Flying over the Great Barrier Reef

When you’re short of time, there’s only one way to see the Great Barrier Reef, and that’s from above. We weren’t planning to sail to the Outer Reef, as we didn’t think the six hour round trip to Reefworld would be much fun for little man, but we still wanted a way of seeing it. Flying over the Great Barrier Reef was the perfect (and only!) solution.

We researched several companies who flew scenic flights out of Airlie Beach, and finally decided on GSL Aviation. The main reason was that it looked the best value, with flights starting at $99. Also, they had some of the best reviews, and all flights had guaranteed window seats.

The options available at the time of booking included scenic flights and also fly and cruise packages. The hour-long flight we decided to book was the $199 option. This included flying around the Whitsunday Islands, including Whitehaven beach, and then flying out over Hook, Line and Hardy Reefs, also passing over the world famous Heart Reef.

The booking included free transfers from our resort, so we didn’t have to worry about getting to the airport Once we’d arrived, we were checked in and given our life jackets, and, after watching a safety video, we were good to go. We all entered our Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ten seater plane, seatbelts on, and we were off!

We flew over some of the Whitsunday Islands first, starting with Long Island, then heading out over Hamilton Island. Remember feeling it was quite a shame that there didn’t even seem to have been an attempt to make the hotel ‘blocks’ blend in with the beautiful island scenery. The next fly-by was the one I’d been waiting for though, Whitsunday Island itself. As we were taking in the swirling white silica sand and azure blue waters of Hill Inlet from the air, it was strange to think we’d been walking on that amazing beach the day before, with baby lemon sharks swimming metres away from our feet. The water and sand are exactly as you see in the pictures, too. Simply stunning.

We left the Whitsundays by flying over the seven kilometre-long Whitehaven Beach, and flew onwards to the world’s biggest living organism, the Great Barrier Reef. Goodness me, it’s one of the most breathtakingly beautiful views I’ve ever seen. As we flew towards the edge of the Reef, we began to get a real sense of the magnitude of its immense size. Probably something you wouldn’t understand if you visited by boat, instead of flying.

We flew over Hook, Hardy and Line Reef, the highlight being the world famous Heart Reef, snuggled nicely into Hardy Reef. Due to it’s protected status, seeing Heart Reef from the air is pretty much the only way you’re ever going to see it. This was something we didn’t know at the time, so we’re over the moon we’ve seen it by plane. As Heart Reef is only 17 meters wide, our pilot flew down as low as he was allowed, which I believe was approx. 500ft, to enable us to get a really good view of the unique coral formation. He then flew past it again, just to make sure both sides of the plane got a good look. Thanks!

Waving goodbye to Heart Reef, we flew back to Airlie Beach, via Hayman Island, before we suffered through some pretty bumpy turbulence heading in towards the runway. Little man loved the ‘bumpy bumpy’ though, as usual!

The hour went so quickly and felt over in a flash, but hey, what a flash! Although we chose not to do the six hour round-trip out to the Outer Reef, after our flight we are now determined to get back there one day and snorkel Hardy Reef at Reefworld, which we flew over as part of our tour. If you’ve never heard of Reefworld (day tours are operated by Cruise Whitsundays), have a look at pics and reviews by clicking here.

The views were undoubtedly stunning, but were there any downsides? Since we’re honest on this site, yes. We didn’t think there was enough commentary in the air and the ground staff weren’t the friendliest on our visit. However, we really did enjoy the views from the flight and it was certainly the best value, which is why we’d still recommend this company and the flight option we took. Click here to head over to TripAdvisor to see the hundreds of other reviews for GSL Aviation, and to book too. 🙂

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