Sleep on the reef: 48 hours on Lady Musgrave Island

If you’re lucky, you’ve snorkelled, swum, dived and delighted in the Great Barrier Reef. But only a fortunate few have actually slept here. Yes, we mean this quite literally, spending the night with our attractive icon.

Thankfully, there are more and more sustainable opportunities with which to do this, with a spanking new Sleep on the Reef experience just launched on the Southern Great Barrier Reef. So stop daydreaming, and start dreaming of your sensational sleepy escape.


7am: Bon voyage, Bundaberg!

While tourists head to Bundaberg Port Marina to check in for Lady Musgrave Experience, I am cheating slightly, still in bed on Heron Island, off Gladstone, also on the Southern Great Barrier Reef. But should you wish to participate in this Sleep on the Reef experience, you would join the 27-metre luxury catamaran Main Event, out of Bundaberg, and start your two-day adventure with this delightful day tour.   

Mid-morning: VIP arrival

Seaplane arrival | Sleep on the reef: 48 hours on Lady Musgrave Island

The trip to Lady Musgrave Island takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes from Bundaberg. Along the way, indulge in morning tea, watch out for whales and other marine life as you cruise the open ocean, and enjoy wildlife documentaries.

While the Main Event is heading out to Lady Musgrave Island, a seaplane has arrived at Heron Island, landed right on the beach, and swooped me from the sand for the 20-minute journey across blue ribbons of reef. For those short on time, and with a little more cash to spare, a seaplane is a spectacular arrival option.

Down below, whales, mantas and turtles are frolicking in the warm waters. I land in the Lady Musgrave lagoon, just in time to join the first activities of the day.

Pre-lunch: Island orientation

Lady Musgrave tour | Sleep on reefGuests aboard the Main Event are invited to take an interpretive tour of Lady Musgrave Island, with one of the knowledgeable and passionate crew. Measuring just 14ha, this island is, in fact, a coral cay, framed by 1192ha of reef. It’s uninhabited by humans, but self-sufficient campers can attain a permit from National Parks to stay for up to 21 days at a time.

I learn some secrets of this reef royal, like the fact it was once home to 300 goats, deliberately placed here to feed stranded sailors. The goats are now gone, but there are now 22 different species of birds and salt area trees such as Pisonis Grandis. In turtle season, there’s also plenty of nesting and hatchling turtles.

I take a glass-bottom boat tour over turtle cleaning stations and despite not yet dipping my fins in the water, am famished.

Lunch: Everyone loves a buffet

There’s prawns, cold meats, salads and bread on offer at the buffet and I take my plate and plonk myself on the Main Event sun deck to eat, watching the water for the wildlife with which I will soon swim.

Post lunch: Snorkel time!

There’s plenty of time to snorkel the colourful coral cays here, a highlight of which is swimming with the harmless reef sharks. Quality Mares masks, snorkels and fins are included in your day tour price, as well as floatation vests and noodles. In the cooler months, guests can hire a wetsuit.

Snorkelling here takes place off the back of the Main Event, with easily accessible steps which lead straight into the water. Guests can also opt to dive.

If you can’t decide, read the pros and cons of both on this post.

2pm: So long, day trippers

All day guests heading back to Bundaberg return to the Main Event. But super lucky visitors such as me, and my overnight luggage, are transferred over to another vessel, the Advance II which was built in 1989 and designed for extended charters to remote reefs.

Lady Musgrave Experience general manager Brett Lakey has moored this vessel out here, at the outer edge of the lagoon off the island, where it can sleep a total of eight guests, plus crew. There’s a small galley in which crew prepare meals and comfortable couches downstairs.

This is Queensland, so you’ll spend most of your time up on deck, home to an outdoor table and chairs and barbecue equipment. Once I wave goodbye to the Main Event day passengers, (sorry, not sorry), I deposit my gear in my aft double bedroom, replete with ensuite, and two single bunks.

3pm: Flying with giants

Mantra Rays | Sleep on the reefBrett, who is aboard the Advance II this particular evening, has spotted a squadron of 10 mantra rays just off Lady Musgrave Island and proposes we take the dive boat over to explore with our snorkels. I plunge into the water and spend the next hour swimming with these gentle giants. It’s like flying and I try, unsuccessfully, to emulate their grace. There’s a pod of dolphins out here too.

4pm: Turtle time!

We jump back in the dive boat but we’re not done yet, as Brett suggests a gentle glide over a turtle cleaning station, where larger animals congregate to be cleaned by smaller marine life in what is of Mother Nature’s more nifty tricks. I spend a glorious hour drifting with the turtles.

Then, it’s back to the boat and time for a quick, hot shower before we head over to Lady Musgrave Island for sunset.

6pm: There’s no sunset like a Southern Great Barrier Reef sunset

Sunset | Sleep on the reefThe crew serves drinks and cook a barbecue dinner from the back of the boat.

8:30pm: Lights out

I head down to my room and fall into a deep slumber, rocked gently to sleep by the tide. It’s deliciously quiet out here on the reef.


7am: Not-so early to rise

Snorkelling trip | Sleep on the reefSunrise streams through the cabin windows, negating the need for an alarm clock but it’s not until the scent of bacon and eggs on the barbecue and brewed coffee lures me that I head up on deck.

We feast on breakfast while discussing snorkelling strategies for the morning.

9am: Meet Fairfax Island (and hello, whales!)

Whales | Sleep on the reef: 48 hours on Lady Musgrave Island

We head in the direction opposite of Lady Musgrave Island towards Fairfax Island and are snorkelling with a pod of dolphins when a humpback whale mother and calf swim right up towards us. I’m so excited; I forget to put my snorkel piece into my mouth and am only reminded of this when I attempt to breathe. The curious calf swims within metres of us, and under the boat, while the mother slaps her tail in excitement. It’s a magical morning.

I’m indulging in Lady Musgrave lady luck here, as I’ve timed my experience with whale season when migrating whales travel from Antarctica to the warmer Queensland waters in give birth. While not a guaranteed experience, out here, it’s a distinct possibility, with greater numbers of whales being sighted every year.

10am: One last exclusive treat

There’s just enough time for one more secret snorkelling spot, home to a lemon shark and some more spectacular coral before the Main Event arrives back at Lady Musgrave Island with today’s day trip guests.

Lunchtime: Back to the Main Event

Advance 11 | Sleep on the reefI join the Main Event (there’s no official check out, rather you and your overnight bag are deposited back on the main boat) and have enough time for a couple of hours of snorkelling before she sails back to Bundaberg Port. I feel a little like a reef rock star, having been granted this exclusive experience, and that feeling continues when I am welcomed into the Main Event’s VIP lounge on the upstairs deck, for the journey home.

5pm: Is it really home time?

The Main Event arrives in Bundaberg Port and I arrive, salty and satisfied. It’s a privileged position to be able to sleep under the stars, and with the celebrities of the Great Barrier Reef, knowing that late at night, it’s just you and a few, and the world’s most renowned reef. So, act like a rock-star fish, and get attached to that reef. You won’t regret it.

Your Sleep on the Reef experience with Lady Musgrave Experience will be tailored to your interests as well as to fit perfectly with the tides, weather and movements of marine life while you are out on the reef.

Totally hooked? Try these Great Barrier Reef sleep experiences:

  • Based in the Whitsundays, Cruise Whitsundays offers Reefsleep, which allows the opportunity to spend the night on the outer reef, sleeping in cosy swags aboard this floating pontoon.
  • In Tropical North Queensland, Sunlover by Starlight also offers a pontoon swag-sleeping experience off of Moore Reef.

Is spending a night on the Great Barrier Reef on your bucket list?