The Tour Specialists Tour Blog
Fly Out, Cruise Back! Our Experience with GBR Helicopters and Reef Magic!
Posted on October 25, 2016 by Jordan Squire
There are so many things to see and do in Cairns and its surrounding areas however one of my bucket list “Must Do” things was to take a scenic flight over the Great Barrier Reef by helicopter. Previously when I was living in Brisbane I would fly to Cairns to visit family and on occasion would be lucky enough to have a window seat on a clear day and was able to see the reef below. I would be in awe of the sight at those times, generally with my nose and forehead pushed up against the window to see as much as I could as we flew over.
Now that I live in Cairns and have discovered that GBR Helicopters offer scenic flights to the outer reef I knew it was a must for me to experience.
I am a Tour Specialists consultant and my job is to advise tourists on all the exciting tours and activities they can do in Tropical North Queensland Australia so I jumped at the invitation to experience a scenic flight and a day on the Great Barrier Reef.
This tour has to be one of the best I’ve had in my lifetime. I don’t think I can describe the exhilaration I felt when I flew across the reef. It was part of a “Fly/Cruise” Package with GBR Helicopters and Reef Magic to Marine World pontoon at Moore Reef.
Scenic Flight to Great Barrier Reef from Cairns
I flew out to the pontoon and spent the day snorkelling and exploring the reef as well as taking up a guided snorkel tour on a Sea-Bob which was a whole lot of fun! I spent five hours on the reef before I returned back to Cairns on the Reef Magic catamaran. The flight to the pontoon was approximately 25 minutes and the cruise back on the cat was approximately 90 minutes.
The helicopter departed from the Heli Pad at the Cairns Esplanade and the cruise returned to the Marlin Marina at the end of the day. It was a little overcast in the morning, but I was ok with that as it had been rainy and windy the two days before. You just can’t predict the weather! I was pleasantly surprised to find that even though it was slightly overcast the view below and around us was incredibly spectacular! I could see for miles out to the mountains that line the back of Cairns and the Islands off the Northern Beaches Double Island and Haycock Island also known as “Scouts Hat Island” to the locals. We flew over deserted beaches on the Southern side of Cairns before we reached the pontoon crossing the top of Fitzroy Island and a stunning sandy cay as well as miles of coral gardens and lagoons on the way.
The formation of the reef with its varying depths causing transparent blue & green shades amongst the lagoons is a photographer’s dream! It was great seeing the reef from the sky above and then to see it underwater all in the same day. Flying out instead of cruising by catamaran took an hour off the travel time so that was certainly a cherry on top as well!
Once I arrived at the helipad on Moore Reef I was shuttled by a small boat over to the Marine World Pontoon nearby. Once there I was greeted by one of the crew, Jenna to pay my compulsory Environmental Marine Conservation levy and she went over safety procedures and the itinerary for the day.
She was lovely and helped me book a guided Sea-Bob tour. Once we got those formalities out of the way, I went on a semi-submersible submarine tour which guided us around the deeper areas of the reef. Our guide gave us a commentary providing definitions of what we saw underwater and interesting facts regarding the marine life. The tour went for approximately 20 minutes before I returned back the pontoon and was ready to have lunch.
Lunch on the Great Barrier Reef
The lunch was served on the pontoon and consisted of a variety of hot food, Japanese nori rolls, cold prawns, cold meats, salads and freshly cut fruit. After lunch I got my snorkelling gear and headed into the water. The water was flat like glass and the visibility was up to 25 metres. I was amazed at how far down I could see below and in front of me. I felt like I was in snorkelling around in a big aquarium. I was surprised to find that the coral gardens were so close to the pontoon. Now, I don’t know whether it is usual for this reef or if it had something to do with the weather or the full moon, but there were quite a few schools of fish out there swimming around in large groups. When travelling in large schools the fish make an impressive appearance and are quite captivating to watch.
The other detail I noticed about the reef around the Marine World pontoon is how deep the drop off was on the side of the reef wall. I was thrilled to be able to see so far down. It was teeming with colourful fish which were feeding off and around the coral near the surface as well as several metres down. The reef had caves and crevices where fish were hiding and I was excited to see a turtle even though we nearly bumped heads swimming around a bommie from the opposite direction. I saw so many fish and loved the coral formations at this particular reef. Having such clear underwater visibility certainly was an advantage to seeing so much.
I believe that anyone who books a flight on one of the Reef, Rainforest or Tableland options GBR Helicopters has on offer will be in for a treat! Now that I have experienced flying over the reef myself, I can confidently say that anyone who takes a scenic reef flight or a Cruise/Fly package will be astounded by the view they will see.
For anyone who is prone to seasickness, travelling by helicopter is a great alternative to cruising out by catamaran. Cruise/Fly packages are also fantastic for travellers who visit the outer reef with time restraints as one way to the reef by heli cuts 60minutes off the travel time. But the best part about a Cruise/Fly package is the “2in1” of seeing the reef from the sky & then from underwater!
Click here to read more and book your helicopter scenic flight today.
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