Romance on the Reef: Great Barrier Reef holidays for couples
Dr. Love Google says romance is a feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life.
I agree and challenge you to swap your plans for bubble baths, chocolate pralines and rose petals for a surprise getaway to one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef.
Sleep under the stars in the middle of the reef, escape to a private island or chopper to a beautiful beach picnic with a side of snorkelling.
This is not your ordinary list of romantic getaways. We took Dr. Google’s advice and curated a list of Queensland’s best Great Barrier Reef holidays for couples. (If a luxe getaway is more your thing, head over to this guide to Queensland’s luxury islands instead.)
A NIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
I thought romance was watching the sunset in the arms of my boyfriend, reminiscing about the day’s adventures. Until I spent a night on a pontoon in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef.
There’s something about standing at the edge of the pontoon, waving goodbye to the day passengers and watching the mother ship cast off. Now it’s only you and your lover (and a handful of fellow adventurers) on a pontoon in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef.
And there’s plenty of opportunity for romance – from snorkelling hand-in-hand to candlelight dinners in the underwater observatory and watching the sunset, with no light or noise polluting the spectacle.
But the best part is waking at first light and scrambling out of your swag to witness rays of golden light piercing through thin, grey clouds. It hits the ocean’s surface to reveal shades of turquoise, brown and cyan coral with fish zooming in between. Face aglow with sunlight, you watch as the reef slowly wakes up to another day. And today, you’ll be the first one to dive in.
Perfect for: Adventurous couples.
How to get there: You can spend a night on a Great Barrier Reef pontoon with Cruise Whitsundays’ Reefsleep (departing Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island) and Sunlover by Starlight (departing Cairns).
Travel tip: Get in early to book a double swag. You can add extras like certified or introductory scuba dives and scenic flights over the Great Barrier Reef.
Budget: From $499.
MILLION DOLLAR BEACH PICNIC: VLASSOF CAY
Witness the hues of blue from up above before sinking your feet into the squeaky, soft sand and snorkelling with fish and turtles. Once you’re done taking photos (ummm, never?), spread out the picnic blanket and forage through your gourmet hamper. Cheers, lovers!
Perfect for: Special occasions.
How to get there: GBR Helicopters operates tours from Port Douglas and Cairns in Tropical North Queensland.
Travel tip: Book in for an early-morning flight to avoid private boat owners occupying the cay.
Budget: From $899 per person.
TROPICAL ISLAND PARADISE: PALM BAY RESORT
This hidden little island resort in the Whitsundays is your five-star, knock-your-Havaianas-off, romantic getaway. Minus the price tag.
How? The resort has all you could ask for from a Great Barrier Reef holiday. From a day spa, tennis courts, kayaks, snorkelling gear and a pool (with bar!), to a helipad for excursions over the reef and islands. But in place of a restaurant or room service, guests have free rein over a well-equipped communal kitchen, meaning you can spoil your loved one with their favourite, home-cooked meal.
Expect campground camaraderie with a dash of luxury because, at Palm Bay Resort, self-catering doesn’t mean you’ll be doing the dishes. The resort’s helpers will do it for you.
If you can’t get enough of the Whitsundays’ blues, book one of only a handful beachfront villas so you can roll out of bed and into the ocean within seconds. For a little more privacy, retreat to a Hibiscus Suites nestled into the rainforest.
After a day of exploring the island’s 13km of walking tracks or surrounding reefs, collapse in the hammock of your verandah (it fits two, of course) and swing to the rhythm of the swaying palm trees.
Perfect for: Barefoot nature lovers.
How to get there: Travel to the Whitsundays and transfer to Long Island via water taxi, helicopter or seaplane from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island.
Travel tip: Pre-order your supplies with Whitsunday Provisioning or through Palm Bay Resort.
Budget: Accommodation from $245 per night.
PITCH PERFECT: CAMPING ON LADY MUSGRAVE ISLAND
Picture this: You and your special someone perched on a small coral cay, nesting on 3000 hectares of living reef. Welcome to Lady Musgrave Island.
