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Visit Queensland Blog

Get the inside scoop on what Queensland has to offer

Lady Elliot Island ~ where the reef begins

Coming to Southern Queensland but wanting a Great Barrier Reef experience?

Fortunately, if your time is limited and you can’t get to Tropical North Queensland, you can still experience the wonders of this marine treasure including on day trip flights from Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was one of the first inclusions on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. One of the seven natural wonders, it stretches for 2,300km along the Queensland coast and comprises around 3,000 separate reefs together with 900 islands – 300 coral cays and 600 continental islands.

It all begins on the tiny coral cay of Lady Elliot Island some 80km northeast of Bundaberg and just north of another World Heritage treasure, Fraser Island. The island is accessible for day excursions by air from mainland points including Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, or better still spend a few days discovering its treasures and staying at the island’s 41 room eco-resort. A trip here is special and the accent is on experiencing the wonder of the reef not on luxury resort holidays. You’ll stay in comfort whether it is in a glamping tent, an eco cabin, a reef unit or an island suite.


Ariel photo of Lady Elliot Island and the surrounding reefs- Image TEQ


There is a strong environmental ethos on the island generating solar energy, desalinating water, ceasing the sale of plastic water bottles and straws and educating visitors about the island’s ecology and the management has a target of 2020 in sight to be 100% sustainable. There is no mobile phone reception but WiFi is available and rather than TV you have the whole of the Milky Way to enjoy at night.

Lady Elliot is one of just a handful of coral cays with a resort and the only one to have an airstrip making it possible for fixed wing light aircraft to reach the island. From the air the green wooded island encircled by white coral shores and brilliant aquamarine shallows looks to have had the airstrip carved through the centre. In fact during Victorian times the island was effectively razed by guano miners. They collected the metre deep of nitrogen rich bird droppings that had built up over 3,500 years. The decade of mining from 1863 had left the island denuded of all but a few pisonia trees until a century later in 1969 local aviator, Don Adams, set about creating the airstrip and revegetating the island. Today it is a protected seabird and turtle rookery with casuarina and pisonia trees covering much of the island.

Coral cays are formed from the gradual build up of broken coral till an island emerges and eventually establishes vegetation. Because it is part of the reef you can step out from your accommodation and be wading in the shallows or snorkelling amongst the corals within moments. These are amongst the most pristine coral gardens of the Great Barrier Reef and Lady Elliot is famous for its manta rays – those graceful creatures with their broad wings that glide through the clear waters. Diving and snorkelling amongst the corals with the mantas and turtles and an array of brilliantly coloured fish is an unforgettable experience.


Swimming with Mantarays on Lady Elliot Island - Image TEQ

If it’s your first time on the reef to get acquainted with the island’s marine life it’s worth starting with a guided reef walk and one of the glass-bottom boat tours. It all gets too tempting, however, and you’ll want to hire a snorkel and fins and start discovering or go on one of the dives (only for those staying – no diving for those flying the same day). There are bird watching tours and historical tours or head off to walk around the island – at just 45 hectares you can’t get lost and the walk will take you around 30 minutes.

Come nightfall there is the convivial company at the bar and the challenges of quiz, bingo and games nights while outside there is star-gazing and night glass bottom boat tours – night time is when the reef really comes alive. During turtle season from November to February the island’s shores become the nesting grounds for green and loggerhead turtles. Some turtles travel vast distances to return to these shores to nest. The guided night tours ensure the turtles aren’t disturbed but guests can still experience a wonder of nature, especially in late summer when the hatchlings emerge from their sandy nest and scramble to the edge of the water.

Turtle Hatchling-swims-Lady-Elliot Island Queensland

Turtle Hatchling swimming on Lady Elliot Island - Image TEQ

It’s part of a remarkable encounter with nature at a very special coral cay – the southern anchor of the Great Barrier Reef and just a day trip flight away for visitors to Southern Queensland.

Book your lady elliot accommodation now: https://www.visitqueensland.com.au/lady-elliot-island-eco-resort


The magnificent manta rays of Lady Elliot Island now have their own craft beer named after them, Ray XPA brewed by the Bargara Brewing Company. The beer, which has a manta ray on the label is a joint initiative of the brewer based in the Bundaberg Region and Lady Elliot Island as each label also draws attention to Project Manta. The scientific program which began in 2007 continues to monitor manta ray population and behaviour along Australia’s east coast, with a particular focus on locations of high aggregation such as Lady Elliot Island. So, visitors can enjoy a local drop while being encouraged to support research of the Great Barrier Reef and the manta rays.

Location (Map)

Lady Elliot Island, Queensland 4805, Australia
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