Lady Elliot Island is an easy-to-reach paradise on the Great Barrier Reef, famous for its manta ray population.
By Katrina Lobley
With its glittering white beaches made entirely of crushed coral, and extraordinary marine life, it’s easy to feel like a modern-day castaway on Lady Elliot Island, at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. Walk around the emerald green-edged island in 45 minutes, or go diving or snorkelling to see giant manta rays, colourful corals, fish, turtles and dolphins.
- Swim with manta rays and turtles
- Scuba dive the island's 20 dive sites
- Tour the Great Barrier Reef at night
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Top things to do on Lady Elliot Island
Meet a manta ray
Lady Elliot is one of top five destinations on Earth for diving with manta rays, according to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). You can snorkel or dive with manta rays all year round (though they congregate in larger numbers between May and September). These gentle, awe-inspiring creatures have wings spanning up to seven metres (23 feet).
Take a turtle tour
Between November and February each year, green and loggerhead turtles return to Lady Elliot Island to lay their eggs – a sight you can see by joining a night-time guided tour. After darkness falls, watch the turtles scramble up to the beach around the resort to lay between 80 and 180 eggs in deep pits. Alternatively, visit between February and April to see hundreds of tiny turtle hatchlings emerge from the sand and make their way down to the water.
Explore the reef on foot
Pull on protective reef shoes, grab a pair of reef walking poles and follow the island's daily guided walk, which explores the lagoon's reef in fascinating detail. With the help of a piece of equipment called a seascope you'll see marine creatures such as sea cucumbers, starfish, urchins, coral, clams and crabs, as well as plenty of technicoloured fish.
Go scuba diving in paradise
Feel like you're in the world's biggest aquarium while scuba diving some of the 20 sites near the island. The clear waters allow great visibility of up to 20 metres (66 feet) most of the year, meaning you won't miss out on seeing the giant manta rays or the green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles as they cruise past.
Sleep at the eco retreat
It's possible to visit Lady Elliot on a day trip but the island's relaxed 41-room eco resort offers guests the chance to see the reef come alive at night. (Read more on that below.) Despite its modern appearance, you'll find no television or telephones in the rooms here – the resort encourages guests to connect with their surrounds instead.
See the reef come alive at night
It's one thing to snorkel or dive the reef during the day, but at night guests can take glass-bottomed boat tours that offer a whole new perspective on what's happening underwater. The boat is fitted with UV lights that allow guests to see the coral polyps awake, and what everything else gets up to once the sun goes down.