Elysian Retreat | Couples holiday Great Barrier Reef

Romance on the Reef: Great Barrier Reef holidays for couples

A getaway to one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef isn’t like ordinary mini-breaks. You can sleep under the stars in the middle of the reef, escape to a private island, or go by helicopter to a secluded beach. The rest of the world fades away and all that’s left is you, your partner, and the natural wonder around you.

It’s easy to keep that spark flaring when you work on it. For something new and unexpected, read on.

Spend the night in the middle of the Reef

Spending a night in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef will transform the way you think about romance. With no crowds or Wifi to distract you, leaving you and your partner gloriously marooned in the middle of North Queensland’s greatest treasure.

By day, you can explore the thousands of species of fish, rays, corals, and marine mammals that call the reef home. Then by night, retreat to your room at ReefSuites. Just off Airlie Beach, this underwater hotel is moored in Hardy Reef, and is the closest that land mammals can come to actually living underwater. The suites are plush and comfortable with floor-to-ceiling windows looking directly into the water.

From home base on the pontoon, guests can also access an underwater observatory, dine beneath the stars, and embark on high flying adventures to Heart Reef (see below).

But the best part is being there as the reef wakes up. Catching a glimpse of early morning rays lighting up the coral reef, and the swarms of tropical fish zooming in between. All right outside your window and observable from the comfort of your covers.

Perfect for: Adventurous couples.

How to get there: 40 miles from Airlie Beach, Reefworld offers cruises to the Hardy Reef pontoon via the islands of the Whitsundays.

Budget: From $799 for a couple

Beach picnic on sand cay

If you’re looking for a romantic day adventure, Vlassof Cay in Tropical North Queensland is exactly the kind of experience that will take your breath away.

The sand cay is a low sandy island floating in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. Surrounded by corals and the natural habitat of thousands of species of marine life, Vlassoff Cay is like a private viewing deck to the wonders of the reef.

Go with GBR Helicopters and your whole day on the cay is curated from start to finish. Take off is early, and travelling by helicopter blesses you with a breathtaking birds eye view of the crystal waters of the reef before landing on the soft white sands of the cay.

Next on the agenda is snorkelling with fish and turtles in the encroaching coral reef. Even lunch is taken care of with a gourmet picnic hamper to unpack on the shore.

This is a luxe experience starting at $899 per person. For that you can expect absolute privacy and exclusive access to the natural splendour of the reef.

Perfect for: Special occasions.

How to get there: GBR Helicopters operates tours to the cay from 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.

Retreat into the scenery of a tropical paradise

Pam Bay Resort

For some quality alone time in a paradise home away from home, escape to Long Island and the hidden island resort of Palm Bay.

It’s a completely secluded destination with a private cove that seems to sink into the surrounding forest and bushland. The encroaching natural terrain is prime territory for hiking and birdwatching, and the beachfront villas put you right on the water’s edge so you can wake up every morning with a refreshing dip. For even more privacy, retreat to a Hibiscus Suite nestled further into the rainforest and be lulled to sleep by the sounds of the rainforest.

Couples can make use of the resort’s kayaks and snorkelling gear to explore the iconic reef and idyllic beaches within walking distance of Palm Bay. There’s even a helipad for scenic excursions over the reef and nearby islands.

After a day of exploring the island’s 13km of walking tracks or surrounding reefs, enjoy some downtime at the day spa or kick back for a swing in the villa’s hammock.

Palm Bay has a unique arrangement that sees guests self-cater while all the cleanup is taken care of by resort employees, striking the perfect balance between home comfort and holiday novelty. Perfect for avid cooks.

Perfect for: Barefoot nature lovers.

How to get there: Travel to the Whitsundays or Airlie Beach and transfer to Long Island via water taxi.

Budget: Accommodation from $269 per night.

Pitch a tent on Lady Musgrave Island

Perch on a small coral cay, nesting on 3000 hectares of living reef, and let Lady Musgrave Island be your home for the weekend.

Wake up in the shadow of pisonia trees and crawl out of your tent to dive straight into the island’s natural reef lagoon, sheltered by a 14km long coral wall and teeming with marine life. Here, you can snorkel during the day, exploring the corals and fish in the surrounding waters, and spend your nights gazing upwards towards an unpolluted view of the Milky Way.

Lady Musgrave is definitely one for rough and tumble campers, with no facilities beyond composting toilets. All you need is a camping permit, supplies, and snorkel or scuba gear. If you don’t have your own transport or scuba gear, you can organise transport and a dive on the outer reef with Lady Musgrave Experience.

Perfect for: Outdoor adventurers

How to get there: Via private boat or organised transfer with Lady Musgrave Cruises from the Town of 1770, or with Lady Musgrave Experience embarking 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: Camping permits from $6.65 per person, per night.

Sail away

There’s no better way to get to know the enchanting azure shades of Whitsundays blue than from the deck of a boat. The sparkling waters are the perfect backdrop for a romantic getaway sailing through the Whitsundays, and what makes this holiday so special is that the Whitsundays is the only place in the world where you can skipper your own yacht without needing a boat licence. Even just a little sailing experience is enough to embark on a bareboating holiday through the Whitsundays.

