NZH Travel's Thomas Bywater reports on his taxi ride to the bottom of the Tasman ditch

Rumours of the Great Barrier Reef's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

This I can tell you from the control panel of a mini-submarine.

Off the coast of the Heron Island in Queensland, we are looking out of a giant, goldfish-bowl like window into the coral reef. At the southern tip of the Great Barrier, this vibrant and resilient ecosystem has resisted the worst of the 2016 bleaching event and climate-related disasters that affected swathes of reef. It's a chance to see marine conservation in action.

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And it is an experience that is now available to anyone.

Recharge: The scUber mini sub is fully electric. Photo / Thomas Bywater
Recharge: The scUber mini sub is fully electric. Photo / Thomas Bywater

Tourism and Events Queensland has teamed up with leading "shared economy" tech companies and marine researchers to offer a "submarine taxi" that will give lifts out into the reef.

From Monday, people in certain Queensland cities will be able to use their Uber app to hail a ride in "Barry" the minisub.

The sub-sea taxi cab – called scUber – has just three seats. There's space for you, a friend and the expert pilot.

Erika Bergman, has been "flying" submarines for the past 10 years. A dream job she landed straight out of college, studying marine oceanography.

An experience now available to anyone: Erika Bergman, pilot of 'Barry' the sub. Photo / Thomas Bywater
An experience now available to anyone: Erika Bergman, pilot of 'Barry' the sub. Photo / Thomas Bywater

Cleaner than a Prius, the Uber driver's vehicle of choice, the scUber mini sub is fully electric. Battery-powered dives deliver passengers to depths of up to 30 metres, into the heart of the reef.

A bright red Play Station controller is used to steer the $2 million sub. "There are another three just behind me" explains Bergman. In the tiny space there are back-ups and fail safes for everything. "You can pick them up on the high street."

The impression is of a massive games console with a huge 360 screen swimming past us. Better than virtual reality, everything happening in front of us is live and full of life.

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A bright red Play Station controller is used to steer the $2 million sub. Photo / Thomas Bywater
A bright red Play Station controller is used to steer the $2 million sub. Photo / Thomas Bywater

We pass the site where Sir David Attenborough filmed parts of his Barrier Reef, from his own mini submarine.

This view was previously only available to those with a big team of submariners and a bigger budgets.

But from next week the scUber will begin picking up passengers from Gladstone, with helicopter transfers to Heron Island. The service moves from north Queensland to Port Douglas from June 8 to June 18.

A loggerhead turtle: The submarine offers a new perspective on life in the reef. Photo / Thomas Bywater
A loggerhead turtle: The submarine offers a new perspective on life in the reef. Photo / Thomas Bywater

While it is the most accessible and affordable way to arrange a submarine flight, it is still a big investment. At AU$3000 (NZ$3170) to hail the scUber, it's still a ride you won't be taking rashly. (There are no single fares for solo submariners; you have to hire the whole sub at once.)

"Accessible and surprisingly well-costed, I would say," says Andrew Ridley, CEO of Citizen of the Great Barrier Reef.

His coral conservation NGO is a partner of the project, and Uber has pledged to match any profits from the submarine venture and donate them to the cause.

Reef from above: A helicopter transfer from Gladstone is included in the scUber ride. Photo / Thomas Bywater
Reef from above: A helicopter transfer from Gladstone is included in the scUber ride. Photo / Thomas Bywater

The ride-hailing company Uber has been involved in a number of gimmicky projects before, including Uber Elevate - a service to hail helicopters using their taxi app.

However, scUber seems to have a deep connection to the cause of marine conservation.

Your diver has arrived: Thomas Bywater and sub-pilot turned Uber driver, Erika Bergman in 'Barry' the submarine taxi. Photo / Thomas Bywater
Your diver has arrived: Thomas Bywater and sub-pilot turned Uber driver, Erika Bergman in 'Barry' the submarine taxi. Photo / Thomas Bywater

While the submarine leaves the reef on June 18, it's hoped it might return next season.

"I hope it works in terms of people using it," says Ridley.

"The more people we have seeing the reef in new, extraordinary ways the better the chance we have of saving it."

The cay is home to the Heron Island Research station and was a location for David Attenborough's Barrier Reef documentary. Photo / Thomas Bywater
The cay is home to the Heron Island Research station and was a location for David Attenborough's Barrier Reef documentary. Photo / Thomas Bywater

• Tourism and Events Queensland is running a competition with Uber for the chance to win a holiday in the Barrier Reef and a trip in the submarine. Visit Scuberqueensland.com.au for more.

• The ScUber service will begin operating rides from Heron Island on May 27 to June 3, before moving north to the Agincourt Reef, near Port Douglas, from June 9-18.