Sleeping with the fishes on the Reef

Aine Fox
Reefsuite on Hardy Reef is the first underwater accommodation on the Great Barrier Reef

A shoal of tiny, electric blue Chromis suddenly burst from the depths of the sea. There are hundreds of them and they're darting in all directions, performing a dance just for me.

This midnight fish disco is being screened across four giant glass windows as I lie in bed, watching in awe.

I'm only in this country for a brief time and to my English eyes, watching this spectacular show outside my room at one of the world's seven natural wonders makes me feel like a child on Christmas Eve.

I'm staying at Reefsuites, Australia's first underwater accommodation on the Great Barrier Reef.

Just a few hours earlier, our boat pulled up alongside the Reefworld pontoon on Hardy Reef, around 70km off the north Queensland coast. I couldn't wait to spend a little over a day immersing myself in the mesmerising sights on offer.

Many tourists to Australia opt to visit the reef - to snorkel, scuba dive or take a cruise in a glass-bottomed boat.

But what would it be like to spend the night out here? Four metres underwater, sleeping among the fish?

The idea of being surrounded by water and unable to open a window sounds fairly claustrophobic so I was pleasantly surprised to find the two rooms to be anything but - measuring roughly 5.5 by 5 metres.

Each includes a spacious ensuite, also complete with a glass wall so that even during a shower you can observe the underwater sights.

Down here under the ocean's surface, luxury doesn't feel compromised. The double bed is comfortable, there are white bathrobes awaiting me and there are lots of shelf space along the windows.

There is no wardrobe, but for a one-night stay during which I plan to spend most of my time in swimwear, that doesn't pose a problem.

A multitude of different fish types swim up to the window throughout the night, probably attracted to a small blue UV light outside the room, which the company assures me has been developed to ensure the lowest possible impact on marine life.

In the early hours, around a dozen giant trevally appear for a late-night snack of baitfish.

As the sunlight begins to stream through the water shortly after 5am, a whole new show begins, as yellow-tailed fusiliers and Dory-like surgeonfish appear to greet me.

Just when I think things can't get any more exciting, a giant sea turtle meanders slowly across the window, its calm demeanour an amusing contrast to my frantic attempts to quickly grab my phone to capture the moment.

I see another a few hours later during a morning snorkel safari, which is easily the highlight of the stay.

There is no doubt the reef faces threats, not least from climate change. But our guide Anna insists the part she's showing us is fairly healthy - despite my initial concerns the cream colour of the coral is the result of bleaching.

I worry too that my very presence is a disturbance to the sea life, but she tells me visitors are needed in order to gain a greater understanding of the reef and learn how to protect it for future generations.

"I think when I take people out here and they see how beautiful the reef is they want to look after it," she says. "They think 'I want my kids to see this'. I want to make wise decisions around my use of plastic, for example.

"When you fall in love with something, you want to look after it."

It's with a broad smile that I wave goodbye as the boat leaves the pontoon for land a few hours later. We leave that night's guests sunbathing on giant bean bags, relaxing in the shade of the upper deck day beds, or taking another dip in the water.

As the sun sets, and with a complimentary wine in hand, I know they'll be lapping up a unique and luxurious experience that the lack of phone reception forces them to enjoy in its entirety.

On the pontoon the night before, we enjoyed a tasty banquet of steak, fresh prawns and salads under fairy lights, with cheesecakes and melt-in-the-mouth brownies to follow.

Then while the top deck guests settled in for a night under the stars in their glamping day beds, I retired downstairs to my underwater world of wonder.

It was the best sleepless night I'd ever had.

IF YOU GO

Reefsuites are from $799 per person, while Reefsleep beds on the top deck are from $595 per person (sharing) or $795 for sole occupancy. Prices include a return cruise out to the reef from Hamilton Island, all meals and beverages and a selection of marine activities.

For more information, visit https://cruisewhitsundays.com/reefsuites or call 07 4846 7000.

The writer travelled as a guest of Journey Beyond.