Lady Elliot Island vs Heron Island

The Southern Great Barrier Reef

Heron vs Lady Elliot Island

The Southern Great Barrier Reef is these days recognised as having the best colour, diversity and accessibility for visitors wishing to experience one of Australia’s most iconic natural attractions.

Over the past decade, due to rising water temperatures, the mid and northern Great Barrier Reef regions have suffered a number of wide-spread bleaching episodes, damaging some of Queensland’s most-visited reef destinations. Whilst the reef is slowly receding in the north, research has shown it is now growing at an equal rate from its southern boundaries. Hence the newer and less visited reefs in the south display far more colour and diversity offering visitors a vastly superior experience.

Apart from the amazing visitor experience, the Southern Great Barrier Reef offers better water clarity (particularly in the storm season Dec – Apr), no deadly irikanji jellyfish (stinger suits are not necessary whilst swimming off these southern islands), and cheaper, more convenient access for visitors with limited time in Australia.

We have spent over a decade helping visitors plan the best itineraries and packages to experience Queensland’s amazing natural attractions. The Heron Island vs Lady Elliot dilemma is common, as it is very difficult to compare prices. So which island is best?! What follows is our best advice and comparison of these two amazing destinations to assist with your trip planning …


It is difficult to directly compare the cost of visiting these 2 islands as Lady Elliot has an all-inclusive rate structure, whereas Heron Island has a base accommodation tariff and charges extra for everything else … eg activities, transfers, park fees, snorkel equipment, kids club etc.

Lady Elliot Island : per person accommodation charge includes – buffet breakfast and dinner, free use of snorkel equipment, 1 x glass bottom boat and guided snorkel tour, all ranger guided tours and activities except scuba, all National Park fees.

Heron Island : per room accommodation charge includes – buffet breakfast. EXTRA charges for – National Park fees, lunch, dinner, hire of snorkel equipment, boat to snorkel on reef, Kids Club etc

In order to directly compare a stay at the 2 resorts we have calculated the cost of a 2, 3 and 5 night stay for 2 adults at both resorts as per the following analysis. NOTE: we have included the commonly available discounts for both islands (ie Stay 5, Pay 4 on Lady Elliot and Stay 4, Pay 3 on Heron).

Lady Elliot Rates

Heron Island Rates

Lady Elliot On Island ChargesAccessibility

Lady Elliot Island : Only accessible via plane (40 minute flight) from Hervey Bay or Bundaberg. The flight / airline is owned by the island and must be booked at the same time as accommodation. Direct flights available from Sydney and Brisbane to both Hervey Bay and Bundaberg. It is also possible to fly from Brisbane or the Gold Coast direct to Lady Elliot, however these flights are at a substantial premium. It is nearly always better to work your itinerary into departing from Hervey Bay or Bundaberg.

Heron Island : Accessible by boat (2 ½ hrs each way) or seaplane (20 minute flight) from Gladstone. The boat transfers do NOT operate on a Tuesday or Thursday. The boat and seaplane are operated by a 3rd party. Direct flights from Sydney and Brisbane to Gladstone.

Heron Island Map


Both these destinations offer a 5 star plus reef experience – the best you will get on the east coast of Australia!! These are both true coral atolls, fully enclosed by a fringing reef teeming with coral and marine life. If you are looking for a once in a lifetime snorkelling, reef and sea bird experience then these islands tick every box – bigtime! Please note, however, that these are NOT 5 star resort experiences!! Accommodations at both destinations are comfortable, adequate and environmentally responsible. Meals are buffet style and buffet quality. If you are looking for a resort experience then head to the Whitsundays! (BTW the Whitsunday Islands do NOT lie on the Great Barrier Reef – they are all sand islands.)

Eco Focus / Sustainability Initiatives

If you are an environmentally conscious explorer who is passionate about protecting the environment just as  much as experiencing it, then Lady Elliot is miles ahead of ALL comparable destinations in Australia (and probably much of the world).

Lady Elliot produces and stores over 85% of its power requirements with a growing hybrid solar plant, and is aiming for 100% sustainability in the near future. All guests are given a comprehensive arrival briefing covering all aspects of reef and wildlife preservation and practices. There is a policy of preservation and protection that is entwined within all areas of resort management and guest experiences! Absolutely 5 Star for Sustainability!

I would love to see Heron Island, under its new ownership (Feb 2017), embrace a similar passion and commitment to sustainability and education. Historically there have been reports of inadequate guest briefings, irresponsible lighting of resort facilities during turtle hatching season, and a reliance on generated power and fossil fuels that are barged in from the mainland. A new long-term preservation plan would be fantastic for the island, the business and the reef in general. That said, the University of Queensland run a world-class research facility on the island, and run an independent tour of the research facilities and station that is well worth while.

