Reach for the Stars

From holidays at his grandparents’ organic farm in southeast Poland to living atop the Great Barrier Reef, life is a culinary journey for Reefworld’s executive chef, Zibby Deca.

WORDS: Carolyn Beasley

There’s something magical about being on the Great Barrier Reef at dawn. As the sky turns pink over the Pacific Ocean and the sun rises, there’s time to ponder what wonders the reef will reveal today. It’s the busiest time of day for the fish, as they industriously feed, going about their business as daylight slowly penetrates the water. It’s a time of day that daytrippers never get to see. It’s reserved for just a select few, like those enjoying the Reefsuites or Reefsleep experiences at Hardy Reef.

As the executive chef living and working on the Reefworld pontoon, Zbigniew (Zibby) Deca gets to see this spectacle everyday. Reefworld is the home of Reefsuites, Australia’s only underwater accommodation, and Reefsleep, the above-deck under-the-stars accommodation, which makes it a pretty unique place to work. He’s still enthralled with the reef, and even in his wildest dreams, he could never have imagined life would lead him here.

Ten years ago, Zibby was living in Poland, and swore he would never move to another country and speak a foreign language. But life is full of surprises, and just a couple of weeks later, Zibby and his wife were on their way to Australia for a one-year working holiday. The holiday never ended, and together with his young family, Zibby is still here. “Since then, I never say never!” says
Zibby, laughing.

When he arrived in Australia, Zibby was first struck by our raucous cockatoos. These days, the wildlife that amazes him the most are his fish friends on the Reefworld pontoon. When pressed for a favourite, he chooses based on size. “The real boss can be only one, lovely giant George, the Queensland Grouper,” Zibby says.

The highly exclusive Reefworld at Hardy Reef is your destination – a permanently moored pontoon, located 39 nautical miles from shore on the outer Great Barrier Reef. Reefsuites and Reefsleep guests are encouraged to spend their days swimming, snorkelling, diving and exploring the reef ’s amazing natural ecosystem, before retreating to the pontoon for an evening meal and a cosy sleep under the stars.

All of that action means guests work up an appetite, and Zibby takes these active pursuits into account when planning the menu. “We need to make sure breakfast and lunch are light and healthy,” he says, adding that his freshly baked pastries are always popular for morning tea. Dinner is a three-course affair, served at a long-table on the alfresco deck in the gentle salty breeze. Being so far from the mainland, guests can expect no light pollution and the brightest of twinkling stars reflecting on the sea.

Supplies arrive daily on the company’s boat, and Zibby’s ethos is firmly focused on local and seasonal produce. “Of course, being surrounded by water everyone expects good seafood, so we always make sure we are prepared,” Zibby says. “Everything is caught in permitted areas of the reef and comes off a fisherman’s boat pretty much the same morning. Our beef also comes from the most pristine environments around Queensland. And because we’re located only 45 minutes from Bowden, we have access to the best fruits and vegetables in the country.”

The biggest challenge of working on the reef? “Having the right supplies” says Zibby, who needs to expect the unexpected, as well as catering for special dietary requirements in order to give all of his customers an exceptional experience. “You can’t just quickly go to the shops to pick up something you’ve missed,” says Zibby. “It’s a three-hour trip from the mainland, so you need to be very smart about your food options!”

As well as the incredible location, Zibby says it’s the people that keep him here, working on the reef. “I am surrounded by people on holidays who are always happy,” he says. “Before Covid they were coming from every part of the world, now from all over Australia, and it’s a wonderful experience to have the opportunity to chat with them and hear their stories.”

Explore the reef by day and sleep under the stars by night with Reefsleep, or under the water in one of two exclusive Reefsuites. Both can be booked for a two-day, one-night experience on Hardy Reef, one of the most spectacular stretches of the Great Barrier Reef.