Fitzroy Island, Queensland © Tourism & Events Queensland
Where to stay on the Great Barrier Reef
From international luxury resorts to more low-key abodes that take their cues from the abundant nature and wildlife, these are the best island stays on the Great Barrier Reef.
By Amy Fraser and Paul Chai
While there are many incredible places to stay in Port Douglas and Cairns, there's nothing quite like sleeping just footsteps away from the natural wonders of the Great Barrier Reef. With beautiful escapes scattered throughout the region, let yourself be surrounded by this natural wonder on one of these incredible islands. From the world-renowned luxury of Hamilton Island's qualia to the laid-back Fitzroy Island, here's where to stay on the Great Barrier Reef.
Daydream Island Resort
Where: Daydream Island
Combining World Heritage wonders with sophisticated luxury is Daydream Island Resort. Spend your mornings up-close to marine life in the Underwater Observatory, your afternoons sipping cocktails at the resort's beachside pool bar and your evenings enjoying a delicious Asian-inspired menu with a side of sweeping island views. If you’re eager to experience the Great Barrier Reef in a modern, stylish fashion, this resort’s for you.
Where: Hamilton Island
Perhaps the best-known luxury resort on the Great Barrier Reef, qualia is pure barefoot luxury nestled on the northern tip of Hamilton Island. The private pavilions are made of natural timber and stone and provide the ultimate vantage point to take in the views of the Whitsundays. In the south of the island, Hamilton Island Resort offers a range of accommodation from Palm Bungalows to the Beach Club, a 57-room adults-only boutique resort right on the beach.
Fitzroy Island Resort
If you’re a wildlife lover, don’t miss the island's turtle rehabilitation centre. ‘Cute’ is an understatement.
Where: Fitzroy Island
Fitzroy Island is a tropical paradise and a perfect getaway for families, couples and groups alike. While it’s not by any means the largest island on the reef, the island's resort boasts accommodation options galore, from four people beach cabins to resort studios for cosy couples. Outside of the resort activities abound; snorkel with The Great Eight, hike through lush rainforest or relax on silica sand beaches.
Lizard Island Resort
Where: Lizard Island
Lizard Island Resort is set in more than 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) of national park and has the Great Barrier Reef at its doorstep. At the resort, guests can enjoy sunset picnics on one of the 20-odd private beaches, relax at the Essentia Day Spa or sample the daily changing menu – featuring the very freshest local seafood – at Salt Water restaurant. There are a range of room options from Oceanview Villas and opulent Beachfront Suites to the ultimate privacy of The Villa, with unspoiled views of the Coral Sea that surrounds Lizard Island.
InterContinental Hayman Island Resort
Where: Hayman Island
Nestled in the heart of the Whitsundays lies Hayman Island, a luxurious secluded island on the Great Barrier Reef. Arrive at the InterContinental Hayman Island Resort by boat, helicopter or seaplane, and feel your worries wash away as you take in the turquoise-blue views and oh-so relaxing landscape. Choose from a variety of plush accommodation; try the private residences perched in the treetops for extra privacy, or for a real treat, book the three-bedroom Beach House – located on the beach with three private pools (one for each suite). It's next-level luxury.
Heron Island Resort
Where: Heron Island
While nature isn’t hard to come by on the Great Barrier Reef, Heron Island offers one of the ultimate overnight nature experiences. With zero televisions and mobile phone reception, this is the place to truly switch off and relax. Wake up to sounds of the ocean lapping the beach at the stand-alone Beach House – complete with private beach access – or sleep under the vibrant green canopy of the ancient Pisonia Forest, a sanctuary for Australian marine birdlife. All of the entertainment here comes from the natural world. Spend your days relaxing on this natural sand cay, dip your toes in the water where you’ll find turtles, rays, reef sharks and tropical fish amid the protected wildlife habitat, or choose between one of the 20 dive sites located just minutes away from the island.
Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort
Where: Lady Elliot Island
Swimming with manta rays is the big drawcard on Lady Elliot Island, the southernmost coral cay in the Great Barrier Reef, just off the coast from the town of Bundaberg. At this low-key resort, the focus is on the natural surrounds; say goodbye to wi-fi and hello to eco-accommodation and awe-inspiring wildlife. There's excellent visibility in the water and the chance of seeing turtle hatchlings digging their way out of the sand and making their way to the sea (February to May).