North Queensland (Cape York – Cairns – Townsville)
- Haggerstone Island
In the far north extremities of the Great Barrier Reef is Haggerstone Island, which is a tropical wilderness sitting on a bed of unique coral gardens. Located 600 km north of Cairns close to the Cape York Peninsula. This island’s rugged beauty contrasts with the idyllic remote location with teeming sea life and avian population.
A private island, its eclectic tropical timber accommodation is surrounded by gardens, orchards and dams. Snorkelling and fishing will help pass the time of day in this isolated location and further afield shipwrecks can be checked out.
- Lizard Island
The main island of this small group of five north of Cooktown. Lizard Island is typical of its other reef island cousins with its perfect white beaches, glistening waters and many nearby reefs for snorkelling and diving.
Its sole resort offers 5-star luxury accommodation in ideal isolation from any form of other urban life. The island has its airstrip and boasts some magnificent walks.
- Low Isles
Situated 15 kilometres north-east of Port Douglas, comprising a four-acre coral cay surrounded by 55 acres of reef, two small islands make up Low Isles. The coral reefs are very close to the island, which makes snorkelling easily accessible.
Woody Island is the larger of the two and is a vital habitat for a large bird population of many species.
The smaller coral cay has been operating a lighthouse since 1878 and gathering weather data since 1887. It is the first place in the world that a scientific study of a coral reef was carried out in 1928.
Home of the world’s first glass-bottom boat and underwater observatory, Green Island is a locally loved tropical playground.
This coral cay is the only one on the Great Barrier Reef that covered by rainforest. Visitors can take an easy half, full day or more extended visit to experience two world wonders in one destination. There are options for resort stays, rainforest walks and aquatic activities, including a walk on the seafloor.
- Fitzroy Island
Rainforest walking tracks and coral beaches are a feature of this family-friendly destination near Cairns that is relaxed and encourages fun activities for all ages. Its steep mountain peak encourages exploring, and it’s ideal for snorkelling, swimming and kayaking.
- Mission Beach
The tropical hamlet of Mission Beach is shrouded in World Heritage rainforest which abuts the Coral Sea down to its white-sand beaches. A no-frills community eschews any pace of life in an eco-sensitive village atmosphere that has evolved under swaying palms and fostered a range of mid-level family and backpacker accommodation.
Famous for hosting substantial numbers of endangered cassowaries, it is one of the mainland’s closest neighbours to the Great Barrier Reef and a gateway to the formerly famous Dunk Island.
- Bedarra Island
About 10 km offshore from Mission Beach and sitting on 100 ha of tropical rainforest is Bedarra Island, regarded as one of the marine park region’s most picturesque Great Barrier Reef islands. It’s a favourite escape for day-trippers and access is by ferry or helicopter.
There are a few accommodation options in the lush tropical rainforest, including ten guest villas in a 5-star eco-resort which is a favourite with honeymooners and romantic couples. Healthy activities to supplement a morning of swimming, diving or snorkelling in the azure blue waters include jet-skiing, water-skiing and paragliding.
- Orpheus Island
Perfect snorkelling conditions and hiking through eucalypts are but two of the attractions of this unique 1,300 ha island north of Townsville in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. An eclectic collection of wildlife inhabits the national park, ranging from echidnas and bandicoots to green tree frogs and ospreys.
Snorkelling and diving (beware marine stingers) is the best way to appreciate the genuine wonders of the 1,000 species of fish inhabiting the stunning variety of soft and hard coral. The ultra-private Orpheus Island Lodge can accommodate less than 30 patrons and offers quintessential luxury through its facility, a brilliant compliment to the uniqueness of its natural environment.
Central Queensland (Townsville – Airlie Beach – Gladstone)
- Magnetic Island
This large well-developed tropical island not far from Townsville CBD is part-residential and part-tourism, its national park environment consisting of a wealth of scenic walks and wildlife co-existing with locals in forested locales.
