The sun rose on the horizon and rose surprisingly fast in the air. It was 6.43 am, exactly at the right time. The first rays of light had broken through the darkness almost half an hour earlier when my traveling companions and I appeared from our volants – a cross between a single tent and a sleeping bag – to see something that we might never see again: at the beginning of the day. on the Great Barrier Reef. We had seen the sun over 12 hours earlier – an equally spectacular sight that lives in memory for a long time.
We had camped on a pontoon on the Moore Reef, about 30 miles from Cairns in northern Queensland. Although the city is generally known as the Gateway to the Reef, it is a fairly recent development to stay outside and it is truly the experience of your life.
Several companies offer a variety of day trips to the reef, but only Sunlover by Starlight offers the possibility to camp at night.
As soon as the day-passengers return to the coast mid-afternoon, the nocturnal part of the journey begins and you will only arrive until the next day. The Moore Reef pontoon has effectively become our home for two days.
Before the night fell, we took a final dive and snorkeling, and with no one else around it it looked like this part of the reef was swollen with fish in all shapes and sizes, clearly enjoying the peace and quiet as much as we do. Our guide in the water was even happy to take us past the coral into the deep ocean.
This is a truly intimate experience. A few crew members stay with you and when the sun sets they serve cheese and fruit dishes, followed later by a full barbecue and drinks. There is literally nothing or no one around and the distant lights of the nearest land are barely visible. We were fortunate enough to enjoy the wonders of the night sky and watch the night reef come to life before it could be inferior to the night. It is rather something to fall asleep with the calm sound of the rippling water against the pontoon.
The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world, extending over 2300 km along the Queensland coastline. That little corner of the reef was our piece of heaven that night and morning.
Snorkeling is by far the most popular of the activities in which you can participate. As someone who has recently learned to swim, this was only my second experience with snorkeling and my first in open water, but all initial doubts I had were quickly gone when I caught my first glimpses of the underwater world of the reef.
It is easy to understand why David Attenborough still maintains that his first reef experience was the most magical moment of his illustrious career. This is an underwater city with spectacular beauty and color, full of abundant sea life and said to be home to more than 1,500 species of fish. But it is the bright colors that dazzle; and the quiet grace of the fish as you swim above or next to them, that tempt you.
You quickly get lost in this wonderland and time is running past. I was surprised to hear that we had been in the water for 45 minutes at one of our snorkeling sessions and had meandered several hundred meters from the pontoon while we were following a turtle up close. During snorkeling you can go on your own or with your group or take part in one of the short guided tours with a marine biologist – you even have enough time for a day trip to do both. For those interested in diving, all levels are taken care of.
A nice diversion when snorkeling or diving tries to check out the so-called Great Eight – the living icons of the reef, the creatures they say, should be at the top your wish list are: whales, manta rays, anemone fish, turtles, potato cod, giant mussels, Maori wrasse and sharks.
You can also make boat trips with a glass bottom and even take a helicopter flight, where you can marvel at the pure beauty of the reef from the air. Indeed, it is only when you take in the air that you really get an idea of the reef and the scale.
The reef is one of our most important natural resources. When we think about it, one of the first images that could jump into our heads – if it is not Nemo of Disney fame – is the giant mussels or the range of colorful coral, so I was surprised to hear that coral only around the 7 cents exists of its total area.
There are also coral cays (small islands on the surface of the reef), continental islands, estuaries, sea grass beds, deep oceanic waters and more. In total there are approximately 2,900 separate coral reefs, 600 continental islands and 300 coral cays.
It does not take long to get an idea of how vulnerable this natural wonder is. Access to the Great Barrier Reef for tourists is strictly controlled because of the fragile ecosystem – but newer threats, in the form of climate change and pollution, are now an even greater concern.
Andy Ridley, co-founder of the Earth Hour movement, is now the CEO of a new group called Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, created to protect the future of the reef.
The group is mainly focused on its vision of a plastic-free reef through a number of initiatives, but mainly by setting up a worldwide network to spread the word and support their projects.
"The Great Barrier Reef is in great danger," said Attenborough. "The twin hazards caused by climate change, an increase in the temperature of the ocean and acidity, if they continue to rise at the current rate, the reefs will disappear within a few decades and that would be a global catastrophe."
reef, which is about the same size as Germany, still attracts more than two million visitors per year and its annual economic value for Australia is estimated at over $ 6.4 billion, and a portion of this money is used to to finance projects aimed at protecting the
The arrival of flights from Singapore directly to Cairns, with Singapore Airlines and their sister airline SilkAir, means that this remote part of Queensland is now more accessible than ever before.
The port in this small friendly town is lined with several quality hotels. We stayed at the very comfortable Pullman Cairns International, right on the coast.
Cairns is not the only access point to the reef, even in this corner of Queensland.
The picturesque coastal town of Port Douglas, just 70km north, is another valuable stop on any adventure to this part of the world.
The city is best known for its spectacular beach, known as Four Mile Beach, which really seems to stretch as far as the eye can see. 19659007] Our hotel, the Sheraton Grand Mirage, overlooks the beach and although it is located on the outskirts of the city, the central strip with its bars, restaurants and very impressive Sunday market is easily accessible via a short walk.
The Sheraton Grand Mirage is located on a vast estate and has a mix of luxury hotel rooms and villas, as well as an 18-hole golf course and nearly 5 hectares of artificial saltwater lagoons.
Port Douglas offers Sailaway a selection of rides. We opted for an afternoon cruise aboard a luxury catamaran to the Lage Eilanden, including a sailing trip at sunset with drinks. The trip combines snorkeling with a guided walk on Low Island, a coral quay of heritage interest. The island really attracts attention as you approach, with its white sandy beaches and coconut trees, and it also has a lighthouse built in 1878 which was manned until 1993.
It is amazing to think that for more than 100 years, families lived on this small island in the heart of the reef in one of the three small cottages at the foot of the lighthouse.
The walk helps to give an idea of how they lived and what they have endured – like when the island was hit by a cyclone in 1911.
On our journey back to Cairns that evening, went the sun for the last time through our adventure on the Great Barrier Reef. I thought of everything I had experienced and I knew it was better for me. The wonder of everything, the joy, and then those moments of pure peace …
I was a happy man.
Take two: top attractions
Sleeping under the stars on the Great Barrier Reef – is it getting better? What better way to truly experience and understand this natural wonder? The Aussie swag is surprisingly comfortable.
Top food and wine
The food was sensational. Pushed to choose, I go for the four-course tasting menu at Harrisons at the Sheraton Grand Mirage in Port Douglas. sheratongrandmirageportdouglas.com
How to get there
* John flew with Singapore Airlines to Cairns, via Singapore, from London Heathrow. Singapore Airlines flies to Cairns five times a week, operated by regional sister carrier SilkAir. There are four daily flights between Heathrow and Singapore for further connections to Australia and five weekly flights from Manchester to Singapore.
Singapore Airlines offers many value-adding options for customers flying Singapore's Changi Airport, including a SG $ 20 (€ 12) voucher that can be used at the airport terminal in stores, restaurants and also in the Ambassador Transit Lounge .  * The overnight stay on the reef with Sunlover by Starlight costs AU $ 499 (€ 318) per person. (www.sunlover.com.au/great-barrier-reef-cruises/sunlover-by-starlight)
* Sailaway afternoon sunset tour from Port Douglas to the low islands, AU $ 261.50 (€ 167 ) www.sailawayportdouglas.com.
* For more information and the latest prices on the Pullman Cairns International and Sheraton Grand Mirage, you can check out their websites.
For more information about Queensland, visit www.queensland.com
Sunday Indo Wonen