In the open ocean or just off the coast, Australia is home to some of the world’s most enviable island experiences.
Australia is surrounded by stunning islands. Luxurious, adventurous, rugged or remote - there’s an island suited to every paradise seeker.
Here are Australia’s best and most beautiful islands.
Rottnest Island, just a short ferry ride from Perth, has one tiny attraction you can’t see anywhere else. The quokka, a pint-sized marsupial, is known for its friendly nature, which is why photographers love to snap their picture. 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. Families 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. Stay in a luxury eco-tent nestled behind the sand dunes.
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 each year, 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’s been called Australia’s best beach.
If you’re chasing an island experience that’s as remote as it is unknown, then Christmas Island is one to put on your list. Reached via a flight from Perth, Christmas Island is known not only for its incredible red crab migration, but also its untamed rainforest, lively coral reefs and luxury retreat. Each year during October or November, more than 40 million red crabs carpet the island during their migration. You can snorkel and scuba dive nearly 60 sites all year round, and with almost two-thirds of the island covered in national park, there are plenty of cliffs, rock pools and beaches to discover. You’ll find the ultimate island getaway at Swell Lodge, a single glass-fronted eco chalet offering views of the surrounding wilderness.
The Tiwi Islands, located 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of Darwin, overflow with culture, art and beauty. Take a tour with AAT Kings and be welcomed with a smoking ceremony before watching Tiwi women weave baskets and learn some of the complex rituals associated with the Pukamani (burial ceremony). Avid anglers will love a guided sport-fishing experience with Tiwi Island Adventures; there are more than 40 fish species to catch. Be sure to watch a match of the island’s biggest passion - Australian rules football. Seven teams play from October to March, and there are huge festivities each year for the grand final.
Kangaroo Island, 13 kilometres (8 miles) off the coast of South Australia, has everything you need for a unique adventure. Wildlife, natural attractions, gourmet produce and delicious spirits all make an appearance. Head to the western side of the island to explore Flinders Chase National Park, home to large boulders covered in orange lichen; they’re called Remarkable Rocks for a reason. You don’t want to miss Seal Bay Conservation Park, where you can walk among endangered Australian sea lions. The two-hour Platypus Waterholes Walk will give you a chance at spotting Australia’s elusive platypus. Indulge in the island’s culinary creativity at Penny’s Restaurant, Kangaroo Island Spirits and Dudley Wines. Be sure to spoil yourself with a stay at one of the world’s most exclusive luxury lodges - Southern Ocean Lodge.
Made entirely of sand, Moreton Island is the perfect setting for a laid-back beach getaway. Stay at Tangalooma Island Resort for stunning views over Moreton Bay and the Glass House Mountains. You can even hand-feed wild dolphins here. Snorkel among the sunken ships of the Tangalooma Wrecks, a man-made dive site that’s now home to fish, dolphins and dugongs. You can’t stay on the sand island without a bit of sandy adventure; take a Desert Safari tour to sail down the golden dunes on a toboggan. There are also plenty of walking and hiking trails to tackle, from the easy Blue Lagoon to the more difficult, but rewarding, Mount Tempest Lookout walk.
North Stradbroke Island
Wild kangaroos, white-sand beaches, and humpback whales come together to create the perfect island adventure on ‘Straddie,’ the local’s nickname for North Stradbroke Island. The island is an easy ferry or water taxi from Brisbane, and offers all-day sunshine with a good dose of rugged nature. Head to Cylinder Beach, Flinders Beach and Frenchmans Beach to enjoy long stretches of sand, or climb to Point Lookout with a pair of binoculars to spot whales from late May and early October. Hike to Blue Lake and Brown Lake, which are areas of special cultural significance for Quandamooka people. Stay in comfort under the stars at the Minjerribah glamping tents.
Wild dingoes, breaching whales and beaches that double as roads are just a few of the things you’ll find on Fraser Island. Located about a six-hour drive north of Brisbane, Fraser Island is the perfect getaway for those who like to roam free. Discover the island’s welcoming waters at Lake McKenzie and Lake Wabby; you won’t be able to resist a relaxing swim. Driving along the island’s incredible beaches is a way of life on Fraser Island. Visit Aussie Trax 4WD Hire for a vehicle and a quick lesson on navigating the sandy highways. Visit during migration season (August through October) to spot giant humpbacks on a whale watching cruise. At dusk, try to spot wild dingoes with a local guide before settling into your campsite on the beach or resort accommodation. If you have a few days to spare, consider trekking the Fraser Island Great Walk, where you’ll reconnect with nature along the winding coastal path.
