Pumpkin Island

Catching ZZZs: 8 ways to sleep on the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef may never sleep, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to.

Just as not all stars belong in the sky (hello, starfish), not all things on the Great Barrier Reef happen below the water’s rippling surface either. Instead, you’ll find plenty of action by checking out (and checking into) this World Heritage-listed wonder for the night.

From swags to luxury linens, these are the booking details you need for sleeping on the Reef.

1. Your own pontoon at sea

Spend the night literally in the middle of paradise for your next trip to Tropical North Queensland or the Whitsundays, and fall asleep to the calming sounds of the Great Barrier Reef.

From Cairns, join the Sunlover by Starlight experience 26 nautical miles off the coast of Cairns, for the opportunity for some one-on-one time with this natural icon. Among the company of just 17 other people, you’ll have the Sunlover pontoon to yourself between 3:30pm and 11am for a private reef show after dark.

In the Whitsundays, Reefworld by Cruise Whitsundays adds a little more exclusivity out at its Hardy Reef base, 40 nautical miles from shore.

After a full buffet dinner with unbeatable views, take a dive of a different sort into your deluxe double Reefsleep swag (complete with luggage storage and charging station)to get some sleep in preparation for your private morning snorkel safari and glass-bottom boat ride before the day-trippers arrive.

Or for an even more otherwordly experience, stay 4 metres below the surface in one of two Reefsuites, Australia’s first underwater accommodation. Think floor-to-ceiling glass walls, guest-controlled in-water lights to maximise night viewing, not to mention a chef-prepared dinner and snorkelling and semi-submersible tours. Talk about immersive.

2. Get up close and personal on a liveaboard

If your idea of a holiday includes diving, diving and more diving, pack your wetsuit and sense of adventure for a liveaboard experience like this one.

Pro Dive Cairns offers a range of options with its three-day, two-nights outer reef liveaboard. You’ll sleep atop a premium, purpose-built, multi-million dollar dive vessel, sharing a bunk bed with a fellow diver or one of the two double cabins, sharing on-board amenities, while your days will be spent participating in nine day-dives and two at night.

Leading the way since 1969, Mike Ball Dive offers 3, 4 and 7 night excursions to the world-famous Ribbon Reefs. The trips include a low-level reef flight and dive sites include Cod Hole and Steve’s Bommie. For your digs you’ll be resting on Australia’s most awarded liveaboard boat, Spoilsport. Dive in style, sleep in style.

3. Sleep in luxury at an island resort

qualia | sleep on the great barrier reef

Photo by @marilialelis

Tropical island escapes are best served with a side of the little things that make you smile: uninterrupted sunsets, fresh and local produce prepared in a way that respects the produce, and access to the best of nature at your doorstep.

Hamilton Island, one of the Whitsundays’ most popular island resorts, offers this in abundance.

From the ultra-luxe qualia to the family-friendly Reef View Hotel, each of the six accommodation options come with the same sapphire blue view worthy of its own spot on the Pantone colour wheel. If you’re kicking it island side, check out these things to do at this resort playground.

4. Camp with a hint of extravagance

Glamping is not only camping’s more luxurious cousin, but one of the most comfortable ways to spend a weekend with the reef.

It’s hotel comfort meets nature’s beauty, all tied up in a neat little bell tent.

When it comes to Great Barrier Reef glamping, look no further than panoramic views of Lady Elliot Island and Keswick Island to find camping plus comfort (and none of those pesky air mattresses).

Keswick Glamping is just a short stroll away from Basil Bay, hidden away in a leafy hillside escape on this privately-owned island off Mackay.

The glamping facilities are within the island’s campground (so you can show campers what they’re missing) and you’ll arrive to find a timber-decked safari tent with your bed set up and awaiting your arrival.

Lady Elliot Island on the southernmost tip of the Great Barrier Reef has two glamping tents just metres from the edge of the Island’s protected lagoon – perfect for an early morning wake-up snorkel.

What’s more, you won’t have to use the ocean to shower (we’ve all been there) because each tent has a private bathroom.

5. DIY sailing adventure


Photo by @reubennutt

What if we told you that you could be the master and the commander of your own Great Barrier Reef adventure?

If your ears have pricked up, then start planning a ‘bareboating‘ adventure. Bareboating is basically the IKEA, build-your-own-adventure of the sailing world, where you can hire a yacht or catamaran and charter your way around The Whitsundays on your own time.

Select your crew of family and friends, buy yourself a captain’s hat and pay attention to the map marked with the destinations of your choice.

Your boat is your hotel, equipped with all the facilities you need, and your treasure is any one of the many pristine beaches you’ll find on your adventure.

Don’t consider yourself a seadog? Don’t worry, you can book yourself in for a sailing lesson before you pack the duffle and set sail – or better yet, hire yourself a skipper for the trip. Get the facts with this guide.

6. See the deep blue, by going green at an eco-resort

Elysian Retreat-Whitsundays | Sleep on the Great Barrier Reef

Leave the city behind for an eco-friendly escape.

If you’re conscious of your footprint, and not just the kind you leave in the sand, then travel to the Whitsundays and make Elysian Retreat your destination for the night (or a few).

The first 100% solar-powered resort on the Great Barrier Reef, Elysian is built around creating and savouring life’s special moments in their private cove on Long Island.

The accommodation is made up of 10 beachfront villas, each with high cathedral ceilings, uninterrupted ocean views and a hammock out front to rest in after hours snorkelling or kayaking around the island.

7. Live like a rock star: hire an island

Always dreamed of living like the rich and famous and owning your own island? Well now you can – or at least, you can hire an island and pretend you own it, for little more than an overseas airfare.

Introducing Pumpkin Island, in the Southern Great Barrier Reef, where you can sleep up to 34 people for less than $3000 on the first beyond carbon neutral island in Australia (they offset 150% of their carbon emissions).

If you want a quiet sleep-out as a couple, then sign the cheque for $2730 per night and get yourself to this destination just 14kms from Yeppoon.

With seven self-catering eco-friendly units, which are powered by wind and solar panels, Pumpkin Island offers plenty of accommodation options, while hammocks, swinging chairs and lounges scatted over the island fill in the gaps between snorkelling and, well…snorkelling.

8. Stay for $6.50 a night

Lady Musgrave Island_Sleep on the Great Barrier Reef

The tiny coral cay of Lady Musgrave Island is nature at its absolute finest.

3,000 acres of coral lagoon provide the ultimate playground with outstanding coral coverage and bommies home to manta rays, turtles, dolphins and hundreds of creatures you’ve probably never seen before.

On land, the island is a significant nesting site for seabirds, in particular black noddy terns and for turtles, with green and loggerhead turtles nesting each year from November-March.

The island is as minimalistic as possible – National Parks grant a total of 40 camping permits (at the ridiculous $6.50 per night) at any one time, and there are no facilities so you must bring everything on and off with you. Simply put this is for the serious campers, but offers natures greatest rewards in return for a little roughing-it.

For a complete how-to camping guide to Lady Musgrave Island, check out this post.