Good Things to Know

Heron Island

Transfers – Boat transfers take 2 ½ hrs from Gladstone. These can be rough, and guests are often sea-sick. Boat transfers are not available on Tuesdays or Thursdays!! (Curiously you can book accommodation starting on these days and then find no way to get to the island!?! The transfers are operated by a 3rd party.)

Boat transfers leave the mainland at 2pm and arrive on the island at 4:30pm. Return transfers leave the island at 10am and arrive on the mainland at 12:30pm. So your first and last days are virtually wasted. (It would be far better for guests if the transfers were run the other way around.)

Seaplane transfers are available (20 minutes), but are extremely expensive ($349pp 1 way). If you take the seaplane you will need to wade ashore in knee deep water.

Snorkelling off the beach is a little underwhelming, so you will want to take the boat out to the drop-off each day for the good snorkelling (extra charges – I have included this in my comparison). Snorkelling in the harbour is quite good, but it is closed from 8:00am to 5:30pm due to boat and seaplane traffic.

Bird life is more intense and varied than Lady Elliot.

Reef Fishing trips available – ($235 for 2). No fishing Lady Elliot.

Snorkelling – take your own gear!! You will save $20pp / day!

Heron has recently changed owners (Feb 2017) and is now owned by a Canadian company. Reservations and issues are handled by an offshore reservations and call centre.

Lady Elliot Island

Transfers – only by plane. For 1 and 2 night stays you can fly across on the 8:10am flight and back on the 4:00pm flight. So you get a full day for your arrival and departure days. For 3 nights or more flights across depart at 10:30am or 1:00pm, with flights back at 9:30am or 11:30am.

Snorkelling is available in the lagoon 3 hrs either side of high tide every day (excellent!). The fringing reef drop-off on the lighthouse side of the island can be accessed straight from the beach at all times of day (ie no boat transfers required).

Glass bottom boat tour is included in your tariff (on Heron the glass bottom sub is $50pp).

Lady Elliot (because of all the above) is a HUGELY popular destination at present. You will need to book at least 4 months in advance if you are planning anything other than a single night stay.

Day Tours are available (fly over / back … $375pp all inclusive) giving you 7 hrs on the island to snorkel and explore. If you are short on time this is a great value option to tick the box on your Great Barrier Reef experience.

Divers should note that you cannot dive / fly on the same day, so you will need a minimum of 2 nights on the island to dive.

VERY family-friendly – kids are well catered for.

Locally owned and operated with a focus on education, experience and the preservation of our reef environment.

Value and Conclusion

If you are going to visit Heron Island you should plan for a 3 to 5 night stay, as the transfer times result in you losing your arrival and departure days (ie with a 3 day / 2 night stay you really only get 1 day to do anything).

Snorkelling and reef quality at both islands are superb! Accessibility to the best quality reef is much easier at Lady Elliot (step off the beach).

Without doubt, if you are planning on visiting the Southern Great Barrier Reef, then the BEST VALUE is for a 3 Day / 2 night stay on Lady Elliot, where you can be on the island at 9am on the day of arrival, and depart at 4pm on your last day, so you get 3 full days to explore and experience!! So the marginally more expensive price for a 2 night stay is hugely returned in time available to explore and participate in activities. Alternatively, if you are divers then look at the Stay 5, Pay 4 specials for 5 nights which will allow you plenty of time to fit in all activities and some good dives as well!

If you are planning an itinerary as an international visitor, Lady Elliot affords less lost time in transfers and travel days. Travelling through Hervey Bay also opens up the opportunity to visit World Heritage Listed Fraser Island which is a totally different, but amazing National Park experience. If you are lucky enough to be travelling between July and October Hervey Bay is also the best place in the world to experience Humpback whales up close and personal.

Disclosure : We are Lady Elliot’s biggest domestic agent. We are passionate about the reef, nature, our natural environment and the preservation of our dwindling natural spaces. Through helping people experience the best of our amazing World Heritage Listed destinations we hope so many more people will recognise the importance of preserving these amazing habitats for our future generations.

