‘Sleep on the Reef’: Catching Forty Winks on the Great Barrier Reef

Just over twelve months ago, Reef tour provider Lady Musgrave Island Experience began operating out of Bundaberg Port at Burnett Heads, just four hours’ drive north of Brisbane. It is the most southern port in Queensland with an accessible departure point to Lady Musgrave Island, ‘the jewel of the Southern Great Barrier Reef’ and a true uninhabited coral cay.

Since then, owner and operator Brett Lakey has continued to add new products. One of the most exciting new experiences is an overnight stay on the Reef; a sleepover unlike any other. Visitors already experience unprecedented access to the Great Barrier Reef during a Lady Musgrave Island Experience day tour, and for those who want more than one day on Australia’s World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, Lady Musgrave Island Experience offers a sleep-on-the-Reef encounter as an optional extra to the day tour. The addition of the two-day-one-night stay on the Reef makes this one of the most unique and comprehensive Reef experiences available.

Moored only metres from the Reef’s edge in a calm lagoon surrounding Lady Musgrave Island, the air-conditioned luxury vessel, Main Event, is the hopping-off point for a day of adventure. But activities are not limited to the usual snorkelling, scuba diving, and glass-bottom boat tours. Visitors can also swim with the turtles that frequent the lagoon, whale watch (in season) en route to the island, plus participate in guided island tours or bird watching on the coral cay.

Luxury cruiser Main Event is the hopping off point for snorkelers and the glass bottom boat to explore the reef. Photo: writer's own

Luxury cruiser Main Event is the hopping-off point for snorkelers and the glass-bottom boat to explore the Reef. Photo:  Lady Musgrave Island Experience

I spoke to Mr Lakey about this exciting new addition just prior to its launch. He said the overnight stay includes ranger-led night-time turtle nesting encounters (in season) on the otherwise uninhabited coral cay, as well as the usual water activities. He explained his plans for the visitors’ experience.

“They will come out with me for the day, spend the day tour with us and then if they wish to sleep on the Reef, they’ll spend the night out there on another large boat, go ashore, watch the turtles lay, watch the little ones hatch and spend the night out on the Reef, night snorkels, night glass-bottom boat tours and they’ll come back with me the following afternoon,” he said.

The island is an important nesting site for green turtles as well as some other species. During nesting season, rangers live onsite for weeks at a time conducting research and tours for visitors. Along with island rangers and researchers, marine biologists are available as part of the day tour and overnight experience.

“We’ll have one of our marine biologists there as part of the crew so they can give informative talks on the island and on the glass-bottom boat tours.”

Mr Lakey has also added a new adventure dive vessel which caters to the experienced diver and explores the surrounding reefs and pristine islands where no other Reef tours go. With only eight people participating in a double dive at a time, divers can immerse themselves in isolated beauty.

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Photo: Lady Musgrave Island Experience

“There are a lot of manta rays and sharks in the area. It’s a totally different island that doesn’t get visited much, which is Fairfax Island,” Mr Lakey said.

Swimming with turtles is all part of the fun in the lagoon which hosts natural turtle cleaning stations where turtles rest and allow wrasse fish to clean them.

“We take the snorkelers to these areas and they get to witness up to three species of turtles in one snorkel: the green turtle, loggerhead and hawksbill,” Mr Lakey said.

As a local resident of this region I am excited by the addition of this new service. Within months of the tour opening, I booked my family a day trip. Prior to this, the only ocean-going vessel which had access to the islands of the Reef was a two hours’ drive north of Bundaberg via the town of 1770 (yes there is a town called 1770 – you’ll just have to wait for my next article to find out more about that!)

The tour caters to people of all swimming abilities. Flotation devices are supplied along with snorkelling gear. Staff observe from the vessel, several staff with rescue rings are in the water with participants at all times, and an inflatable motor boat cruises the area.

The staff were friendly, helpful and clearly love working in the marine environment. They seemed to appreciate us showing a genuine interest and willingly answered our questions. One gave my nine-year-old son lessons in duck diving to get a closer look at the sea creatures hiding under the reef ledge. My son was soon gliding deep under water and casually popping to the surface with an exuberant squirt from his snorkel.

Jacqui's children enjoying the reef. Photo: writer's own

Jacqui’s children enjoying the Reef. Photo: writer’s own

My eleven-year-old daughter hijacked my smart phone in its waterproof jacket, purchased on board, and amused herself by videoing the bright neon colours of the reef fish and the spectacular shapes of the corals and other underwater phenomenon, like her brother’s nostrils and her mother’s rear end. We arrived home with a mix of amusing close-ups and pretty underwater scenes. When she tired of this, staff escorted her back on board for afternoon tea.

Morning and afternoon tea and a fresh lunch of salads, breads, cold meats and seafood are included. Even those who have a tendency to suffer sea sickness will enjoy a hearty meal as lunch is served once the Main Event is moored in the calm lagoon.

Meanwhile my son and I lingered in the lagoon. Being two of only a few people left in the water, we were rewarded with the appearance of a manta ray. We knew this was a special experience because it caused great excitement among the staff in the water near us. The ray was swift and graceful and larger than my son. He circled around us, tilting this way and that so we saw his white underside then his dark back. Within moments he was gone, leaving everyone a little awestruck.

We did little more than snorkel that day as the glass-bottom boat and island tours were not yet operational. It is now fully operational with the adventure dive package and Sleep on the Reef experience available.

Day tour to Lady Musgrave Island starts from AU$205.00 per person

Sleep on the Reef Experience starts from AU$550.00 per person

Adventure Outer Reef Dive Packages starts from AU$275 per person

For more information on this unequalled Reef experience, visit http://www.ladymusgraveexperience.com.au/

Featured Image: youtube.com

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