Experiencing the Great Barrier Reef with young kids Posted by Katrina Whitehead - 23 November 2015 “Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef,” said my five year old, when we asked him the highlight of his recent trip to Hamilton Island. “And seeing that big sea turtle. He was sooo cool”. While adventure and young kids don’t often go hand-in-hand, Hamilton Island definitely makes it possible, offering some genuinely exciting activities and tours that are suitable for all ages. One of them is the Great Barrier Reef Day Trip to Reefworld. As well as extensive holiday packages, Hamilton Island offers a range of half-day and full-day trips to the reef that make for an ideal Queensland family holiday. The cruise departed the Hamilton Island Marina around 9am, and returned around 5pm, so was certainly a full day of activity for our two kids (aged five and two). It took us a little under two hours to reach the reef, and we travelled on a large, high-speed catamaran with plenty of seats, and an air-conditioned interior with comfy couches. The cruise stops for lunch and several hours’ free time at Reefworld, a permanently-moored pontoon at Hardy Reef. The Cruise Whitsundays catamaran and spacious Reefworld pontoon at Hardy Reef. Despite the trip taking the full day, we found there were plenty of exciting activities along the way to keep us all entertained. Here are some of our family favourites: Snorkelling The Reefworld pontoon is adjacent to a large coral wall, which is a fantastic way to see the full depth of the reef. While snorkelling may not come easily to all young kids (ours were both fairly uninitiated when we arrived), Cruise Whitsundays makes it super easy. The coral is only a short distance from the pontoon, and there are buoys and ropes that indicate the areas you are free to explore. There’s also a lowered platform that the kids can stand or sit on before edging forward into the water. The boat is fitted out with well-organised snorkelling gear, wetsuits and stinger suits for all ages and the Cruise Whitsundays’ team is very helpful and accustomed to helping out little ones. Mini snorkellers! Snorkelling equipment, life jackets and stinger suits come in all sizes. Our two year old didn’t want to wear a mask and couldn’t use a snorkel, so one of the crew brought her a smart spy viewer paddle-board -a boogie board with a transparent plastic window in the centre. Our five year old loved the experience, and spent most of our time at Reefworld snorkelling alongside us. The spectacular coral reef: home to the most diverse plant and animal life on the planet. Even a two year old who can’t really snorkel can still enjoy the Great Barrier Reef experience. Visit the underwater viewing chamber When the kids have had enough of snorkelling (or paddling), there’s also a fantastic underwater viewing chamber that made our two year old squeal with delight. You simply descend a set of stairs into the underwater chamber, which sits directly beneath the pontoon. Floor to ceiling glass windows offer a fantastic view out into the ocean, where you can see a myriad of fish, as well as a few familiar snorkellers. Marine traffic! Our Great Barrier Reef family shot. Take a ride in the semi-submersible submarine An air-conditioned, semi-underwater vessel with windows on each side also takes a tour of the fringe of the reef, and includes an interesting commentary from the on-site marine biologist. The tours are free and only take around 15 minutes. While the kids couldn’t necessarily follow the commentary, the spectacular fish and coral was more than enough to keep them entertained. The submarine windows had fish ID charts, which kept our five year old busy. Peer into the grouper viewing hole One of the highlights for our kids was the grouper viewing hole - a large, fenced hole in the deck of the pontoon. While having lunch, the kids could look down into the water, and see the resident grouper - and some other quite large fish - swimming directly beneath us. Don’t feed the groupers! They can already weigh over 400kgs. Eat! Kids generally love to snack often (well, ours do), so it was good to see that there were plenty of kid-friendly food options provided. A morning tea of fresh fruit and biscuits was served on our way to Reefworld, and for lunch, we had a buffet of cold meat and salads, and fresh bread rolls and wraps. There was also a bar that sold ice-creams, confectionery and drinks throughout the trip. On our way back to Hamilton Island, the crew offered some fresh muffins, and there is also an unlimited supply of water, tea and coffee on board. Enjoy the ride While the experience at Reefworld is really what you go for, the almost four-hour return trip is also enjoyable in itself, and we found it went quite quickly. At certain times of the year you can even see whales and other marine life. The staff on board the Cruise Whitsundays high-speed catamaran went out of their way to make sure the trip was enjoyable for our kids - offering them colouring-in sheets and pencils and chatting to them about their experience. On the way back, they ran a fun marine-themed memory game with prizes. Will the kids (and will we?) get seasick? When we boarded the catamaran on the day of our tour, the Captain advised us that the open waters of the Coral Sea were going to be a little unusually rough that day (due largely to a cyclone that had veered close to the shore). After cruising through the calm surrounds of the Whitsunday Islands, things did become a bit rocky once we reached the open waters of the Coral Sea. Both kids soon felt a bit queasy, but with a trip out to the back deck, some fresh air and a little sleep on our laps, they were both recharged and keen to enjoy the activity when we got out to the reef. The ride back wasn’t nearly so rough, but we all sat out the back and enjoyed the breeze just in case, and both kids also had another sleep - completely tuckered out after their day of high adventure. A FEW TIPS: The crew offer complimentary, 100% natural ginger tablets to help prevent seasickness, if needed. Ask for the strawberry flavoured ones, which are a little more palatable for the kids. If the weather is looking like it might be slightly rough out there, encourage them to take one early in the trip. While you’re at it, take one or two yourself. Hire an underwater camera (or take your own). You can hire a quality digital camera with an underwater housing on board, and this is yours to use for the day. At the end of the trip, the crew will give you the 8GB memory card to keep. It’s a great way to preserve your fun memories, and you can take as many pictures as you like. Take warm clothes for the trip home, which can get breezy if you’re sitting outside after a day in the sun, despite the ever-blissful Hamilton Island weather. If you’re travelling as a family, take a look on the Hamilton Island website for the latest Great Barrier Reef deals for families. About the Author When she’s not daydreaming about her next holiday, Katrina spends her days working as a freelance writer in Sydney. She’s her happiest when embarking on a new adventure, accompanied by her husband and two young kids. While her travels have led her all over the world, she still thinks there’s nowhere quite like Australia. And at the end of a long day, when she’s dreaming about escaping to a tropical paradise, Hamilton Island always comes to mind. Great Barrier Reef Adventure $1,932 Experience one of the natural wonders of the world, with a full day trip to the Great Barrier Reef. Stay four nights including breakfast daily.