A bushwalk to the top of Dunk Island rewards with a stunning view of the reef.
A bushwalk to the top of Dunk Island rewards with a stunning view of the reef. Melanie Plane

Discover the Great Barrier Reef in luxury

BATH salts fizzled around my legs as the sound of waves crashing against the shore filled my ears.

I had just arrived in Cairns and a relaxing spa bath after a day of travelling was the perfect way to begin an action-packed week of exploring tropical north Queensland and its claim to fame - the Great Barrier Reef.

A short 10-minute drive after I touched down at the airport found me at the Hilton Cairns and ultimately my Double Hilton Spa Room where luxury instantly enveloped me.

After a few hours of relaxing and admiring the rainbow lorikeets, which decided to pay my seventh-storey balcony overlooking Trinity Inlet a visit, I made my way down to the hotel bar for a few drinks and tapas before dinner.

A few cocktails later I ventured outside to the hotel's signature restaurant, Mondo on the Waterfront, where a smorgasbord of mouth-watering offerings awaited me.

"Don't feel guilty about your bikini body, you're on holiday," I told myself as I filled my plate with skewered meats, delicious curries, fresh prawns and Mexican fajitas.

My bikini body guilt was certainly a distant memory by the next morning when I sampled the hotel's breakfast buffet menu. I waved goodbye to the Hilton Cairns after breakfast to start my next adventure - a four-day Great Barrier Reef cruise with Coral Expeditions.

I had never spent more than a day on the water until I stepped aboard Coral Expeditions II so I was not sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised from the word go. With just 23 other passengers it didn't take long for all to board the 35-metre luxury vessel and for us to leave Trinity Inlet and head for the reef.

After a series of quick introductions and a run-down of the vessel, I was shown to the spacious cabin I would call home for the next three nights and four days.


Coral Expeditons II on the Great Barrier Reef.
Coral Expeditons II on the Great Barrier Reef. Melanie Plane

It was soon time for lunch, which was served while we made our way to our first destination, Sudbury Reef, where the true action would begin.

My first glimpse of abundant colourful coral through the crystal blue waters was breathtaking.

When we arrived at Sudbury Reef and set out on a glass bottom boat tour, the sheer size, detail, beauty and age of what lay beneath the surface was indescribable. I couldn't wait to get back to the boat, strap on my snorkel and flippers and get up close and personal with the stunning sea life and creatures.

From the moment I first encountered the Great Barrier Reef and all it had to offer through a snorkel mask I was hooked - good thing I would spend the next four days reliving the experience over and over again.

After exploring Sudbury Reef we were taken over to Sudbury Cay, an isolated sand island in the middle of the reef, for sunset drinks. This was followed by a fitting and delicious seafood buffet back on board Coral Expeditions II.

Spectacular snorkelling and delicious food (I'm still blown away by what was produced by chefs Matt and Gina in the vessel's kitchen throughout the trip) was the continuing theme of the cruise.

Over the four days we travelled 182 nautical miles and discovered the Hinchinbrook Channel, bushwalked on beautiful Dunk Island and then cooled off in the water surrounding Nathan Reef. To finish the trip, we snorkelled and kayaked with the sea turtles off Fitzroy Island.

While the food and water sports were a highlight of the Coral Expeditions II experience, one thing that certainly stood out was the friendly, welcoming and extremely helpful staff on board the vessel. The saying it's not the destination but how you get there, and who you get there with, rings true.

In a perfect way to finish my north Queensland adventure, when I departed the cruise ship back in Cairns my final destination was the Hilton Cairns' sister motel in town, DoubleTree by Hilton.

The hotel, while still offering the same luxury as Hilton Cairns, was a much more relaxed and laid-back alternative with the added feature of a huge barramundi pond overlooking the lobby where guests can experience live feeding shows.

A night spent in a comfortable king bed in a spacious suite was the perfect way for me to shake off my sea legs.

The writer was a guest of Hilton and Coral Expeditions.

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