That Time Australia's Floating Hotel Ended Up in North Korea

Friday November 22, 2019 Written by James

It’s probably Australia’s greatest architectural mistake: a floating hotel with 200 rooms, several nightclubs and restaurants, a tennis court, helipad and 50-seat underwater observatory.

Yep, in February 1988, Australian Doug Tarca opened the world’s first ‘floatel’ (not quite a cruise ship, not quite a hotel) on the Great Barrier Reef. It was meant to be a “paradise at sea”, but within a decade, the floating hotel would be moored off the coast of North Korea. Kim Jong Un actually visited earlier this year (he wasn’t impressed).

How a giant floating hotel travelled from Queensland to the DMZ border is a weird story. Tarca decided to ‘anchor’ the hotel into the Great Barrier Reef, rather like an oil rig. Unfortunately (and kind of ironically) this involved removing huge swathes of coral from the John Brewer Reef.

When the hotel opened in 1988 it was a hit with a tropical cyclone, which destroyed most of the facilities. During the repairs, workers discovered another snag: the sea floor beneath the hotel was littered with unexploded shells and anti-tank mines from WWII. Tarca’s dream quickly sunk (metaphorically speaking).

The floating hotel was then shipped off to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, where it rusted away for almost ten years. Eventually it was bought by another government: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In fact the hotel operated (briefly) as a symbol of North and South reunification: a tourist resort where separated families could reunite on more-or-less neutral ground.

Unfortunately, the floating hotel’s days might be numbered. Kim Jong Un has ordered that it be destroyed, finding the “shabby buildings as just a hotchpotch with no national character.” And so one Australian’s Jurassic Park-like dream will come to an end, demolished by a dictator. A fitting end for one of the weirdest things we’ve ever built.