Sleeping with the Fishes
Briefly I worry for the batfish – they seem such a lovely couple, I’d hate one of them to get eaten because they’re eyeballing my entree – but then the main course arrives (a juicy steak, barbequed to perfection out on the deck) along with another glass of shiraz, and my attention is distracted from the threat of imminent carnage outside.
The batfish seem to have a standover guy protecting them anyway, a massive Maori wrasse called George. Apparently, until recently George used to be girl, but then his boyfriend died and, well…it’s complicated out there in the big blue.
My host, Nathalie, gives me all the gossip as she refills my glass before serving dessert. Over crème brûlée I peer through my personal portal out onto the Great Barrier Reef and wonder what will swim past next. It’s a million times better than a night in front of the TV this. Nearly all the M-rated action takes place on the reef at night and all the drama is live, totally wild and completely uncensored.
I feel like I know most of the main characters. I was hanging out with many of them barely an hour before, during a night dive from the moon deck that leads to the open ocean from the staircase next door. Earlier I’d snorkelled with another couple of locals, a two-metre giant Queensland groper and a turtle called Chunk, who is missing a bit of himself thanks to a shark.
Unless you fork out for an expensive live-aboard diving trip, it’s hard to get a good goggle at the Great Barrier Reef by night. Even then, you might get an hour-long night dive – if you’re qualified and good on your air – and that’s it. What I’m experiencing is altogether in another league (under the sea).
I’m the first sleepover guest on a semi-permanent pontoon anchored close to Hardy’s Reef, an hour’s boat trip from Hamilton Island in the heart of the Whitsundays archipelago in tropical North Queensland. Earlier it had been packed with daytrippers, but I waved them all goodbye on the 4pm boat and have had the place to myself since. Well, me and a crew of two reef-sleep hosts and a couple of dive masters who have been guiding me around the reef.
On the top deck, where we had a sundowner as the sun slipped into the Coral Sea, Amos, the captain of this structure, has set me up a swag to sleep in. Retiring for the night, belly and brain full with fine fare and food for thought, I stare up at a kaleidoscope of stars and planets as the movement of the pontoon gently rocks me to sleep.
There’s zero light pollution out here, and the sky above is as mesmerising as the sea below. Tomorrow I’ll venture up, instead of down, and check out the scene from above in a helicopter tour over Hardy’s Reef.