For over 18 months I have been helping visitors to Cairns book and organise their holidays by working in an Information Centre. ...

Monday, 20 June 2016


Yes, I did say “camp out”. Words you may associate with the Australian Outback or out in the bush. This next experience I was fortunate to partake in was exactly that, camping out under the stars with minimal facilities… the great outdoors! Just me, the stars and my swag.
What is a “swag”???? Do you mean I have "got good swag"?
No! Today the term “swag” is used when someone has “game” or “good moves”. If you Google the definition it says “Appearance, style, or the way he or she presents themselves”. To us Australians, a swag has meant something else entirely for a long time before the current urban meanings came about. It is a small single man (or woman) canvas tent that you can zip up completely if it rains or only have the fly zipped up to keep insects out and to keep cool. It has a comfy mattress inside. Back in the day, a swag was just a matt for drovers to sleep on whilst herding cattle across the land, basically a bed that can be taken anywhere and set up anywhere. Today, it’s more like “glamping”.

An Australian swag (This is the one I own). Photo by OZtrail.

So I was ready to accept the challenge of seeing the reef in a different way. To stay overnight out there is usually on a boat staying in a cabin with all the mod-cons. This time for me it is in a swag set up on a 45metre long stable pontoon, 26 nautical miles off the Cairns coast at Moore Reef.
The adventure begins with checking in at the Reef Fleet Terminal in the Cairns CBD. This looks like a little airport terminal and you line up with your voucher (the boats to the reef must be pre-booked) at the company you booked with. I was issued with my ticket and sent down to the boat for boarding.
The boat is a little overwhelming if it’s busy, ill be honest with you, there can be many international tour groups on this visit to the reef so you just have to look past that and get on with enjoying the day. The operation is well organised when you board. After a cheesy photo opportunity by the Calypso Reef Imagery staff you find yourself a comfy seat and grab an included tea or coffee. There are many staff located throughout the vessel, helping organise Scuba Dives, Seawalker Helmet Dives, Guided Snorkel Tours & Helicopter Flights. All of this can be organised on the boat for additional costs. The staff also speak many languages making it easy for those international guests.
The journey over will take just under 2 hours. It stops briefly at Fitzroy Island to collect more passengers, giving you ample opportunity to photograph it. As well a all the briefings and Marine Biologist talk on the journey out to Moore Reef, I myself had my own briefing for my overnight experience. Luke & Danni were our hosts for the next couple of days. These 2 would be staying behind on the pontoon with me when the day boat returns to Cairns. We were given the itinerary rundown, met the other passengers who we’d be spending time with and how it’s all working over the next 2 days. They highly stressed that we were to be all alone out on the reef with no easy way to return to land… unless you forked out of a very expensive helicopter! This might scare people off… but for me, this is what I was looking forward to the most!!!! 
 Photo's from the Sunlover experience by Tara Reynolds.

I was incredibly lucky with the weather. To enjoy this experience the most, you need to be on top of the weather forecast and plan your overnight when the wind is calm (below 10knots is best) and the sun is out. When we arrived at the pontoon at Moore Reef it was pretty much a glass out (flat water with no waves) and a bright sunny day without a cloud in the sky. When the boat arrived at the pontoon, I remained on the top deck of the boat taking snaps while all the passengers alighted and got themselves organised for the day. This too, can be overwhelming. People rushing around to get a table for their family, de-robing and slathering on sunscreen and trying to find out where everything is. People rush towards the first glass bottom boat tour of the day (included in the cost) which is totally unnecessary! To avoid the rush and panic of all the tour groups, take my advice and TAKE YOUR TIME! You have 4 hours on the pontoon, PLENTY OF TIME to take in all the activities, eat lunch and snorkel you little heart out! Once everyone finally gets settled there is plenty of room to move about and the whole energy of the day chills out a bit. People disperse to go for a swim, go on the semi-submersible tour (also included), check out the underwater observatory or head to the buffet lunch on the boat. So when you arrive, let the dust settle and then get involved in the day!
Panorama from the top deck of the boat at the pontoon. Photo by Tara Reynolds.

Time for a semi-submersible tour for me. Loads of room inside (it’s huge) and commentary was in English and Mandarin. I didn’t feel like I could see much in relation to other semi-sub tours at other reefs I had been on. I was a little concerned about the quality of the reef afterwards and how good my snorkel will be.
No one will sit with me! Inside the large semi-sub. Photo by Tara Reynolds.

I was feeling a little peckish so I decided to load up lunch at the buffet on the boat. Plenty to choose from, hot & cold meals, salads, cured meats, fresh prawns and fresh tropical fruits. I gave it my seal of approval.
Photo's of the delicious Sunlover included buffet lunch by Tara Reynolds.

