Back in 2013 I traveled to Australia for the very first time visiting mainly the major cities on the east coast. One of my fondest memories from that trip was taking the boat from Cairns to do snorkeling at the “Great Barrier Reef”. Honestly my knowledge about Australia before that first trip started and ended with Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane so l got to know the city “Cairns” and all about the Great Barrier Reef when making research for the trip a few months before. My friend knew all about it and put the Great Barrier Reef on the priority list for our itinerary. So I did not have any special expectations but it turned out to be very special.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system. It contains over 2,500 individual reefs spread along the “Coral sea” (the marginal sea along the northeastern coast of Australia) parallel to the Australian continental northeast coast. With the length of approximately 2,300 kilometers the total area is approximately 344,400 km² which is as big as Germany. The reef starts from Bundaberg shore (the gateway city to Great Barrier Reef, 360 km north of Brisbane) and continues up to Torres Strait (the strait between the Australian continent and the Melanesian island of New Guinea).
The Great Barrier Reef is also one of the world’s Seven Natural Wonders along with
- Aurora borealis (Europe).
- Grand Canyon (USA: North America).
- Harbor of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil: South American).
- Victoria Fall (Zambia/Zimbabwe: Africa).
- Paricutin (Mexico: Central American).
- Mount-Everest (Nepal/Asia).
So it is among the top of the list and absolutely extraordinary – a must visit place when traveling in Australia.
During our most recent trip we spent a few nights at Airlie Beach, a small tourist destination town attracting people from all around the world to visit the surrounding treasures of nature. The city itself is nothing special, but it is the main gateway to Whitsunday Islands National Park and Great Barrier Reef only a few kilometers from Airlie beach’s shoreline. The national park is a protected area and to maintain its natural beauty there are only a few hotels and other tourist facilities inside, so most tourists enjoy the facilities of Airlie beach township instead.
Tourist can reach the national park and the reef by boat or ferry from Airlie beach marina and there is also an airport offering flights with small aircrafts, seaplanes or helicopters to travel between islands or just to enjoy a scenic flight.
I enjoy taking landscape photos picturing beautiful views from above. Most often I try to find a tower, a hill or another viewpoint to take pictures.
In the Whitsundays there are no such viewpoints, so the only way to take landscape picture is using private drones (which are allowed to use in this area) or taking a scenic flight. The latter is a good alternative to see more of the beautiful scenery in a perspective that one has never seen before with one’s own eyes. Obviously, such flights do not come cheap, so the opportunity should be saved for the right occasion.
Traveling to the Great Barrier Reef for the second time and having already admired it from below, doing snorkeling, I did not want to miss the chance of visualizing the enormity of the world largest coral reef from above. It would definitely be worth the money!
After making initial research I found that that there were at least 3 different tour operators organizing scenic flights over the Whitsundays and the reef:
• GLS Aviation
All of them provide roughly same itinerary but with some differences. The main difference is the type of aircraft and the length of the tour, which also results in different prices. These companies also provide taxi flights out to the islands and day trips with seaplanes including picnic on the beach, snorkeling etc.
We had already made a day trip with boat to Whitsunday island the day before so we were only looking for a scenic flight without any extras. That’s the main reason why we selected the GLS Aviation “Islands and Reef scenic tour”. It offers the longest flight duration covering both the main islands and the reef in a little more than one hour with a small airplane (14 seats including the pilot) for 199 AUD (or around 5,400 THB) per person. There are several departures per day in the morning and in the afternoon. We selected an afternoon flight. The route is a circle from the airport, over the archipelago of Whitsunday National Park, to the outer reef including the famous heart reef and back to the airport. I thought that it seemed to be a good itinerary.
Our scenic flight was on our last in Airlie beach so there was no back up plan in case the flight would be cancelled because of bad weather conditions.
The tour started from Airlie beach airport, around 7 kilometers or 8 minutes drive from Airlie Beach Township, and included free shuttle between the hotel and the airport.
We choose to drive ourselves directly to the airport to save time before and after the flight and we were the first ones in our group to arrive. Before take-off there was a safety briefing including a video presentation. Then the staff gave us our seat number tickets. Seeing that we got seats in row number 3 already gave me a bad feeling before boarding and once in the plane I discovered that the window next to my seat was right under the wing: the worst seat of all for taking good pictures!
I wouldn’t blame it on bad luck or anything. I had booked in advance, paid the same price as everyone else and arrived first at the airport all, so it was unfair that I would be given the worst seat without any question if that was OK for me or information from the ground staff. This is what I call cheating!
Our two earlier days in Airlie beach the weather wasn’t on our side. It was cloudy with some rain. Then again that is what could be expected as we were traveling in Queensland at the beginning of the rainy season. The last day and especially the time of our flight was the best weather of all: sunny, not too much clouds and no rain. From that perspective not getting the best seat in the plane was maybe not so important. I don’t know why I always find many things to complain about.
This occasion wouldn’t come often. The overall experience of my first scenic flight (apart from my complaint), seeing the Great Barrier Reef and the archipelago of Whitsunday Nationals Park from above, was very impressive. The one hour tour was over almost without knowing it.