Whether you prefer tropical sands or rugged cliffs, there’s an under-explored Australian island for you – just don’t tell anyone else.
By Dan F. Stapleton
You’ve probably already heard about Australia’s beloved big-name islands: the serene Whitsundays, which are fringed by the Great Barrier Reef; the foodie- and wildlife-lover’s paradise Kangaroo Island; and the dramatic, pristine island state of Tasmania. But what about those offshore destinations that fly under the radar? There are more than 8,000 islands within Australia’s territorial waters, and many of the most compelling destinations receive very few visitors. We’ve rounded up just a handful of our favourite secret islands – just don’t share them with anyone else.
The wild, green islands of the Furneaux Group dot the Bass Strait, a stormy patch of ocean that stretches between mainland Australia and Tasmania. The largest of the islands, Flinders, is the most captivating of the lot: it’s full of sandy beaches, rambling hillsides and tracts of thick bushland. Tasmanians love the place for its atmosphere and its incredible seafood, particularly the famed Flinders Island crayfish – book a Rockjaw Tour to catch some yourself. Take a walk through Strzelecki National Park to admire its moody granite mountains and little-known Aussie marsupials such as Bennetts wallabies, Tasmanian pademelons and potoroos. Or book a room at Sawyers Bay Shacks for barefoot luxury and genuine relaxation. Flinders can be reached via plane from Launceston or via ferry from nearby Bridport.
Cocos (Keeling) Islands
This idyllic Indian-Ocean outpost of 27 islands boasts dazzling white-sand beaches, world-class diving and a unique cultural blend – yet it receives only a handful of visitors, perhaps due to its remote location off Australia’s west coast. Those who do make the trip from Perth (via Christmas Island) will be handsomely rewarded: divers of all abilities can marvel at coral reefs and shipwrecks with Cocos Dive; curious historians can take a guided tour to learn about the local Cocos Malay people; and explorers can visit the territory’s untouched southern islands on an outrigger canoe safari. Don’t miss calm Cossies Beach on Direction Island: it was recently voted Australia’s best beach. Virgin Australia flies to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands from Perth twice weekly.
Norfolk Island’s undulating, pine-tree-covered hillsides hide a dramatic secret: this speck in the ocean was once Australia’s most notorious penal colony. These days, it’s better known for its gorgeous scenery and fiercely proud residents (many of whom are convict descendants) – but the original penal buildings still stand in the Kingston and Arthurs Vale Historic Area, providing a vivid look at the past. Once you’ve brushed up on your history, play a scenic round of golf on one of the world’s only courses located in a World Heritage Site; laze on the golden-sand beach that fronts Emily Bay Lagoon; or check out the island’s immense basalt and sandstone cliffs on a kayak tour. On-island accommodation and dining options are plentiful, and flights depart regularly from Sydney and Brisbane.
It’s small, cuddly and incredibly photogenic: it’s the quokka, and Rottnest Island in Western Australia is one of the only places in the world you can see it. This pint-sized marsupial is found in abundance on Rottnest, which is a short ferry ride from Perth and has been nicknamed ‘Rotto’ by locals. The island is a true sanctuary: private cars are not allowed, so most visitors explore the place on foot or by bicycle, wandering between 63 charming beaches with snorkels in hand. Kids will love the Just 4 Fun Aqua Park and there are some great places to scuba dive. If you’re keen to cover the entire island, the hop-on hop-off Island Explorer bus is a great option.
Lord Howe Island
It’s just a quick flight from Sydney or Brisbane, but lush Lord Howe Island feels much further away – partly because only 300 people live there and just 400 visitors are allowed at any one time. The island’s big draws are its biodiverse coastline and mountain-studded interior, both of which can be explored by novices and pros alike. Experienced adventurers should hike Mount Gower for jaw-dropping views and dive near Ball’s Pyramid, an offshore rock, to see endemic species. A less strenuous – but no less impressive – option is a glass-bottomed boat trip with Lord Howe Environmental Tours. On-island accommodation ranges from Pinetrees Lodge, which has been run by the same family for six generations, to the recently overhauled five-star Capella Lodge.
Australia also has some gorgeous secret beach towns.
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Australia is perhaps best known for its extraordinary wildlife and the possibility of close interactions with amazing animals, whether you're floating alongside a whale shark, spying koalas napping in trees or spotting a crocodile on the banks of a billabong.Add to my sales tool kit