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
Nature’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 $319 / adult, $175 / 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 ($725pp). 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 $885pp). 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