Australia is fringed by more than 8,000 islands, offering every type of holiday experience. Sail through the Whitsundays, 4WD to Fraser Island’s rainforests and lakes or pick a tropical paradise in the Great Barrier Reef. Uncover the unique culture of the Torres Strait or Tiwi Islands. Explore the wildlife havens of Kangaroo Island in South Australia or French and Phillip Island in Victoria. Day trip to gorgeous Rottnest Island from Perth or cruise the remote, spectacular Buccaneer Archipelago, off the coast of Derby. Island hop around Sydney Harbour or fly to Lord Howe Island, home to the world’s southernmost coral reef. Discover the wild beauty of the islands off Tasmania, itself Australia’s biggest island.
There are hundreds of dreamy islands and coral atolls on the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, so take your pick. Luxury lovers and honeymooners will be in heaven on Lizard Island, exclusive Bedarra or privately-owned Double and Haggerstone Islands. For a wilderness experience, bush camp on Fitzroy Island or trek the Thorsborne Trail along mist-cloaked Hinchinbrook Island. Day trip to Green and Fitzroy Islands, snorkel the brilliant coral reefs of the Low Isles or sea kayak around Snapper Island, Hope Islands National Park with an Aboriginal guide. Townsville, Port Douglas and Lucinda are just some of the mainland gateways.
Torres Strait Cultural Festival, QLD
Sitting just north of Cape York, between Australia and Papua New Guinea, the Torres Strait Islands are made up of 274 small islands, only 17 of which are inhabited. These communities have developed a unique blend of Melanesian and Australian Aboriginal cultures. Get a glimpse with a trip to Thursday or Horn Island, the group’s most developed islands. Learn about the local pearling and fishing industry on Thursday island, reached by ferry from Cape York. Visit the museum, art gallery and historic World War II sites on Horn Island, accessible by flight. Both islands are blessed with pristine beaches, azure waters and vivid fringing reefs supporting dugongs and sea turtles.
Sail, swim, snorkel, dive or just relax in the Whitsundays - 74 pristine, palm-fringed islands tucked inside the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Accessible from Airlie Beach and Proserpine, these islands cater to every type of holiday-maker. Enjoy five stars of resort luxury on Hayman Island and party on Daydream or Hamilton islands. Visit Whitsunday Island and walk the pure white, silica sands of Whitehaven Beach. Camp or find eco-friendly accommodation on Hook, Lindeman or Brampton Islands, which are mostly national park. Long and South Molle Islands have serene resorts amongst natural splendour. The remaining islands are untouched tropical oases – yours to discover from a sea kayak, sea plane or chartered sailboat.
A whole other world awaits you on World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island. Take a boat from Hervey Bay or Rainbow Beach or jump on a flight from Brisbane. Once here your exploring happens on 4WD and foot. Hike through rainforest supported by sand dunes, past kangaroos, wallabies and possums. Fish from the beach or swim in the freshwater lakes, some rimmed in gold and others clear and blue. See the coloured sand cliffs of The Cathedrals, visit the historic Maheno shipwreck and spot migrating humpback whales from Indian Head. Accommodation here blends into the nature around it, whether you camp or chose a luxurious eco-lodge.
For an Australian wildlife adventure, you can’t beat Kangaroo Island, a short flight from Adelaide or ferry ride from Cape Jervis. Watch penguins make their nightly pilgrimage to shore in Penneshaw and hang out with Australian sea lions at Seal Bay. See pink pelicans wheeling through the sky and play ‘spot the koala’ on a 4WD adventure across the island. The island also has spectacular fishing and diving, secluded beaches to swim and surf from, underground caves and rugged rock formations. Visit historic lighthouses, load up on top-quality local food and wine and stay in accommodation ranging from budget to breathtaking.