We have put together some fantastic packages and itineraries which highlight the best of our region, including Lady Elliot Island Prices and Packages, Fraser Island Packages and Hervey Bay Whale Watching Packages. Please visit our website for all the details, prices and availability. For up to date rates and specials – Lady Elliot Island Rates and Packages

If you are just looking to visit Lady Elliot or want some more information, availability, tips or prices, feel free to email myself or Yong directly using or call any time +61 (0)7 4124 5500. We are regional experts for all tours, restaurants, activities and anything else to do with Hervey Bay, Lady Elliot, Fraser Island and the Fraser Coast, and would be thrilled to help you plan the best itinerary for your visit to our “naturally” blessed region!

By Rob Lennon        Emeraldene Inn & Eco-Lodge, Hervey Bay

Please stay with us in Hervey Bay      Emeraldene Inn & Eco-Lodge

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Lady Elliot Island & Fraser Island Packages

Reef, Rainforest, Sand Dunes (& Salty Air)!

(Updated 2019) Hervey Bay gives the visitor the unique opportunity to experience 2 magnificent World Heritage listed natural destinations – Fraser Island & the Great Barrier Reef.

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world (125km x 25km) and boasts ancient and amazing rainforest, perched freshwater lakes, one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, and an incredible diversity of native bird and wildlife.

Lady Elliot Island sits at the bottom of the Great Barrier Reef, and offers the visitor arguably the best coral and marine diversity of any tourist accessible reef on the east coast of Australia.

For nature lovers, these are 2 totally different nature based experiences, but both accessible from Hervey Bay, allowing overseas visitors to tick a lot of “Australia” boxes in a short period of time, and from an easily accessible base.

3 & 5 Day Itineraries

We have put together 3 amazing & popular packages that showcase these attractions in the best way possible, allowing visitors to optimise time and budget. We take care of all the arrangements, transfers and bookings, and can even organise tilt train transfers from Brisbane or northern ports.


Without doubt, if time allows, 2 days / 1 night on both islands is the best way to go. Our incredible 5 Day Eco-Adventure Package includes 2 days / 1 night on Lady Elliot (including return scenic flights and limo transfers to/from the airport), 2 days / 1 night on Fraser Island, nights 1, 3, and 5 at the Emeraldene Inn, and all meals on the tours. A number of accommodation options are available with 2019 prices starting from $1085pp twin share all inclusive (or $820pp for 2 adults / 2 kids).

With this package the 2 trips are totally different experiences. The Fraser Island Safari is a fully guided trip, which includes LOTS of expert information, history, biological & geological facts from experienced guides.

The Lady Elliot Trip is what we like to call “self-guided”. Whilst all activities (glass bottom boat tour, guided snorkel tour, turtle tour, bird tour, reef walk tour etc) on Lady Elliot are included, you can choose when, what and if you want to participate. You may just want to chillax and snorkel for 2 days (snorkelling equipment use free of charge btw) ….  or if you are certified, you might like to do a dive on the afternoon of arrival (extra charge) …. it’s up to you!

Fraser & Reef Package

If time is an issue, then our Fraser & Reef Package is a great option. As there is a lot to fit into a short period of time, this package incorporates premium tour options with small groups to optimise your experience in the region (3 nights and 2 full days).

In addition to enjoying 3 nights in our best Superior Suites (king beds, free wifi, free plunger coffee, free bottled water), you will explore Fraser Island in a Hummer, with a maximum of 4 passengers and driver / guide. Little extras like free Hummer Hats, morning and afternoon tea, a beach picnic with beer and wine,  and champagne and chocolates on the way home make this a memorable day.

The following day is a day trip to Lady Elliot Island. After a limo transfer to the airport you will enjoy an amazing scenic flight to Lady Elliot Island where you can spend the whole day exploring the island and the surrounding Great Barrier Reef. Glass bottom boat tour, guided snorkel tour, reef walk tour and seasonal tours are all included for you to participate if and when you please. A huge buffet lunch is included to recharge those snorkelling legs so you can get back out there in the afternoon and squeeze in as much reef time as possible!

This great package is available for only $895pp (2019 price) all inclusive.

2 Day (3 night) Fraser Explorer Package

If you’ve only got time for Fraser Island, then make it 2 days on the island so you can really appreciate the beauty of the place, and also get to explore the top end up to Indian Head and the Champagne Pools .

This package includes nights 1 and 3 at the Emeraldene Inn plus the Fraser Explorer 2 Day Tour. This fully guided tour (max 40 passengers) collects you from the Emeraldene at 6:50am on the morning of day 2 of your package. You have 2 full days on the island with a very experienced guide who can pass on all the history and interesting information that makes Fraser Island unique. Accommodation overnight is at the Eurong Beach Resort in ensuited private motel-style rooms, and all meals whilst on the island are included. You will be dropped back at the Emeraldene at 6:30pm on the evening of day 3.

