Guide to Heart Reef
Heart Reef is a stunning composition of coral in the Great Barrier Reef, naturally formed in the shape of a heart.
By Hannah Tattersall & Georgia Rickard
The heart-shaped coral of Heart Reef is one of the most famous sights of the Great Barrier Reef. It's best experienced from the air, by helicopter, light plane or seaplane. Visitors are not allowed to snorkel or dive there due to its protected status.
- Fly over the reef in a private helicopter or seaplane
- Stay on a nearby luxury island
- Sleep near the heart with Reef Sleep
How to get there
Heart Reef is near the romantic Whitsunday Islands. To see it, take a helicopter, seaplane or light plane tour. These depart from some of the main islands — Hamilton and Daydream – and from the mainland beach town of Airlie Beach. You can fly direct to Hamilton Island from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns. You can fly direct to Proserpine Airport (also known as Whitsunday Coast Airport), which services the town of Airlie Beach, from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Regular ferry services and helicopter transfers are available between Airlie Beach and Hamilton and Daydream islands.
Things to do and top attractions at Heart Reef
Take a scenic flight by helicopter
Helicopter tours depart for Heart Reef from both major hubs in the Whitsundays: Hamilton Island (with Hamilton Island Air) and Airlie Beach (with Helireef). On your way to Heart Reef, you'll soar over the Great Barrier Reef and several of the stunning islands in the Whitsundays archipelago. Keep an eye out for gorgeous Hill Inlet, famous Whitehaven Beach, and playful whales. You can even land at Whitehaven Beach (read more below). Two operators also offer the option of flying in a light plane instead of a helicopter: GSL Aviation (from Airlie Beach) and Hamilton Island Air.
Land nearby in a seaplane
You can't snorkel at Heart Reef due to its protected status, but you can get up close to a nearby section of the Great Barrier Reef. Fly above the Whitsunday Islands before circling Heart Reef for photos, then watch as your pilot lands on the water, directly above a white sandy shelf and countless banks of coral. From the plane you'll hop into a small, glass-bottomed boat – perfect for gliding over the shallow waters – and watch for turtles and colourful fish, before jumping into the water for a relaxing (optional) snorkel. Finish your experience with a celebratory glass of sparkling wine or champagne before returning to land. Only two tour operators offer this experience: Hamilton Island Air and Air Whitsunday (from Airlie Beach).
Stay on a nearby luxury island
Arguably the best way to see Heart Reef is by combining it with a stay on one of the beautiful nearby Whitsunday Islands. Stay at Hamilton Island, the area's most popular holiday destination, and choose from multiple accommodation options like the family-friendly Palm Bungalows and holiday homes to the six-star, adults-only resort qualia. Alternatively, book into the child-friendly paradise, Daydream Island. All are surrounded by the Whitsundays' white beaches, famous teal waters and an abundance of marine life.
Sleep near Heart Reef
The two day, one night Reef Sleep adventure from Cruise Whitsundays offers the chance to sleep on the Great Barrier Reef, under the stars, 40 nautical miles from shore on a permanently moored pontoon, Reefworld. As the sun sets over the reef, you'll see an abundance of fish and other sea creatures come to life as well as the rainbow colours of staghorn, brain, fire, slipper and plate coral in all their glory. The alfresco adventure ends with a brilliant view of the night stars and the gentle lull of the ocean helping you drift comfortably off to sleep.