An array of water sports are carried out in its many bays, and it is accessible by ferry. While it is low-key and relaxing, it can also be fun and invigorating, and there is no pretence.
- Hayman Island
The northernmost of the Whitsunday Islands group, Hayman is an exclusive tropical resort on 400ha and open only to staying guests. Its luxury 5-star resort is sequestered among valleys and beaches and has been the playground for a clientele noted for wealth and fame over many years.
- Hamilton Island
The paradise resort of Hamilton Island is a magnet hotspot due to its luxury accommodation, impressive infrastructure (including the commercial airport), lavish restaurants and bars, steep hills, walking trails and sandy white beaches.
If you aren’t booked in for a few days, it’s open and affordable for day-trippers wanting access to its tennis courts, golf facilities and dive experiences. Its unblemished natural features include impressive coral and marine life, and there are cruises available to other islands.
- Daydream Island
Newly positioned as a more chic facility, the popular day-trip destination is the closest resort to the mainland in the region and an ideal R&R escape for locals and travellers looking for a weekend of fun. It’s a small piece of land with its wildlife, 100 species of fish, coral and invertebrates, and expansive views from the pool of the Great Barrier Reef vista.
Southern Queensland (Gladstone – Hervey Bay)
- Lady Elliot Island
The Great Barrier Reef starts at its southernmost island, Lady Elliot (off Bundaberg). This vegetated and remote coral cay is renowned for the quality of its many dive sites (plus shipwrecks), snorkelling and scuba diving conditions.
It is home to coral gardens, seabirds, a colony of nesting turtles, blowholes, giant manta rays, barracuda and leopard sharks. It features an eco-friendly resort with a conservation ethos.
- Lady Musgrave Island
Lady Musgrave is a coral cay island set on 1,200 ha of the thriving reef. Its sheltered lagoon attracts day-trippers and campers for snorkelling and diving its blue waters, glass-bottom boat coral viewing and leisurely walks among flora and fauna. The waters are teeming with coloured reef fish, manta rays and turtles. Unspoilt and authentic, it is a castaway’s dream.
- Heron Island
The underwater paradise of Heron Island, part of the Capricornia Cays group, is scuba-diving heaven, celebrated as among the best in the world. Above ground are a resort and research station, thickly treed national park, magnificent beaches offering superb snorkelling conditions, and seasonal turtle activity.
Laidback and casual, making it ideal for families, it is blessed with more than 20 sq km of the reef and, 80km northeast of Gladstone is accessible by ferry and seaplane.
- Great Keppel Island
The island is 30-minutes off the coast from the small town of Yeppoon and is the largest in the Keppel Group. It has a relaxed style, and its white sandy beaches and sparkling waters attract day-trippers and longer-stay guests. It features various forms of accommodation, the largest being a locally-owned resort, and plenty of water sport activities.
Located a little north of the Tropic of Capricorn, it has been a magnet for urban travellers seeking sun, sand and sea at its 17 paradise-quality beaches.
- Pumpkin Island
A hidden 6-hectare gem of an island in the Keppel Group, it is 14 kilometres off the coast from Yeppoon. Despite minimal infrastructure, there is plenty to see, including dolphins, whales and turtles, and do, such as glass-bottom kayaking, snorkelling, fishing and stand-up paddle-boarding.
Eco-friendly accommodation caters to a maximum of 34 guests in 7 self-contained units with private decks. It’s the ultimate ‘escape to blissful nature’ island getaway.
The world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island is the only identified location where the rainforest grows in sand. It is south of the Lady Elliott Island beginning of the Great Barrier Reef. A stunning site featuring freshwater lakes, wetlands, crystal clear creeks, lush forests and colossal sand dunes, this sandy paradise is home to lots of birdlife and wildlife, including dingos.
It is a hotbed of tourism activity and has a wide range of accommodation, including the luxury Kingfisher Bay Resort, and marine activity suppliers.