The Whitsunday Islands, located in Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef, boast some of the country’s most beautiful nature. There are 74 islands in the Whitsundays, but only some offer the chance to stay amid the azure waters and white sand. Hamilton Island is home to qualia, one of the most luxurious stays on the reef, while Daydream Island offers a one-of-a-kind Living Reef, along with breathtaking views and aquatic activities. Hayman Island is a private island paradise. Check into InterContinental Hayman Island Resort for a huge swimming pool, suites and villas, seaplane adventures and a trip to the famous Whitehaven Beach or Heart Reef.
It only takes 25 minutes on a ferry from Townsville to arrive at the palm-fringed paradise of Magnetic Island. Although the island is a part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, it’s rocky landscape dotted with boulders makes it beautifully unique. Snorkel and dive through coral and shipwrecks, or explore atop the water with a kayak or jet ski tour. After you emerge from the sea, head to the Bungalow Bay Koala Village to visit the furry residents at the koala park. There is even the option to have breakfast with the koalas. Finally, enjoy the sunset the Australian way - from a boat on the open sea. Big Mama Sailing and Pilgrim Sailing offer sunset cruises. There are plenty of beautiful places to stay, too, including Lotus House and Peppers Blue on Blue.
Lizard Island rests within the blue waters of the Great Barrier Reef, so it’s no surprise that a trip here is all about reef and relaxation. Your stay at the five-star Lizard Island Resort offers equal parts luxury and adventure, with experiences ranging from fishing and diving to spas and private dining. Don’t miss your opportunity to snorkel some of the reef’s most incredible dive sites, including Cod Hole, where you can swim alongside grey reef sharks and schools of tropical fish. After a day in the water, unwind with a private picnic or fresh seafood on the waterfront. For a jaw-dropping view of the swirling blues surrounding the island, hike the four kilometres (2.5 miles) to Cook’s Look.
Australia has hundreds of islands, and you don’t have to venture far from the city to find them. This is especially true in the case of Cockatoo Island, located within the glistening Sydney Harbour. You can get there on a ferry from Circular Quay, and there’s plenty to explore after you arrive. The island has a colourful history as a jail and shipbuilding yard, and you can discover it’s heritage on a range of tours. Embark on the Cockatoo Island Ghostyard tour or Haunted History tour for a few ghost stories. You can even spend the night. Choose between heritage houses, apartments and waterfront camping tents.
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 the elegant Pinetrees Lodge to the luxury boutique Capella Lodge.
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.
Just a 90-minute drive south of Melbourne is Phillip Island, famous for its abundance of wildlife. Begin your animal adventure at the Koala Conservation Centre, where you’ll stroll through the bush to spot koalas in their native habitat. Next, take a trip with Wildlife Coast Cruises to Seal Rocks to see one of the largest colonies of Australian fur seals. Alternatively, visit Nobbies Centre, where you can see Australian fur seals from the land for free. Afterwards, stroll the boardwalks with terrific views of Phillip Island’s rugged south coast and blowhole. One of the island’s must-dos is watching the Phillip Island Penguin Parade, where wild little penguins emerge from the sea and waddle across the beach to their dune burrows.
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.
Bruny Island is a wildlife and wilderness haven. After a 30-minute drive from Hobart and 20-minute ferry from Kettering, hop on a wilderness cruise with Pennicott Wilderness Journeys to discover the wild coastline of the island, as well as Australian fur seals, dolphins, migrating whales and sea birds. Spend your afternoon collecting culinary delights on the island by visiting Get Shucked Oyster Bar, Bruny Island Cheese Company, Bruny Island Premium Wines, or Bruny Island House of Whisky. After such an eventful day you'll want nothing more than to enjoy a chilled out evening. Book in at Hundred Acre Hideaway and take advantage of your cottage deck, positioned to overlook 100 acres of bush, rainforest and meadows.