More than 300 islands circle Tasmania, but Flinders, King, Bruny and Maria Islands are the largest. Flinders and King - part of 51 Furneaux islands in Bass Strait - are a short flight from both Tasmania and Victoria. Flinders Island is the place to climb granite mountains, walk unspoiled beaches and hunt for a Killiecrankie ‘diamond’. On King Island, you can dive shipwrecks, go game fishing and taste the island’s famous dairy products. Hike along dramatic cliffs or cruise past sea-birds and dolphins on Bruny Island, a wilderness not far from Hobart. Sitting off Tasmania’s east coast, Maria Island is rich in wildlife and history and remains without the modern intrusion of cars.
Phillip Island Nature Park
Victoria’s islands lie in Western Port Bay, to the east of the Mornington Peninsula. Phillip Island is packed with wildlife. See koalas and waterbirds in the wild at Rhyll and fairy penguins waddling home at dusk on Summerland Beach. The island is home to Australia’s Motor Cycle Grand Prix Circuit and has great beaches to swim, surf and fish from. Get here on a car ferry from Stony Point or by driving over the suspension bridge from San Remo. For peace, quiet and koalas, head to isolated French Island National Park, a 30-minute ferry ride from Stony Point. Bike or bushwalk around the island, spotting koalas and the threatened long-nosed potoroos.
Hop on a ferry and discover the fascinating islands dotting Sydney Harbour. Pack a picnic for tiny Clark Island, which has unsurpassed views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Or learn about its Aboriginal significance on a cultural cruise. Further to the east, Shark Island has a large grassy area and gazebo. You can camp overnight on 18-hectare Cockatoo Island or take a tour to understand its fascinating history. It’s been variously an Aboriginal fishing spot, colonial prison, shipyard, industrial school, reformatory and jail. Explore Sydney’s convict past on a tour of Fort Denison or Goat Island, a former quarry and convict stockade.
Tranquillity reigns on World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island, which sits in the Tasman Sea, less than two hours’ flight from Brisbane or Sydney. Only 400 visitors are allowed, bicycles are the best way to get around and there’s no mobile phone reception. Bushwalk through the island’s native Kentia palm forests and swim from white sand beaches. Snorkel and dive in protected, temperate waters on the world’s southernmost coral reef. There are more than 50 sites teeming with green turtles, colourful coral and fish. If you’re feeling brave, tackle the arduous climb to the top of Mount Gower. It takes 8-10 hours and is rope-assisted!
A short ferry ride from Fremantle or Perth, the locals love Rottnest Island for its 63 gorgeous white beaches and car-free tranquillity. Once there, you can hire a bike to get around or hop and off the free bus. Sea kayak to secluded bays or snorkel or dive the coral reefs and historic shipwrecks. Surfers will love the waves at Strickland, Salmon and Stark Bays. Spot quokkas, the cute marsupials that are only found here and inspired the island’s name. The island has a fascinating, layered past, which you can learn about on a guided tour. See the Aboriginal prison, Rottnest Museum the old lighthouse and disused guns and underground tunnels.
Silica Beach, Buccaneer Archipelago, WA
The rugged islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago lie offshore from Derby, in the Kimberley. Discover them on a luxury cruise, scenic flight or private charter. See the Bradshaw rock art around Raft Bay, visit South Sea Pearl farms and marvel at the Horizontal Waterfalls, where massive tides force seawater through a narrow gap in the cliff. Further south, off the Dampier coast, the 42 pristine islands of the Dampier Archipelago offer amazing diving, snorkelling and fishing. Swim in the protected water with dugongs, dolphins and turtles. To the west lies the Montebello islands, 100 limestone islands with spotless white beaches and aquamarine waters.
Melville and Bathurst Islands, together known as the Tiwi Islands, are a 20-minute flight or two-hour ferry from Darwin. The people here are known for their colourful art and craft and passion for Australian Rules Football. Browse and buy distinctive Tiwi art or take billy tea and damper tea with Tiwi ladies as they demonstrate traditional weaving and painting. Catch barramundi off the Tiwi coast with a local guide. Watch dancers perform in a traditional smoking ceremony. Every March, you can be part of the excitement of the Tiwi Islands Grand Football Final in Nguiu. Along with culture the Tiwis offer lush scenery: rainforest, beaches and rock pools.