Fantasea on the Whitsundays
WHAT would a trip to the Whitsundays be without getting underwater?
The area is renowed for its snorkeling and diving playground - the majestic Great Barrier Reef.
We woke up early to head out from Shute Harbour with Fantasea cruises to Hamilton Island and then on to our final destination - Reefworld - located on Hardy Reef.
The boat/ferry we took our journey on was more than comfortable - seats and tables, free toast and tea and coffee for breakfast and plenty of staff on hand to explain what would happen at Reefworld.
Reefworld is a permanent pontoon - about an hour and a half from Hamilton Island.
It has an underwater viewing area, a semi-submersible, everything you need to go snorkeling and diving if you have the qualifications.
The first thing we did when we got there was to get the gear we'd need to go snorkling.
Everyone ends up looking like weird Teletubbies or power rangers with the colourful stingers suits and then a wetsuit over it to help keep the cold out.
Then it was onto flippers, masks, lifejackets and we were almost set.
We decided to head out on the semi-submersible - and this was a highlight of the trip.
The way the semi-sub is built you step down into it, so where you are sitting is underwater and the glass panels along the side of the semi-sub give you a close-up view to life on the reef.
All of a sudden the coral looks so close you could reach out and touch it and the fish are aplenty down there.
The semi-sub goes along the wall of Hardy Reef - showcasing the main types of coral - but it was the fish swimming around that really got the girls excited.
With a watchful eye they looked for Nemo, but he wasn't around the day we were there.
But plenty of others were - parrotfish, Maori wrasse, damselfish, fusiliers and even what looked like a tuna.
On the semi-sub there was an informative talk given about the types of coral and the common fish species that call the reef home.
The information is given in a way that doesn't ram it down your throat, but you absorb it like osmosis.
After helping four children into stinger suits and wetsuits, and life jackets, flippers and masks, it was time to get in the water.
My youngest, Brooke decided snorkling wasn't for her, so she paddled in a fenced off area but could still watch what was going on.
While Lee watched Brooke, I headed out with the other girls - they were armed with life jackets and pool noodles, and we ventured out into the open water.
Once they got the hang of breathing through the snorkel and not swallowing the water we were off.
It's amazing to see life on the reef up close - fish swimming right in front of you and the coral right beneath your flippers.
The girls quickly found the underwater photographer Gary and they got their photos taken with his friendly fish.
He did a brilliant job and I know the girls will look back on those photos with fond memories - as will we.
It was really an experience of a lifetime and one that people should make the effort to have for themselves.
- Liz Carson and her family were hosted on their trip by Fantasea Great Barrier Reef Adventure Cruising (www.fantasea.com.au).
- It was announced on Thursday that Fantasea Cruises are pulling out of the Whitsunday tourism market. Cruise Whitsundays have bought the rights to Fantasea's service to Hamilton Island and the two Reefworld platforms at Hardy Reef.
- Hardy Reef is the nearest cluster of individuals reefs to the Whitsundays and is located about 75km north-east of Shute Harbour.
- It is about 42km in area.