Rainbow Beach, Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory © Tourism NT/Elise Cook
Australia’s most beautiful islands
In the open ocean or just off the coast, Australia is home to some of the world’s most enviable island experiences.
By Bonnie Jackson
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, or "Rotto" to locals, is a true sanctuary, located just a short ferry ride from Perth. Clear blue waters, rocky cliffs and friendly wildlife make this island ideal for both nature and animals lovers. Private cars are not allowed here, so most visitors explore on foot or by bicycle, wandering between 63 charming beaches with snorkels in hand. With a range of accommodation on the island, you can make this a slow-paced getaway.
How to experience it: Meet what has been called 'the world's happiest animal.' The quokka, which only lives on Rottnest Island, is a pint-sized marsupial known for its friendly nature and constant smile.
The Whitsunday Islands, located on the Great Barrier Reef, boast some of the country’s most beautiful natural surroundings. There are 74 islands in the Whitsundays, but only some offer the chance to stay amid the azure waters and white sand. Stay on Hamilton Island, Daydream Island and Hayman Island for a luxurious tropical escape, or find that feeling of freedom as you sail around the islands; there are plenty of multi-day tours, or you can even skipper your own boat.
How to experience it: Get a bird's-eye view of the Whitsunday Islands, Heart Reef and the Great Barrier Reef on a private seaplane tour.
Kangaroo Island, located 13km (8mi) off the coast of South Australia, is an inspiring blend of unforgettable wildlife experiences, wonderous natural attractions, gourmet dining and delicious Australian spirits. Marvel at the Remarkable Rocks, covered in orange lichen in the Flinders Chase National Park, walk among endangered Australian sea lions at Seal Bay Conservation Park and spot Australia’s elusive platypus on the Platypus Waterholes Walk.
How to experience it: Discover the fine flavours of Kangaroo Island on a day tour. Think fresh oysters, gin, local honey and olives.
Wild dingoes, breaching whales and beaches that double as roads are just a few of the things you’ll find on K’gari (formerly Fraser Island). Located about a six-hour drive north of Brisbane, K’gari is the perfect getaway for those who like to roam free. Visit during migration season (August through October) to spot giant humpbacks on a whale watching cruise.
How to experience it: Join the K'gari Great Walk, where you’ll reconnect with nature along the winding coastal path.
Lord Howe Island
Home to only 300 locals and just 400 visitors at any one time, Lord Howe Island is a place you’ll feel a world away from your worries. Jump on a short flight from Sydney and you’ll be greeted by a biodiverse coastline and mountain-studded interior, both of which can be explored by novices and pros alike. The legendary hikes may be challenging, but your reward will be gourmet meals, luxury accommodation and leisurely lagoon snorkelling.
How to experience it: Scuba dive through the underwater caves of Lord Howe Island Marine Park, known for its dive sites that are home to diverse marine life and coral.
Cocos (Keeling) Islands
This idyllic Indian Ocean outpost of 27 islands boasts dazzling white-sand beaches, world-class diving and a unique cultural blend. Cocos (Keeling) Islands can be reached via a flight from Perth. 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 untouched southern islands on an outrigger canoe safari.
How to experience it: Visit the calm Cossies Beach on Direction Island; it’s been called Australia’s best beach.
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. 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.
How to experience it: Hike the 4km (2.5mi) track to Cook’s Look for a jaw-dropping view of the swirling blues surrounding the island.
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 spot koalas in their native habitat. Next, take a trip with Wildlife Coast Cruises and spot one of the largest colonies of Australian fur seals. Visit Nobbies Centre, where you will see Australian fur seals, and end your day with a stroll on the boardwalks with terrific views of Phillip Island’s rugged south coast and blowhole.
How to experience it: Watch the Phillip Island Penguin Parade, where wild little penguins emerge from the sea and waddle across the beach to their burrows.
Bruny Island isn't your average getaway. The island encompasses a unique combination of wilderness, wildlife and an exceptional culinary offering. Hop on a wilderness cruise with Pennicott Wilderness Journeys to discover the wild coastline of the island, as well as fur seals, dolphins and migrating whales. Spend your afternoon collecting culinary delights from Get Shucked Oyster Bar, Bruny Island Cheese Company, Bruny Island Premium Wines and Bruny Island House of Whisky. Make a reservation at Hundred Acre Hideaway and take advantage of your cottage deck, positioned to overlook 100 acres of bush, rainforest and meadows.
How to experience it: Hire a car so you can explore all that is to offer on the island at your leisure.
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’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.
How to experience it: Don't miss the chance to snorkel among the sunken ships of the Tangalooma Wrecks, a man-made dive site that’s now home to fish, dolphins and dugongs.
The Tiwi Islands are located 100km (62mi) north of Darwin. This completely unique destination is overflowing with Indigenous culture, art and beauty. Take a tour with AAT Kings and be welcomed with a traditional smoking ceremony before watching Tiwi women weave baskets and learn some of the complex rituals associated with the Pukumani (burial ceremony). Avid anglers will love a guided sport-fishing experience with Tiwi Island Adventures; there are more than 40 fish species to catch.
How to experience it: Visit between October and March when you can watch a match of Australian rules football. Seven teams compete to win the annual Grand Final.
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. During your stay, 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 and check out the island’s basalt and sandstone cliffs on a kayak tour.
How to experience it: Hike or drive up to Mount Pitt for a 360-degree view of the island.