As the seaplane glides gracefully across the surface of the ocean towards us it’s like a scene from a movie and I have to pinch myself. I’m standing on the beach at the optimistically named Chance Bay and we’re about to embark on a scenic flight over the Great Barrier Reef, almost 900 kilometres away from Brisbane in mainland Australia.
Our morning has been spent playing with some of the ‘toys’ onboard ONEWORLD – kayaks and paddleboards, diving off the transformer platform and taking exhilarating rides down a slippery inflatable slide from the top deck of the magnificent 31.5-metre superyacht.
We’re like big kids when told we need to board the tender to the shore for our plane ride: reluctant to stop but excited about what’s to come. And we’re not disappointed.
As well as seeing the truly extraordinary talcum-white sands of world-renowned Whitehaven Beach as we fly around Whitsunday Island and north along the coast, we spot giant manta rays and “aww”-inspiring turtles in the crystal-clear waters, and the other-worldly coral bommies – the Stepping Stones – of Bait Reef further out to sea.
Our skilled pilot, Simon from Air Whitsunday Seaplanes, kindly counts down to our view of the Insta-worthy Heart Reef because if you blink you will miss it, and we can’t do that.
“Who wants to do a touchdown?” enthuses Simon. We all do, although we’re not exactly sure what we’re agreeing to. Simon deftly guides the aircraft down into the waters of Hardy Reef, along a natural channel that we have just flown above. What a thrill!
Back on board ONEWORLD, our experienced crew welcomes us with cold towels and refreshing drinks, as is the habit (and now, expectation), and we cruise north to Tongue Bay as we enjoy a sumptuous barbecue-style lunch courtesy of our talented chef, Clancy Atkinson, who wows us with his creative culinary skills.
Before we know it, it’s time to jump in the tender again, and First Officer Guy takes us ashore for a short, heart-pumping hike up to Hill Inlet Lookout where the aerial views of the morning can be seen from a different angle.
After basking in the views, playing ‘spot the manta rays’ in the sparkling channels, and taking the requisite photos, we’re in awe of the white-footed tourists coming from the other direction, so take a detour down onto the northernmost, deserted part of Whitehaven Beach.
The tide is out and the staggering expanse of super-soft sand is so bright-white it hurts the eyes and while the ocean is inviting, our tender is waiting so we vow to return another day.
Settling in for an evening on ONEWORLD involves relaxing in the jacuzzi, marvelling at the scenery while reclining on the spacious lounges on the vast foredeck, enjoying the views from the port and starboard balconies on the main deck aft, or soaking up the ambience in the saloon, on-request cocktail in hand.
Over the course of our stay, the dining areas are dressed differently for every meal from simple, fresh settings on the aft deck during the day, to stylish, neutral tones or dark and modern interpretations with quirky accessories and place settings during the more formal evenings.
While the menus revolve around our pre-boarding requests of vegetarian and seafood options with a few allergies also catered for, Atkinson can put a mouth-watering twist on whatever your heart (and palate) desires.
Breakfast is definitely the feast of kings (think fresh-baked, healthy banana muffins; toasted homemade granola; smoked salmon, breads, cereals, eggs, juices…), which makes lunch optional, though impossible to resist. A sample includes mud crab, sweetcorn and golden potato with shaved fennel salad, sweet potato and green beans; followed by an indulgent cheese plate.
Amazingly, by evening, we’re hungry again and a feast of pan-seared local scallops with Japanese salad, wakame and white soy vinaigrette leads us in to King salmon with pea and rocket purée, zucchini and white mushrooms; followed by coconut sorbet with coconut panna cotta, fresh mango and toasted macadamia.
Mother Nature has a way of asserting herself and so all charter itineraries, while structured, require flexibility from everyone. Our anchorages include Fitzalan Island, Luncheon Bay and Cid Harbour and, in discussion with Captain Matt Baily and his crew, we decide to set off at 4am for Bait Reef in the Outer Reef where we will see what lies beneath.
A good night’s sleep is in order and all that sea air makes us fall into our beautifully appointed, ergonomically perfect cabins. My lower deck, twin-share cabin is within a block of four – two double, and two twins with Pullmans – and it’s a retreat where I’m comfortably lulled to sleep by the lapping water.
The four cabins have under-bed storage, generous wardrobe space, subtle lighting, aircon, thick doonas, windows on the waterline and Bang & Olufsen AV systems. The ensuite bathrooms contain Bulgari toiletries, reminding us that this is a superyacht, not a ‘yacht’.
Back on the main deck, the master suite is an impressive 30 square metres, and a walkthrough, mirrored double wardrobe leads to a roomy double bathroom with unimpeded views across the jaw-dropping horizon.
The king-size bed, strewn with stylish cushions, faces aft and lies opposite a huge B&O TV, and a starboard-facing desk, complete with an ever-changing, always-inspiring view. Elegant throws and subtle art enhance this lavish haven.
The anchor clunks as it’s raised out of the water in the early hours, but my earplugs are in and my face wears an excited smile. As the sun comes up, it’s time to take to the fore deck to soak in the experience of cruising in one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Diving instructors and marine experts Brett and Charlie from Reef Safari embark to take us on an open-water dive, a refresher dive or snorkel around the Stepping Stones. Unique to Bait Reef, the stones comprise more than 18 flat-topped coral pinnacles that show above the water at high tide. From the seaplane, they looked tiny; not so much when you’re alongside them in the water.
The reef is teeming with life – manta rays, turtles, giant trevally and mackerel – it’s hard to know where to focus because as soon as one thing catches your eye, another glides by. We gently hold enormous sea cucumbers and point excitedly at vibrant starfish, and pretty, soft coral, and ethereal nudibranch, but there’s nothing quite like seeing Nemo at home among the anemones.
Back on deck, drinks in hand, Brett educates us on the things we have seen, and the reproductive system and health of the reef, which doesn’t seem to be half as bleak as is reported.
It’s time to return to the Inner Reef via Butterfly and Blue Pearl bays, past Cid Harbour and Hook Island, to our starting point at Hamilton Island. Here, we’re driven in golf buggies to Qualia where we indulge in superb lunch, which we just manage to fit in after all Clandy’s fabulous food.
It’s been a handful of days but, as there is next to no wi-fi or phone reception in the Outer Reef, good old conversation, books, music and contemplation prevail which, coupled with our pursuits on, in and above the Pacific Ocean, create a sense of luxury and a genuine escape from the rat race.
ONEWORLD can accommodate 12 overnight guests, and 100 day guests, and is serviced by a crew of six.
The menu is bespoke and can be created to accommodate all palates, styles, allergies and intolerances.
She cruises Sydney from November to May, and the Whitsundays from August to October.
Charter rates Weekly: from A$110,000 (seven nights); 10% GST and a 30% APA (Advance Provisioning Allowance) apply on the charter fee.
Whitsundays special: A$49,000 + tax + APA for three nights on board. ONEWORLD is also available for private/exclusive short and long-term (liveaboard) charters throughout the year.
Contact Ocean Alliance for more details.
The writer was a guest of Tourism Australia, Ocean Alliance, and the owners of ONEWORLD.