.

Pontoon stay

Reefsleep with Cruise Whitsundays

Head to Tropical North Queensland to spend the night out on the reef, 40 nautical miles from shore. You will fall asleep to the calming sounds of the ocean on board a pontoon moored off Hardy Reef - this is as close as you can get to the World Heritage-listed ecosystem.

In the Whitsundays, Reefworld by Cruise Whitsundays allows you to stay over on its Heart Pontoon. After a dinner on deck with unbeatable views, you can take a dive of a different sort - into your deluxe swag to get some sleep. Not keen to sleep under the stars? Head below deck to a Reefsuite, the Reef's only undersea accommodation.

In the morning take a private snorkel safari and glass-bottom boat ride before the day-trippers arrive.

Cost: from $595 per person, or from $799 for a Reefsuite

Glamping

Lady Elliot Island

Glamping is not only camping's more luxurious cousin, but one of the most comfortable and authentic ways to spend a weekend on the reef.

Think of hotel comfort with all the trimmings, while still getting up close and personal with nature's beauty, tucked up in your own private tent.

Look no further than the panoramic views of Lady Elliot Island to find camping plus comfort - and no air mattresses in sight. On the southernmost tip of the Great Barrier Reef, the island has two glamping tents just metres from the edge of the protected lagoon - perfect for an early morning wake-up snorkel.

What's more, there's no sleeping covered in salt after your day of swimming, because each tent has a private bathroom.

Cost: from $367 per person

Camping

Lady Musgrave Island

You won't find any glamping tents on this island - or any tents provided at all for that matter... but for the incredible price of $6.50 you'll be happy to bring your own.

The tiny coral cay of Lady Musgrave is nature at its absolute finest - that's why Queensland National Parks grant just 40 camping permits (at the ridiculous cost of $6.50 per night) at any one time.

About 1200 hectares of coral lagoon become your backyard with stunning coral bombies, home to manta rays, turtles, dolphins and mysterious reef creatures.

The island is as minimalistic as possible - and there are no facilities so you must bring everything on and off with you. This option is for the serious campers, but you'll receive nature's greatest rewards in return for a little roughing-it.

Cost: $6.50 per camping permit

Eco stay

Elysian Retreat

If you're conscious of your environmental footprint, and not just the kind you leave in the sand, then travel to the Whitsundays and make Elysian Retreat your home for the night (or preferably the week).

The first entirely solar-powered resort on the Great Barrier Reef, Elysian aims to create and savour life's special moments from its private cove on Long Island.

There are 10 air-conditioned beachfront villas, each with high cathedral ceilings, uninterrupted ocean views and a hammock out front to rest in after your days spent snorkelling or kayaking around the island. The all-inclusive stay means all meals are taken care of as well as watersports equipment, including stand-up paddleboards and glass-bottomed kayaks.

Cost: from $605 per person

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