If you only have one day to explore the Great Barrier Reef, Annie reckons you should spend it on the Reef Magic Pontoon. Whether you’re a solo Explorer or heading out with the fam, this choose-your-own-adventure style reef experience ticks all the watery boxes.

We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Countries on which these adventures take place who have occupied and cared for these lands and waters for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.


For me, the lure of the big blue always awakens my adventurous side. There’s an undeniable pull of the wild. There’s just something about its vastness, its unmeasurable and unexplored depths, and the unsettling sensation you get after pin dropping into the water and feeling nothing but empty space between you and the unknown. 

So when the opportunity arose to visit Cairns’ newest Reef Magic pontoon situated smack bang in the middle of The Great Barrier Reef, of course, I was all in.


In the words of Steve Zissou ‘This is an adventure’.

Your All-in-One Great Barrier Reef Adventure

My first observation? This pontoon isn’t so much a pontoon, but rather a remote floating playground, multifarious enough to satisfy even the most intrepid of travellers, whilst still catering to all kinds of families great and small. 

With an onboard coral garden, underwater observatory deck, glass-bottom boat tour service, upper sun deck lounge bar, restaurant, marine research lab, scuba dive platform, and underwater dive helmet course (the only of its kind on The Great Barrier Reef), the Reef Magic pontoon is truly a choose-your-own-adventure park floating out in the middle of the ocean.

The pontoon creates an opportunity for anyone and everyone to experience the reef in their own special way. Whether that be the hardcore Explorers or the first-time holidayers, here anyone can access the wonder of The Great Barrier Reef to create their own personalised connection with this incredible natural wonder. 

The spacious vessel provided a peaceful journey out to the dock site (and as someone who regularly gets seasick, I really emphasise the peacefulness here). 

As soon as we were at a safe stop, I was straight to the gear shed to pick up my stinger suit, gear up, and dive in for a much-anticipated free dive.


Moore to See Than You Think

The steps of the pontoon gently walk you into the doorstep of Moore Reef. Reef Magic marine biologists have researched this particular site for more than 17 years, so the staff are very knowledgeable about the area’s hidden treasures and unique residents. One of these being Wally, the reef’s resident Maori Wrasse. 

A curious not-so-little guy, Wally is one of the Great Barrier Reef’s largest fish species, growing up to 2.3 metres in size and 190kg in weight. Named after the tribal-like markings on their face that are reminiscent of traditional Maori facial tattoos, the Maori Wrasse is as rare as it is captivating. The endangered species is particularly susceptible to ‘fishing pressure’ and as a result has been protected on the Great Barrier Reef since 2003. Which makes the interaction all the more treasurable. 



Wally was unlike any sea creature I’d met before. Curious about me, he came in close to inspect my peculiar bubbles, circling around me to flaunt his immaculate turquoise colours and markings, I couldn’t help but stare in awe. However, Wally wasn’t the only highlight of our free swim. 

We also inspected dazzling-bright corals, Christmas tree worms peeping in and out of their holes, Sea cucumbers in all their impressive arrays, Butterflyfish, schools of Damselfish, Moorish Idol fish (otherwise known as Gill from Finding Nemo), and Rainbow parrotfish. We found coral caves to swim between and ledges to peer under. 

I could’ve stayed out there all day exploring, but luckily for me, I had a packed schedule ahead and a lot more experiences to try.

Cultural Connection to The Reef

Next up was the glass bottom boat tour with a twist. Guided by our Indigenous Master Reef Guide Dustin, we explored parts of the reef far past where we could ever swim. Onboard we witnessed the strong cultural and historical ties between the reef and Traditional Owners of the local land and Sea Country. 



We learned of the long trips Dustin’s ancestors made to the reef to source food, sometimes travelling upwards of two to three days in their canoes to reach specific fishing destinations, relying on local landmarks such as the peaks of the Kuranda Ranges and Green Island to navigate. 

Experiencing first-hand the ongoing connection that exists between First Nation People and the Sea Country – a relationship that has endured 70,000 plus years – was humbling to say the least. We also got to examine traditional hunting tools, many of which are still used today by Dustin and his mob. 

This combination of Indigenous knowledge and marine research is what makes this place so special. With education clearly at the forefront of this experience, the knowledge guests are immersed in is two-fold – the sustainable lessons we can learn from the Traditional Owners, partnered with the understanding of how the reef functions and thrives. For me, this is what made this trip unlike any other reef experience I’ve had before!