Once my lunch settled a little, I decided to hit the water. I have all my own snorkel equipment but if you don’t have your own mask & flippers they have plenty on the pontoon to use, a set for everyone. They also have a huge amount of safety vests if your not the strongest of swimmers. I noticed a group heading off on their Guided Snorkel Tour… just perfect if you want more out of your snorkel and need a little help… these guides know where all the good corals and fish are (want to find Nemo?) and they give out information during the tour. See my link below for a short video of the Guided Snorkel Tour.
Link to my video of the guided snorkel tour & pontoon.

So off I head into the big blue, armed with my underwater camera from http://calypsoproductions.com.au/cairns-underwater-camera-hire/ not knowing what I was going to find…. if I was to find anything at all. Thankfully, Moore Reef didn’t disappoint! You couldn’t get me out of the water! I was totally surprised (especially after the disappointing semi-sub tour).
Photo's from my first snorkel of the adventure. Photo's by Tara Reynolds.

After a snorkel that exceeded my expectations (Moore Reef was amazing. So much coral diversity and different fish species to spot and photograph) The staff held a touch tank demonstration where passengers could hold a star fish or a sea cucumber. These animals were put safely out back in to the water after the show. There was also fish feeding where my inner child came out as I was handed some fish food.

My link to the touch tank video on youtube. Video by Tara Reynolds.

Slowly bust surely… the moment had arrived when the day boat returned back to Cairns with all it’s many passengers. This was such an amazing feeling! When the boat was gone… all you could hear, was silence. Now the magic happens! This is what this adventure is all about! When that boat disappeared off towards Fitzroy Island I thought that was already pretty darn cool. Little did I know then how amazing this experience would actually be.
We were treated to a delicious cheese & crackers platter and I got to engage in pleasant conversation with my adventure buddies. Luke & Danni set up for the evening, explained how the chemical toilet, sink for washing hands and brushing teeth and warm shower works. They turned on the generator for light an power… I thought this was very cool because I could charge my iPhone and we could play some tunes.
Each moment continued to be awesome! The 3 of us were next treated to a private guided snorkel tour with Luke. Private… because no one else was there!!! We got to swim outside of the normal day snorkel area and check out other sections of the reef. Luke was full to the brim with reef knowledge of all things corals, fish, turtles and reef sharks.  
Photo's from the late afternoon private snorkel by Tara Reynolds.

The sun was nearing the horizon so after our swim it was time to have a shower and get changed, crack a coldie and pull up a comfy camp chair to watch the sun go down (You per purchase your alcohol on the boat before it departs for Cairns and the staff put it on ice for you). You don’t always get sunsets like this on the East Coast of Australia. It was unbelievable… you can never tire of a great sunset. Could this adventure get any better?!
Photo of the amazing sunset from my Instagram account, Taz_Reinholtz.

The answer is… YES! Dinner by twilight is why. The staff had set up and table with cloths and candles on the end of the pontoon which has no roof. A beautiful BBQ buffet was also set up with a choice of marinated chicken pieces, reef fish & steak (cooked by Danni on the BBQ) and an array of tropical salads (provided by an outside caterer). As the sky changes hue and the stars slowly reveal themselves we all dined together as a group, shared conversation and had a drink. It would have to had been one of the best restaurants I had been too! What ambiance! 
Photo's of dinner by Tara Reynolds.

After dinner and drinks it was time for our swag demonstration. The staff help you set it up and give you fresh linen for your mattress and a pillow. 
Photo's of our set up. Photo's by Tara Reynolds.

All that was left to do was finish our drinks and have a tea and coffee whilst star gazing from the camp chairs. They turn the generator off, now that silence was even more epic than when the day boat left! That night I left my swag fly open and fell asleep under thousand stars. I counted 10 shooting stars and with a free star gazing app… you could see what constellation was what and what planets were in our southern sky. There is very little light pollution from Cairns and the moon was already close to the horizon making for optimal viewing. I obviously don’t have pictures of this, you’ll just have to come along on Sunlover Starlight to see how amazing the stars are yourself!
In the morning…. we were greeted to an amazing sunrise. I didn’t think I could top the sunset experience…but as the adventure continued it only got better and better! Another amazing day with stunning conditions lay ahead.

Stunning images from the sunrise! Photo's by Tara Reynolds.

After a tea or coffee and light breakfast we head out on another guided snorkel tour. This time on the out-of-bounds area where the boat normally moors along side the pontoon. The visibility was at least 20 meters, we were experiencing another glass out. After touring around with Luke we were able to explore another reef to the side of the pontoon on our own. 
Photo's of my mornings snorkel by Tara Reynolds.

I wouldn’t have come out of the water if it wasn’t the announcement of a hot cooked breakfast!
Photo's of breakfast by Tara Reynolds.

