Queensland: Love in the romantic heart of the reef

By Leah McLennan

The Great Barrier Reef wouldn't be the same without its heart, a part of Hardy Reef, which was discovered in 1975 by one of Air Whitsunday's seaplane pilots. Photo / Thinkstock
The Great Barrier Reef wouldn't be the same without its heart, a part of Hardy Reef, which was discovered in 1975 by one of Air Whitsunday's seaplane pilots. Photo / Thinkstock

Polyps are to thank for plenty of marriage proposals. They have unwittingly come together to create one of the most romantic locations on earth: the heart-shaped reef near Hayman Island.

This coral reef made by tiny animals (called polyps, not to be confused with the growths from a mucous surface of the human body) is part of the Great Barrier Reef, which floats in the warm waters of the Coral Sea.

Peering sunglass-less out of the window of this seaplane, it almost hurts to look at the scenery; the bright greenish-blue of the water and the whiteness of the distant sand. The scale of the Great Barrier Reef is almost too big to fit in my head.

From 150 metres up in the air I feel like reaching down, plucking the heart-shaped reef from the shallow water and taking it home in my pocket. In one swift move, Australia could forever lose this romantic natural icon, a site of numerous in-flight proposals.

The Great Barrier Reef wouldn't be the same without its heart, a part of Hardy Reef, which was discovered in 1975 by one of Air Whitsunday's seaplane pilots.

There is a proposal on a seaplane tour - either in the air or during one of the stops - at least once a fortnight, Air Whitsunday operations manager Jade Korosec says.

"The majority of proposals take place after our orbit over Heart Reef," Korosec says.

But it's unlikely anyone will pop the question on our Friday morning adventure from Hayman Island in this 10-seater Cessna Caravan.

Next to me is my partner and our one-year-old daughter; in front of us is a retired couple from Perth (already married); at the plane's controls is a young pilot called Lee and beside him is Margot, a trainee pilot, who is looking rather busy observing Lee's button-pushing.

The pilot and co-pilot would make a lovely couple with their matching aviator sunglasses, but let's hope Lee doesn't unbuckle his seat belt, take off the headset and get down on one knee.

These pilots need to be multi-skilled, Korosec says before we set off on our Panorama Seaplane Tour from Hayman Island.

During our four-hour trip (with 90-minutes' flying time) Lee will host a snorkelling stop on a private glass bottom boat and serve champagne and cheese and crackers during a visit to Whitehaven Beach.

With no proposals on the cards, this could be an easy morning for Lee.

The pilot and his team back at Air Whitsunday's base at Airlie Beach have to frequently respond to requests from loved-up couples about to declare their love.

"We've had some flamboyant requests ranging from proposals written in the sand at Whitehaven Beach, visible only when flown over the top in our seaplane, to trailing banners behind our aircraft as we fly past.

"We also have on average 20 elopements at Whitehaven Beach each year with brides ranging from barefoot in bikinis to traditional white flowing gowns."

With so much jewellery being exchanged, pilots spend a great deal of time searching for lost rings in the sand or water, Korosec says.

"We have had a number of ladies lose their rings in our private snorkelling location, all of which I can proudly say have been recovered by our very talented pilots, who also act as host, boat driver, snorkelling assistant and formal witness for eloping wedding couples."

IF YOU GO

Air Whitsunday has a range of scenic flights. The company, based at Shute Harbour near Airlie Beach, provides tours from a number of island destinations, including the five-star resort of Hayman Island and Peppers Palm Bay. It also provides inter-island transfers and the prospect to connect with domestic flights.

The 2.5-hour Whitehaven Experience seaplane tour costs A$240 per adult and A$210 per for children aged two to 12. It includes a scenic flight over Shute Harbour, Molle Group of Islands, Whitsunday Passage, Whitsunday Island, a visit to Whitehaven Beach and drinks and snacks.

The 4.5-hour Panorama seaplane tour costs A$425 per adult and A$390 per child. It includes a scenic flight, snorkelling and coral viewing from Air Whitsunday's private glass bottom boat and a visit to Whitehaven Beach.

The writer was a guest of Air Whitsunday and Tourism Queensland.

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