The Gold Coast has just opened it's new $5 million attraction – Wonder Reef. Narelle Bouveng shares her experience exploring this incredible underwater playground for divers.
After a short 10-minute cruise across the Gold Coast seaway from Runaway Bay Marina we've already reached our dive destination. And while bobbing buoys hint that something lies beneath, I’m excited to be one of the first divers to explore the Gold Coast’s newest dive site and world first purpose-built floating reef - Wonder Reef.
Submerged just 2.5km offshore from Main Beach, and now open to certified divers, I’ve joined the crew from Gold Coast Dive Adventures for a guided dive, however, you can also book your own private mooring and dive it yourself with a permit.
It’s a gorgeous glassy day on the water, and the only ripples rolling in are from a couple of whales that have surfaced nearby, so we quickly suit up and roll in. Listening to their whale song as we descend is an epic way to start any dive.
I catch my first glimpse of the nine twirling reef flutes a few metres down. And while I can’t quite see where they are tethered to the ocean floor at 32 meters, what I can see of the 22 metre flutes rising towards the surface looks like a giant spiralling kelp forest. Artist Daniel Templeman designed Wonder Reef in collaboration with engineering company Subcon Blue Solutions, and took inspiration from visions of hot air balloons rising into the sky.
Constructed of uncoated steel, the 72 tonne spirals invite vertical dives from 8, 18 and 30 metres. A base reef anchors the site, while a platform at 30 metres can be used as a perch for divers to stand on (underwater selfies are obligatory) and swim-throughs offer another perspective from which to consider the site and marine life that resides here.
AMAZING MARINE ENVIRONMENT
Fortunate to be diving alongside Gold Coast Dive Adventures resident marine biologist, we quickly find creatures I might have otherwise missed. Soft bodied nudibranchs, which are regarded as the “butterflies of the sea” illuminate in our torchlight. Delicate feather-like gills flutter and it’s luminescent colours change with the light, but as we descend further, following the curves of the twirls, we also spy the slinky arms of an octopus creeping beyond its rooftop hiding spot and a tropical spiny crayfish too.
Corals, molluscs and anemones have also taken up early residency. And while some corals were transplanted from nearby Palm Reef by marine experts in 2021, signs are already promising they are settling in and will help to establish 32,000 m2 of reef. Over time, more and more marine life will make Wonder Reef home and each dive will be different as the ecosystem evolves.
My attention returns to the spirals, where after a cloud of fish clears, I watch as a lionfish flutters its fan-like spines, hopeful of attracting a victim to enter its toxic embrace. It’s not going to be me today, so we dive down deeper, where scores of Indian scad baitfish brush past us. I’m told later a crew of Queensland Groupers have been spotted lurking beneath the 30-meter platform and while we didn’t make it to that depth today, it would be incredible to see the largest of the species in the world when I return.
Looking up towards the surface from depth gives the best perspective of this ethereal underwater world. Each of the nine flutes the comprise the reef are tethered, but designed to move with the energy of the ocean. They are like beautiful sea ornaments which remind me of a hanging garden. As clouds of mulloway cast a glittering blanket of silver beside them, and a large gold-spotted rock cod glides through the coils, it feels a little like we may have found Atlantis.
Rising on the final few metres on the last of my two 40-minute dives, it’s hard not to be impressed with this new aquatic playground. When I surface, the city skyline hovers on the waterline as if it too is floating.
Wonder Reef, joins ten other sites on the Gold Coast Dive trail, which further positions the Gold Coast as an ever-evolving world class dive destination.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF COUNTRY
Destination Gold Coast acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we are situated, the Kombumerri families of the Yugambeh Language Region.
We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging, and recognise their continuing connections to the lands, waters and their extended communities throughout Southeast Queensland.