After breakfast was “free time” to do as we pleased. Grab some sun, take a shower, snorkel again…. I chose to snorkel again. I wanted to make the most of this time alone with no other people. I also had the idea of using the lifeguard stand up paddle board and go for a SUP. There wasn’t a proper paddle so I made do with a dingy oar. Turns out this was a wicked idea! The amount of corals and fish you could see from above, words can’t really describe! This turned out to be an awesome inclusion and I hope they offer it to future passengers. It was a perfect little workout in-between snorkels and great a great way to entertain myself as Luke and Danni were busy cleaning up breakfast and getting ready for the day boat to return.
Photo of the potential SUP experience. Photo by Luke.

And return it did, with 100 passengers. I was called in from my snorkel to get all my gear organised and on a table with my fellow overnighters. This time I watched the arrival frenzy first hand and didn’t leave my table until the dust settled and the pontoon chilled out again. I was a little sad when the boat returned, like the adventure was over. IT WASN’T! Time for a glass bottom boat tour, underwater observatory, another fantastic lunch and another super snorkel. I was on a mission to find Nemo and another shark and use up all my space on my SD card. MISSION SUCCESS!!!

Link to my Nemo short video. Video by Tara Reynolds
Link to my Black Tip Reef Shark short video. Video by Tara Reynolds

So it was nearing time to depart (cue sad face) Normally you would take the “almost” 2 hour boat back to Cairns. But not for this lady! I was going home in style, in a helicopter with http://www.nautilusaviation.com.au/ 
Excited about my flight home to Cairns. Photo by Tara Reynolds.

This is an optional extra but it is worth every cent, especially after 2 full days on the reef! There is a small helicopter pontoon a short distance from the main pontoon. Nautilus run 10 minute flights throughout the day and you can also fly out to the pontoon instead of taking the boat at all! I was cutting my return time by an hour and a half! I hadn’t been in a helicopter over the reef before. It was phenomenal! We were taken over to the heli-pad in the tender craft and as the last load of scenic flight passengers disembarked, it was our turn to get on the chopper! I got to sit in the front with the pilot. The scenery was AMAZE-BALLS! 
Photo's from my Nautilus Helicopter Flight from Moore Reef to Cairns. Photo's by Tara Reynolds.

Link to my return into Cairns. Video from Tara Reynolds.

Unfortunately, the saying goes, all good things do come to an end. I will say this about my experience… IT 100% EXCEEDED MY EXPECTATIONS! I have come away with fantastic photos from the air to the sea, from sunset to sunrise and all in between. I made many jealous on my Instagram account, I ate delicious food and met wonderful people. The 2 full days allowed me to completely absorb the Great Barrier Reef through many aspects. The reef sight itself was superb and the program combined for the day trips to overnight well managed and ran smoothly. Yes, the weather was pretty much off the hook so if you time it right, it will only enhance your experience.
Be you a non-swimmer or have a non-swimmer in your family or group, the day trip to the Sunlover Pontoon is a definite option for you. There is so much to see and do without even getting wet! There is great variety in the day (if you can look past the crowds).
It’s hard to choose a favourite moment from this experience, the sunset & sunrise was pretty darn epic and hard to beat! I will say this however, snorkelling without any crowds in the late afternoon and early morning was something I will never forget. You don’t get to do this often, even for someone like me who is fortunate to snorkel the reef often. For the snorkelling alone, this makes Sunlover Starlight worth it.
I loved my time with Sunlover Starlight and hope many more people book this adventure when they come to this corner of the world to see the Great Barrier Reef. This is the perfect way to make the most of your time and see as much as you can without being trapped on a boat for 1 to 2 nights. You can book your Sunlover Adventures at a Tourist Information Centre in Cairns or online. If I get the chance to do it again…. I would be there in a heartbeat!

Many thanks Sunlover, Calypso & Nautilus Aviation!

Make sure you follow me on my Instagram:)  taz_reinholtz

The Tour:
2 Day + 1 Night Trip

08:30am to 9:00am (Check in Reef Fleet Terminal)
Boat Return 5:30pm the following day.
Helicopter aprox 20 minutes return to Cairns Airport

Day Trip suitable for: 
  • Families with younger children
  • Someone who only swims/snorkels a little
  • Non-swimmers
  • Elderly
  • Those scared of deep open water
Starlight Overnight is suitable for:
  • Solo travellers (adult)
  • Families with older children
  • Couples happy to sleep the night in single swags
Fitness level (out of 5):
  • 💪 💪
Time of year:
  • All year round
  • Stinger suits worn October to May (Wet suits available in colder months) $5.00 extra
Day Trip Price:
  • $199.00 AUD Adult
  • $99.00 AUD Child
  • $497.00 AUD Family
Starlight Overnight:

  • $499.00 AUD Adult

No comments:

Post a Comment