Sustainability and Education

As someone who values sustainability, choosing eco-friendly tour operators is important when I travel. Funnily enough, this is one of the yarns I found myself immersed in with onboard Education Director and Marine Biologist Sam. Thanks to its 18 solar panels and three onboard wind turbines, the pontoon is completely self-sufficient for day tour use, making it almost one of a kind on The Great Barrier Reef. 

As part of the education focus of the experience, guests are invited into the research lab to learn about the various research projects underway on the pontoon and reef. 

The best part of the job? According to Sam, it’s being part of people’s sustainability journey and their first experience with the reef. She believes that by inviting people to witness the reef we can raise awareness about the need to protect it. Because it’s hard to love and protect something we know nothing about. 

Read more: Remember to leave no trace!


Underwater – But still dry?

After a quick onboard buffet lunch, it was time to gear up for the dive helmet experience. Think Sandy from Spongebob meets Neil Armstrong.

Not only is it truly absurd to comprehend walking in the ocean breathing normally without your head even getting wet, but the 3D glass helmet also captures side reflections that enhance your peripheral vision.

I’m not going to lie, I was a bit freaked out. My body seems to feel uncomfortable with things my mind can’t comprehend. But I pulled on my big girl pants and pushed forward. And boy was I rewarded for my bravery. 

As we made our way through the underwater course, just above us on the outer deck one of the marine biologists was running a live fish feeding presentation. Not only did I have a front-row seat, I was actually involved in the hunt! 

Predatory fish (hunting for plankton and smaller fishies, not for me) whipped through the water, darting all around me and even jumping through waves to catch their much-anticipated snack. Let me tell you, I was moving through that oxygen tank damn quick! Now that’s an experience you certainly don’t get every day. 



It’s important to mention that the biologists are very careful with the amount they feed to fish to ensure these species don’t become dependent on the feeding. That means that if they were to stop visiting the spot, the fish would just go back to their natural hunting styles.

Out To The Drop Off

Next was the Safari Outer Reef Tour, and in my opinion, the highlight of the day. We caught a lift on a smaller boat to the outer reef with our guide and fully qualified marine biologist, Caitlin. We jumped off the boat into the depths just a few metres out from the coral drop off (yes, we did swim out to ‘touch the butt’). 

With a slow-moving current working in our favour, we allowed ourselves to drift along the reef wall as the tide slowly carried us back to the pontoon. Meandering in and out of coral undertows, admiring the bustling life almost reminiscent of a suburban city, I was struck by the contrast between the busy coral metropolis to the left and the unnerving mysterious deep dark to the right. 



I soon spotted a school of larger fish. Remembering what Caitlin had told me earlier that towards the bottom of these schools you can often find Blacktip reef sharks, I took a deep breath and dove down as far as I could go, hoping to spot one of the misunderstood creatures. 

Much to the appreciation of all Jaws-haters, there were none in sight. Regardless, there’s something indescribable about diving through a school of large fish. It’s intensely freeing and reassuring watching the animals flee out of your way, even if their swimming strides are superior to your own. 

We spent the rest of the tour pondering closer to the reef. Mentally tagging fish species, admiring them in their natural habitat and even catching an odd Parrotfish poo or two (one of the ecosystem’s most important rejuvenation practices). Just before heading back to the pontoon, we examined Nemo in his anemone home, as he brushed up against its branches to, of course, avoid getting stung.

Cheers to That!

Sooner than I cared for, it was time to head back to shore. We returned our gear, dried off and set off for the journey home. We visited the bar to get a sneaky beer, and wanting to soak up the glorious rays of a sunny Far North Queensland day, headed upstairs to the upper outdoor deck. 



On the ride home, we were treated to glassy ocean views as we cruised past famous local landmarks and holiday hotspots like Green and Fitzroy Islands. 

Feeling like part of the gang, I got carried away in discussion as friendly crew members struck up conversations with me. We shared stories of where we’d come from, where we’d been and where we’d still like to go. A motley crew of sailors, researchers, biologists, and creatives, all sharing one thing in common – an undeniably soul-satisfying infatuation with The Great Barrier Reef. 



Photography thanks to @anais.3101 and @reefmagiccairns