This package is $490pp twin share – awesome value!

More Packages

These 3 packages are by far our most popular trips, but we have a lot of other packages available on our website for you to explore. We are also more than happy to tailor a package to meet your needs, so don’t be afraid to ask! Our aim is to make your travel planning as easy as possible, and for us to do all the work so you can enjoy your time on the Fraser Coast.

by Rob Lennon                                Emeraldene Inn & Eco-Lodge, Hervey Bay

Please stay with us in Hervey Bay   Emeraldene Inn & Eco-Lodge   Book Online

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Lady Elliot Island – The Southern Great Barrier Reef

  • Lady Elliot Island

    A magic Great Barrier Reef experience!

    Most people don’t realise that some of the best tourist accessible reef on the entire east coast of Australia is sitting just off the top of Fraser Island! You don’t need to fly to Cairns or the Whitsundays to see the Great Barrier Reef! You can see more colourful coral, and more diversity of marine life at the beautiful Lady Elliot Island – a true coral atoll surrounded by teeming sea-life and home to thousands upon thousands of sea birds.

    Due to global warming and numerous bleaching episodes over the last decade (caused by higher than normal sea water temperatures), the coral in far north Queensland off Cairns and the Whitsundays has lost a lot of colour and vitality. The Great Barrier Reef is, in fact, in self-preservation mode, and extending itself south as water temperatures rise. Lady Elliot, at the southern tip of the Barrier Reef enjoys optimal conditions all year round, for both the natural habitat AND visitors! During the summer months, when visibility can be poor in the waters off Cairns and north Queensland due to tropical rainfall, and marine stingers limit the ability to swim without stinger suits, Lady Elliot enjoys perfect water clarity and safe (stinger free) swimming conditions.

    Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort is one of only three island resorts located right on the Great Barrier Reef. The Island Resort is very low-key and environmentally friendly, allowing you to encounter turtles, dolphins, a large variety of coral, fish and giant manta rays, and LOTS of sea birds. You can literally step off the coral beach and experience amazing snorkelling and diving just metres from the shore.

    The island is intimate and small (maximum of 140 guests including day trippers). The only access to the island is via air (flights from Hervey Bay or Bundaberg), with the airstrip extending the entire length of the small atoll. You can walk around the island in less than an hour!

    What time of year to visit

    Swim with the turtles all year roundNature’s calendar presents special opportunities all year round on the island. From July to November the humpback whales are swimming past the island and can often swim right past an excited snorkeler! From November to February the green and loggerhead turtles lumber up the beaches at night to lay their eggs (guided night excursions for guests), while from January to March you can experience the baby turtles hatching. All year round there is a resident colony of Manta Rays that drift through the lagoon and are regularly spotted by snorkelers. The winter months see water temperatures higher than outside temps, perfect water clarity and the opportunity to experience all this with greatly reduced visitor numbers.

    How to experience the best of the Barrier Reef

    There are day tours to the island departing daily. From Bundaberg or Hervey Bay the Day Tour costs $445 / adult, $299 / child and includes scenic return flights, buffet lunch, glass bottom boat tour, guided snorkel tour (snorkel equipment included), guided reef walk, fish feeding.

    Overnight and extended stays are possible in a variety of accommodation styles, from an Eco-Hut (permanent safari style tent with share bathroom facilities) to Reef Units (ensuite bathroom) and 2 bedroom Island Suites (air-con). Overnight stays include buffet breakfasts and dinners and all island activities (except scuba).

    We have a couple of awesome packages that allow you to experience both Lady Elliot and Fraser Island. Our Fraser & Reef Package combines 3 nights in our best Superior Room accommodation at the Emeraldene in Hervey Bay with a Day Tour to Lady Elliot, and a full day Hummer Tour of Fraser Island ($895pp). Our 5 Day Eco Adventure Package includes 2 days / 1 night on Lady Elliot, 2 days / 1 night on Fraser Island, and 3 nights (nights 1,3,5) at the Emeraldene in Hervey Bay (from $1085pp). Follow the links for details.


    As a dive master and avid snorkeler, sailor and world explorer, I have dived most of the coral reefs around the world. I can honestly say that Lady Elliot Island would easily make my top 5 reef experiences. I would highly recommend and encourage you to consider the “Southern Great Barrier Reef” as your reef experience in any extended itinerary.

         by Rob Lennon                  Emeraldene Inn & Eco-Lodge, Hervey Bay

   Please stay with us in Hervey Bay   Emeraldene Inn & Eco-Lodge   Book Online

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