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Touring the Great Barrier Reef by Helicopter is worth every penny

an aerial view of a coral reef

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The Great Barrier Reef should be on your bucket list

Say the words Great Barrier Reef in a conversation and you’ll find people who are either eager to tell you of their experience, or those who can’t wait to check it off their bucket list.  Until last year I’d been playing for team bucket list, but in April of 2018 I happily switched teams, and am excited to not only show you my experience, but urge you to splurge on taking a helicopter tour of the Great Barrier Reef.

You live once, don’t skimp on the memories you’ll savor for a lifetime.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most incredible natural wonders of the world, and rightfully sits amongst the 7 natural wonders of the world. The Great Barrier Reef is actually composed of over 2900 individual reefs, 900 islands, stretches over 1400 miles, and spans over 133k square miles off the Eastern Coast of Australia.

Long story short, there’s no shortage of ways you could see the Great Barrier Reef, but the best is by air. I researched plenty of options, but seeing as though we would be spending time in Gold Coast, accessing the Great Barrier Reef via Hamilton Island seemed like an outstanding option.

a stuffed animal looking out a window

You can’t understand the scope of the Great Barrier Reef from just snorkeling

When the Great Barrier Reef is discussed most people dream of throwing on mask, wetsuit and diving in those crystal clear waters and observing the incredible corral close up. However, not to throw shade at the Reef, it’s not THAT incredible from 3 feet, and it’s been experiencing another phase of bleaching for the past several years. I’m not the world’s foremost snorkeling expert, but if you’re into snorkeling, you’ll find much more “beauty” near Thailand, the Philippines, or Indonesia.

What makes the Great Barrier Reef extraordinary is the SIZE

an aerial view of a coral reef

You’ll see more than just the Great Barrier Reef as well.

You’ll spend roughly 30 minutes in the air each way. But don’t worry, you don’t travel the same path in either direction.

Let’s get down to Brass Tacks. How much does it cost to visit the Great Barrier Reef by Helicopter

We used Hamilton Island Air for our tour. And they offer one of three options.

  • Fly/Cruise $480AUD ($340USD )
  • Cruise/Fly 480AUD ($340 )
  • Fly/Fly 737AUD ($524)

Here’s what they advertise for the Cruise/Fly option. The Fly/Cruise is the same just in reverse order. Prices are

Cruise Whitsundays Great Barrier Reef Cruise / Fly:

This tour departs Hamilton Island Marina at 8.30amand takes you by Cruise Whitsundays ferry to Reefworld. Reefworld is a large floating pontoon situated on the outer reef. The boat ride out to the reef takes approximately 2 – 2 ½  hours and it is during this boat ride that you will have the option to sign up for diving instead of snorkelling. Once at the reef you will have access to all equipment, an underwater viewing platform and a semi sub. With this tour you get to spend approximately 2.5 hours at the reef which will give you 1 x dive. Once you have finished at the reef you will board a helicopter for a 30 minute scenic flight directly back to qualia’s helipad, landing at approximately 2.20pm. This tour costs $480 per person and includes all equipment and lunch. Diving is an optional extra and costs $99.00 per person for certified divers.

Diving is not available on the Fly/Cruise tour. Minimum numbers apply for the helicopter.

And then the option that we took: The Fly/Fly Option

Reef Discovery Tour by Helicopter:
This is a great way of experiencing the Great Barrier Reef not only from the water but from the air as well. This tour gives guests 2 hours of snorkelling at Reefworld located on the outer reef. The best part of this tour is as you travel by helicopter you will arrive at Reefworld either before or after the main tour boat has arrived or departed. This means guests basically have the entire reef to themselves (apart from a few other people.)
This tour departs and returns direct form qualia’s helipad. It then takes guests on a 1/2 hour scenic flight over Hill Inlet, Hayman Island, Whitsunday Passage, Heart Reef and the spectacular Great Barrier Reef. Once at Reefworld guests will have access to all snorkelling equipment, a semi sub and an underwater viewing platform. Once finished at the reef guests will board the helicopter for the 1/2 hour scenic return flight to qualia.
These tours are available at: 7.40am or 2.20pm and cost $737.00 per person. Minimum numbers apply for the helicopter. Please note AM tours depart from Aviation & return to qualia.

We ultimately chose the Reef Discovery Tour which meant flying both ways. Why? For an extra $180 You get a portion of the Great Barrier Reef all to yourself.

As we flew to our floating heli-pad ( uhhhh badass) we could see the Whitsundays Cruise boat taking visitors away from “Reef World,” their large floating pontoon, and everything was completely calm. Aside from staff that were still cleaning the large pontoon, we had it to ourselves.

For $524 per person we had exclusive access to one of the 7 Wonders of the World.

I think its safe to say that most of you reading this have spent more on a random economy ticket in the US.

I can not overstate how special this was – we snorkeled for an hour, had champagne, snacks, and pinched ourselves that this was in fact actually happening to us. We were visiting the Great Barrier Reef and literally no one else was there while we snorkeled, toasted our champers, and nibbled. Even writing this I’m getting goosebumps.

What would normally hold a few hundred people was all ours.

a stuffed monkey on a deck

You remember things that you connect with emotionally

Over the past few years I’ve become a big fan of helicopter tours. Sure, they’re a little scary at first, and very wobbly if you’ve never been in a heli, but I’ve now done tours at Victoria Falls, the Great Barrier Reef, and Iguazu Falls, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world. They bond you with who you do them with as well.

We don’t ordinarily fly in helicopters, so when you have the opportunity to do so with someone else, you remember it. Amplify the experience with a wonder of the world and you’ve got yourself a lifelong memory. That’s priceless…or a few hundo down under 😉

We used Hamilton Island Air for our Helicopter Tour

Regardless of which outfit you use to facilitate your Helicopter Tour, I would highly recommend fitting it into your budget. You can’t understand the scope of the reef from the sea in the same way you can from the air. So whether you only fly one way or both, totally up to you, but I found it to be the most memorable part of visiting the Great Barrier Reef.

You can search Great Barrier Reef helicopter tours on Viator by clicking here

an aerial view of a coral reef


Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.

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