Stretching 2,300 km along the coastline of Queensland and the largest living thing on earth,  the Great Barrier Reef is full of breathtaking beauty and wonderment.

You can explore it by by boat but, departing from Airlie Beach, the Air Whitsunday Panorama Tour is really worth the splurge. The half day (four and a half hour) tour is bucket list stuff offering an eagle’s eye view of the Whitsunday Islands National Park and the Great Barrier Reef, with snorkelling, beach combing and champagne of course.

Whitehaven Beach

Leaving from Whitsunday Airport, located about 15 minutes from Airlie Beach, we boarded a small aeroplane to head out over the Great Barrier Reef to the first destination, Whitehaven Beach.

Our group was small, only nine people including the pilot, which is in stark contrast to the numbers on some of the boat trips which ply the same route.

It was coral bloom time so the normally clear blue water was decorated with ribbons of floating algae which is all part of the reef’s renewal. Gazing out the window, the water appeared transparently aqua with gleaming white sandbanks just underneath the surface.

The plane cruised around Hill Inlet showing the expanse of white sand that makes Whitehaven Beach so distinctive.

It only took a few minutes and we were down on the water with landing at Whitehaven that was just as smooth as the runway take off. Pilot Paul Steszewski positioned the plane close to the beach and we stepped off the floats into knee deep water, wading to the shore for our glass of champagne, chocolates, chips and cookies.

A stroll along the blindingly white sand beach followed by a swim was too hard to resist. I could have spent all day floating in the water but we had more on our day list including a look at the famous Heart Reef.

Snorkelling at Hardy Reef

Back in the plane, we cruised over more heartbreakingly beautiful reefs towards the outer edge until we reached Hardy Reef and the famous Heart Reef, a natural coral composition. I’m told it had been the scene of many proposals and if you let the pilot know he might be able to help with a little extra time to get those words out.

Snorkelling around the coral garden at Hardy Reef revealed a world of wonderment.  There were amazing corals waving in the current, hundreds of small fish weaving in and around the formations, larger fish cruising on the bottom looking suspiciously above, all while bathing in the warm waters of the Whitsundays. A blissful place.

It’s two hours of swimming and viewing, but it seems like a micro second, and you are back on the plane, waving goodbye to a very special part of the world.

The tour Air Whitsunday Panorama Tour costs $625 per adult.  Worth every cent in my book.

Disclaimer:  Ed+bK travelled as a guest of Tourism Whitsunday.