Earlier this year I set a series of goals for myself, 40 things I want to accomplish before I turn 40 in January. While it’s clear to me now that I won’t check all of them off the list, one experience I was thrilled to realize this year was visiting the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia. On the bucket list for many people, I had somehow missed visiting it the first two times I traveled down to Australia, a mistake that I happily corrected a few months ago. There are many different ways to see and experience the Great Barrier Reef and having done many of them, I can say that without a doubt the style that isn’t only the most beautiful but which also provides the best understanding of this massive natural wonder is flying overhead.
The Great Barrier Reef, which stretches for 1,400 miles, is so massive that it can be seen from space and millions of people visit every year to capture their own moment of “Finding Nemo” perfection. There are many different places in Queensland from which you can access the reef, but one of the most popular is Hamilton Island. This resort island is home to several hotels, condos, restaurants and of course beaches, but it’s also the perfect launching pad to visit the Great Barrier Reef. Every day the company Cruise Whitsundays takes hundreds of passengers on the two-hour ride out to the company’s permanently moored pontoon-city they affectionately call Reefworld. Once on the pontoon you can do everything from SCUBA to snorkeling and even a unique overnight experience called Reefsleep. One of my favorite experiences though was also the shortest, a helicopter flight over the Great Barrier Reef.
Landing on floating helipads, the company provides two helicopters on which guests can book flights of varying lengths to admire the natural beauty of the region from the air. I wasn’t sure at first if it was worth it, but almost immediately I understood that a helicopter flight is essential if you want to see the Reef in its true glory. Reefworld is moored next to Hardy Reef, but nearby is any number of other smaller reefs and coral islands, which suddenly seem to appear from nowhere as soon as the helicopter launches itself into the air. I love helicopter rides, but nothing prepared me for the beauty that soon enveloped the cockpit windows. Seeming to stretch out forever, I saw what was ultimately just a small portion of the thousands of coral reefs that together make up the mighty Great Barrier Reef, including the small but special Heart Reef, logically shaped like a heart.
While I certainly wanted to capture the moment on film, I also made sure that I put down the camera for a few minutes to just absorb the scenery below me. Far too often we see new places through the viewfinder of a camera or on the backs of our phones, at least I do. But when special moments like this one pop up, we all need to remember to just live in the moment and to appreciate where we are. Visiting the Great Barrier Reef is one of those experiences everyone should add to their bucket list if it’s not already there, it’s just that special.
Landing after the short 10-minute flight I was still floating on air as I made my way back to Reefworld. I looked around me and saw all of the people donning snorkel masks ready to get as close to the Reef as possible, but I felt like I knew a secret they didn’t. Even though I was high overhead, at that moment I felt as if I understood the Reef and its true beauty in a way the snorkelers didn’t; that I was privy to a secret that few others knew. Ultimately, that’s why it’s important to see new places from as many different viewpoints as possible, to find new ways to admire the beauty around you and to allow yourself to be surprised by the moment.