Tack and jibe through the islands yourself, with a course set on snorkelling adventures in secret bays, rugged climbs to the tops of mountains and afternoons spent frolicking on dazzling white beaches. Just the two of you.

Perfect for: A digital detox.

How to get there: Travel to the Whitsundays and arrange your yacht charter with Go Bareboating or Sunsail.

Budget: From $700 per night.

Journey to the heart

Since its discovery over 40 years ago, Heart Reef has charmed visitors with its natural beauty. Hundreds of people have popped the question flying over this tiny, heart-shaped coral formation, earning it a romantic reputation.

It’s distinct shape is best appreciated from above, by helicopter or light plane, which is why the Journey to the Heart tour is the best way to experience the Great Barrier Reef’s beauty spot up close.

Embarking from Hamilton Island, Journey to the Heart begins with a scenic helicopter ride giving passengers a lingering birds-eye vantage of Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet, Hook Island, and the romantic reef. Then it’s on to the nearby Heart Island, a state-of-the-art pontoon moored in the middle of a turquoise lagoon.

From here, a glass-bottom boat ferries passengers right up to Heart Reef, the closest human encounter since 1975 when the reef was discovered.

Because Heart Reef itself is a protected area, snorkelling and scuba exploration is not sanctioned. Instead, couples are treated to a snorkel tour of coral walls in a private lagoon nearby, guided by a marine biologist.

With just six guests at a time, couples are guaranteed privacy as they get to know the reef.

Perfect for: A once-in-a-lifetime experience

How to get there: The scenic tour departs from Hamilton Island. Check out this guide of where to go and what to do either side of your scenic flight.

Budget: $999 per person

Relax at a luxurious resort

Hidden at the northern tip of the beautiful Hamilton Island is where you’ll find Qualia. One of the most romantic destinations, this luxurious resort offers absolute privacy and a rare opportunity for couples to spend quality time with each other in deep retreat from the distractions of modern life.

Flanked by Queensland’s famous tropical bushland, the idyll of Qualia’s location has been factored into the design of their self-contained pavilions. Each one has been built with the view in mind, so you can guarantee that every single one has a breathtaking vantage of the Whitsundays.

During the day, guests can make full use of Qualia’s restorative spa treatments. The ethos of spa links back to the meaning of qualia itself: a deeper sensory experience. From yoga and massage to body brushing and wrapping, their approach to spa treatment drawson Indigenous Australian influences. Each therapy is designed to connect your mind, body and spirit, and harmonise it with the essence of the coastal environment.

Come evening, Pebble Beach offers a transcendental dining experience. The menu is wholly focused on flavour, featuring the best quality seasonal produce sourced from farmers and artisans around the country. These makers are hand-selected by the Pebble Beach team, sharing with them an underlying commitment to sustainable and ethical farming methods that is resonant in every bite.

Perfect for: Absolute relaxation.

Travel tip: Qualia also offers a Leeward pavilion that has been configured for wheelchair access.

Budget: from $1050 a night.

Go off grid

Elysian’s magic starts with absolute seclusion and exclusivity. Far from the holiday traffic at the popular Paradise Bay, the eco-resort has room for just 20 guests at a time. Their private cove is an oasis of three hectares cocooned in untouched rainforest and the coral reef.

Bearing the proud title of the first 100% solar powered island resort on the Great Barrier Reef, Elysian Retreat works to minimise environmental impact. Every aspect of this retreat is a carefully considered decision to do the right thing. Even the menu is made with fresh and seasonal local produce to champion sustainability and showcase the best of the region. It’s impossible to spend any amount of time here without increasing your appreciation for the natural world around you.

Couples can wile away the hours with restorative organic spa treatments as well as classic reef activities like paddle boarding and kayaking.

Perfect for: Intimate getaways.

How to get there: Travel to the Whitsundays and go by water taxi to Long Island.

Budget: From $605 a night per person.

Swim for your supper

A resort like no other, Haggerstone Island offers the kind of Great Barrier Reef holidays most people only dream about. Marooned on their picturesque beach you’ll find that everything you need is available from the island’s natural resources.

Access to pristine marine life is a major draw of the Haggerstone experience, with manta rays, green turtles and plenty of tropical fish found in the surrounding reef. It’s also what makes it a prime location for fishing. Guests are encouraged to contribute to the daily haul and go spearfishing for their dinner in the surrounding waters. In fact, all food served on Haggerstone is either pulled from the ocean or picked from their garden mere hours before hitting the plate. Their ocean-to-plate philosophy is underpinned by a commitment to sustainability, so they only ever eat what they need and the rest of the daily catch is released back into the eco-system.

Keeping mindful of the impact on the environment, Haggerstone’s accommodation is as close to camping as a standalone structure gets. The beachfront villas are each constructed in natural materials and bathed in natural light to bring as much of the outdoors in. There are just five villas spread out along Haggerstone’s shoreline (so privacy is always assured), each offering a different standard of amenity.

Perfect for: Castaways and keen fishers

How to get there: Access to Haggerstone is by private charter departing from either Cairns or Weipa.

Travel tip: Book the Beach Hut villa to get cosy by an open fireplace.

Budget: $800 a night per person