Lady Elliot Island is full of breathtaking aquatic and heavenly wonders, waiting for you to discover.
Three nights on an unspoiled coral cay situated at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef brought unforgettable encounters with turtles, reef sharks, schools of colourful fish and the island's main attraction - manta rays. Here's a guide to the best spots on Lady Elliot Island to see all of this.
How to get there
Lady Elliot Island is the southernmost coral cay of the Great Barrier Reef. Located 80 kilometres from Bundaberg and 370 kilometres from Brisbane, there is no boat access to the island and the best way to get to there is by air. Daily flights are offered by Lady Elliot Island Resort via the charter service of Seair. You can depart from several locations, including Coolangatta, Bundaberg, Brisbane, and Hervey Bay.
If it's turtles you're after, there's no place better than the shallow waters of the Lagoon. It took me just two minutes to find the first green sea turtle, and I can honestly say that it is almost impossible to go for a snorkel here without seeing at least one. The Lagoon is classified as beginner-level snorkelling so it's the perfect spot for the whole family to enjoy - just make sure you time your dip within the two hours of high tide.
A short walk across the airstrip from Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort will take you to the western side of the island, where you can find entry points to the island’s best snorkel trails - Lighthouse Bommie and Coral Gardens. For the ultimate Finding Nemo experience, Coral Gardens is the place to go. There, you can expect to see an abundance of colourful fish and interesting coral formations, turtles, squid, sharks and much more.
Starting from the beach in front of the Lighthouse, Lady Elliot Island’s most advanced snorkel trail leads straight to the island’s main attraction - the manta ray cleaning station. Manta rays visit this little coral bommie all year round, giving guests the opportunity to see the largest rays on Earth up close and personal.
If you can manage to dive down all the way to the bottom, which is about 8 to 15 metres depending on the tides, you may just find yourself surrounded by several giant manta rays.
Just north of Coral Gardens lies a shallow reef area known as ‘Shark Pool’. And as you can probably guess - there are blacktip reef sharks cruising the shallow water just off the beach. These sharks have a timid demeanor, and are easily frightened away by swimmers, so although I cannot guarantee your safety, I would say it’s relatively low risk to jump in for a swim. There were four sharks of about two metres in length, cruising around when I was in the water. I was within arms reach of some, at times, it was an experience I will never forget.
This was a secret little spot that our snorkel tour guide pointed out. Coral Archways is located about halfway between Coral Gardens and Lighthouse Bommie on an intermediate snorkel trail. We found two archways sitting just beneath the surface of the water, surrounded by schools of colourful fish.
The Old Lighthouse
The treasures of Lady Elliot Island are not just hidden under the water, they’re everywhere and sometimes right above your head. With no light pollution at all, the night sky there is extremely clear and well worth enjoying at least once during your visit. Head away from the lights of the resort and continue across the airstrip to the old and new lighthouses for dazzling views of the stars.
The spot at the old lighthouse is especially beautiful. It was decommissioned in 1995 but the structure was left standing. On a clear night, you can admire this once watchful giant solemnly pressed against the vivid night sky.
On every island I’ve visited, I’ve always found a secret little patch of paradise for myself - on Lord Howe Island it was Lover’s Bay, and on Lady Elliot Island, it was Northern Beach. Sheltered from the wind and rarely visited by island guests, Northern Beach’s pristine white sand and turquoise water will leave you thinking that you’ve been washed up on a deserted island in the Caribbean.
If you wake up before dawn and get to the beach in time, you’ll be able to witness a magnificent sunrise straight out from across the ocean. This is also the place where mother turtles lay eggs in the sand during nesting season. After a 2 month incubation period, the baby turtles will hatch and take their first dip in the big-ol-blue.
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