Here, you can snorkel for days and spend the nights gazing at a gazillion stars. Wake up in the shadow of pisonia trees and crawl out of your tent to dive straight into the island’s natural reef lagoon that is sheltered by a 14km long coral wall and teeming with marine life.
It’s romance a la Robinson Crusoe with no facilities (other than composting toilets) – but then, who needs a resort pool when you have the Great Barrier Reef mere metres away? Swap fine dining at white-linen-clad tables for freshly-caught seafood served to the sound of lapping waves.
All you need is a camping permit, supplies, and snorkel or scuba gear. If you don’t have your own transport or scuba gear, organise transport and a dive on the outer reef with Lady Musgrave Experience.
Perfect for: Castaways and campers.
How to get there: Via private boat or organised transfer with Lady Musgrave Cruises from the Town of 1770 or with Lady Musgrave Experience from Bundaberg.
Travel tip: The campground is closed between the end of January and start of April each year due to the turtle hatching and seabird nesting season. Check the NPSR website for dates.
Budget: $6.35 per person, per night for a camping permit.
In my ideal romance, there’s only room for one kind of blue: Whitsundays blue. With specs of Tiffany teal, cornflower blue, and cyan, it’s one of a kind and the perfect backdrop to an utterly romantic getaway: sailing in the Whitsundays.
Together, tack and jibe through the islands of the Whitsundays with the course firmly set on snorkelling adventures in secret bays, rugged climbs to the tops of mountains and afternoons spent frolicking on the island’s dazzling white beaches.
If you don’t want to hoist the sails yourself, hire a skipper who will do it for you. Now all you need to do is kick back and switch off as you set off into unknown waters on one of the best Great Barrier Reef holidays on record.
Perfect for: A digital detox.
How to get there: Travel to the Whitsundays and arrange your yacht charter with Go Bareboating or Sunsail.
Travel tip: The Whitsundays is the only place in the world where you can skipper your own yacht with no licence and only little sailing experience. How? Check out our guide to a bareboating holiday in the Whitsundays.
Budget: From $700 per night.
SCENIC FLIGHT OVER (SWEET)HEART REEF
It’s arguably nature’s most romantic landmark in Australia that is best seen from the air. Since its discovery over 40 years ago, Heart Reef has charmed many passengers with its natural beauty. But blink and you’ll miss it.
Luckily, the pilots – who’ve witnessed more proposals than there are fish in the sea – will give you plenty of warning as you near the perfectly shaped coral bommie.
Gushes of ‘aahh’ and ‘ooohh’ and the frantic clicks of cameras fill the cabin as you circle over the most photographed coral formation on the Great Barrier Reef.
To top it off, book a flight that includes a stop at world-famous Whitehaven Beach for a picnic.
Perfect for: Romeo and Juliet.
How to get there: Heart Reef is located in the Whitsundays. Book a scenic flight with GSL Aviation or Air Whitsunday Seaplanes if you’re staying in Airlie Beach or on Long Island, or book with Hamilton Island Air if you’re staying on Hamilton Island.
Travel tip: For photos without the glare and reflection, move your camera lens right up to the glass (without touching it).
Budget: From $219 per person.
HIRE YOUR OWN ISLAND: PUMPKIN ISLAND
That’s five cottages, two beach bungalows, a pool, sandy beaches and front-row seats to Mother Nature. AKA the bombdiggity of Great Barrier Reef holidays.
During the day, circumnavigate the island in a glass-slipper bottom kayak, snorkel the surrounding reefs or take a nap in one of the hammocks looking out over the ocean.
Then it’s time to put those hunter-gatherer skills on show by catching a coral trout, collecting oysters and cooking up a storm on the BBQ.
Perfect for: Absolute privacy and a hint of luxury.
How to get there: Travel to Yeppoon and take the 45-minute, aptly-named Pumpkin Express (boat) or opt for a rock star arrival and chopper to the island.
Travel tip: You can pre-order food packs with either Pumpkin Island or Waterline restaurant on the mainland.
Budget: From $1,915 per night for the entire island (up to 10 guests).