Come on a Fantasea adventure
WHAT do you get if you cross the Teletubbies with George and Mildred?
No, it's not an English television retrospective, but part of a captivating visit to one of the world's greatest natural wonders.
Hardy Reef is 40 nautical miles off the Whitsunday coast in Central Queensland, and one of the most impressive examples of why the Great Barrier Reef is so highly regarded the world over.
The platform reef is home to Fantasea's Reefworld, the largest floating pontoon facility in Australia from which you can launch yourself into a snorkelers' paradise.
The adventure starts with a cruise on a sleek Fantasea catamaran, which departs from Shute Harbour and swings by Hamilton Island to pick up its full complement of reef lovers before heading for open water.
Once moored alongside the permanent 86m pontoon, a myriad options open up for you.
First stop, after you disembark from the catamaran, is to take a peek through a special hole cut in the pontoon's floor to see the reef's most reliable marine life, the massive gropers George and Mildred (tick off one Pommie reference).
George is a 3m long giant, but he is getting a bit long in the tooth, too, and the talk from staff is that Mildred is set to make a move to become the top fish and is changing into a male (as gropers can do). So soon you may be checking out The Two Ronnies (tick).
There's no need for you to jostle for superior viewing, as Reefworld is ultra-spacious. On the day I visited, the cruise was fully booked, but I didn't feel crowded and none of numerous activities required queues.
You can jump on a semi-submersible and cruise the reef on a glass-bottom boat tour. That's a great way to start the day, but we found out later that the best viewing on the sub was at high tide, which was in the afternoon during our visit.
A cruise at high tide takes you into the channel where reef sharks and turtles can be seen.
If you want to continue staying dry, the pontoon has a 50-seat underwater viewing area to spy on the locals and you can also take a helicopter joy ride over the reef.
The aerial trip takes you over the world-famous Heart Reef, an icon seen in many a Queensland Tourism advertisement.
But for the real experience, you need to get wet.
That process starts with donning brightly coloured stinger suits, which transform all snorkelers, to the mirth of the staff photographers, into Teletubby look-alikes (tick).
Once you're in the water, you won't care if you look like Little Britain's Daffyd (tick) in tights, because the marvels that await you are breathtaking.
The ever-helpful Reefworld photographers get the ball rolling by throwing fish food near you as you enter the water, so they can freeze-frame your apprehensive smile while a colourful feeding frenzy circulates around you.
Parrot fish parade before your eyes, while a battle-scared Maori wrasse patrols his turf, oblivious to your presence.
Giant clams stand guard as you pass over top and, with a quick dive down beside the reef, you can catch a glimpse of Nemo and friends, aka clownfish, in their anemone homes.
Looking past the array of wildlife, your senses embrace a wonderful variety of coral in all shapes, sizes and colours.
For those who want to do more than snorkel, Reefworld staff conduct scuba dives on the reef, with certified and non-certified divers catered for.
Your activities are broken up by a plentiful barbecue lunch. You can dine back on the catamaran or at various places on the pontoon, including the second-level sun deck.
After lunch, you can re-enter the water from here via a giant slide to continue close encounters, or treat yourself to a relaxing massage in the Harmony Hut, which overlooks the tranquil waters of the reef.
Fantasea runs cruises daily to Reefworld from Shute Harbour and Hamilton Island and also operates Reefsleep, where visitors can spend a night on the Reefworld pontoon with the live-in staff.
Prices for a Reefworld day cruise are $225 per adult and $105 per child, with a family ticket $589.