Shimmering turquoise water, emerald green hills and sandy atolls beckon visitors to slip on a snorkel and get out and explore the best islands in Australia. On the best Australian islands, the mundane of the everyday is replaced with romantic strolls on deserted beaches, amazing aquatic adventures, lavish seafood feasts, and more turtles than you can poke an underwater camera at. You might also come across an open bar with unlimited French champagne at the best island resorts in Australia. Here are some incredible Australian islands you just can’t miss.
Fraser Island, Queensland
Fraser Island is the Lara Croft of Australian islands: easy on the eye and always ready for adventure. Fraser isn’t just the biggest sand island in Queensland, it’s the largest one in the world and has a World Heritage listing equivalent to that of Uluru. You don’t need to be an action hero to enjoy Fraser as it is doable on any level but you will need a 4WD. Hire one on the island or join an organised tour and bounce along sandy ‘roads’ as you explore this unspoiled paradise.
Satellite Island, Tasmania
This island located in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel in the south of Tasmania is a private island oasis. A stay on Satellite Island involves the chance to explore the stunning landscape which includes native bushland filled with ancient blue gums, sheer sea cliffs that descend into pristine clear water and pebble beaches that are perfect for a picnic with a glass of Tasmanian wine. Bring books, walking shoes and a wetsuit if you want to swim. It takes five minutes by boat to reach Satellite Island from nearby Bruny Island.
InterContinental Hayman Island Resort
Hayman Island has always surrounded itself with a sense of luxury and style dating back to the resort’s early era of the 1950s and 1970s. As a child visiting the Whitsundays, I can still remember dreaming of how great it would be to ride on one of the large Ansett helicopters that were the signature feature of Hayman Island Resort. Developed by Sir Reginald Ansett in the 1950s, Hayman was the go to island for the rich and famous. Thankfully the resort is less “movie star exclusive” and more affordable these days. It also looks shiny and new thanks to a multi-million dollar refurbishment that has made the resort shine like a jewel in the Queensland sun.
Kangaroo Island, South Australia
Kangaroo Island in South Australia is a haven for iconic Australian wildlife with a thriving population of koalas, kangaroos and echidnas plus numerous seals that sunbake on the island’s pristine beaches. With much of the food and wine sourced from nearby providores, the dining options are impressive. Visitors can relax and take in their surroundings or get up close and personal with the native wildlife. You can visit by plane or ferry with the latter option including the chance to bring your car. This comes in handy as Kangaroo Island is almost 150 kilometres long.
Fitzroy Island, Queensland
A short ferry ride from Cairns will take you to Fitzroy Island. This tropical island paradise with calm sheltered waters has an easily-accessible coral fringing reef, making it a family favourite for locals and tourists alike. Sunlight dances across the water at Welcome Bay, revealing the colourful reef fish and coral below, and dozens of butterflies patrol the Secret Garden walking trail. If you’re in Queensland for a good time, not a long time, it’s easy to visit this island for the day from Cairns or you can stay overnight.
Cocos Keeling Islands, Australian External Territory
The Cocos Keeling Islands are a collection of 27 islands, although only two of them – Home Island and West Island – are inhabited. One of the best islands to explore is Direction Island which is essentially deserted but it has one of the best beaches in Australia and wi-fi so you can upload photos to social media while you’re there and make all your friends insanely jealous. Accommodation is modest but affordable at around $250 a night for two people but it costs more than a grand to fly here return from Perth.
Hamilton Island, Queensland
Sailing, flying, snorkelling, diving: Hamilton Island is your one-stop-shop for fun in the sun, with more than 60 ways to enjoy the surrounding waters of the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday islands. Couples, families and groups of friends are equally well catered for, with a dazzling array of activities to choose from. Hold hands with someone special on a scenic flight over Heart Reef, channel your inner Jack Sparrow on a sailing adventure or play a round at Hamilton Island Golf Club. If you miss a shot, blame it on the turtles swimming below the fairway for distracting you from the game.
Lord Howe Island, New South Wales
UNESCO-listed Lord Howe Island is just two hours away by plane from Brisbane or Sydney. Guest numbers are capped at 400 and everyone gets around by bicycle which gives the island a friendly, relaxed feel as does the accommodation. You won’t find any mega-resorts here, just a handful of charming guesthouses and a couple of luxury lodges. The main attraction is the island’s diverse natural beauty which includes secluded beaches, sky-high rainforests, rugged mountains, rare plants and animals, superb walking tracks, and the world’s southernmost tropical reef.
Moreton Island, Queensland
Your legs might be begging for mercy but nothing will stop you climbing Moreton Island’s towering sand dune one last time, letting out a triumphant cry of ‘yeeaaarrrhhhhh’ as you zoom down it on a waxed masonite board at 80kph. Once your heart has stopped racing, wade into the shallow waters of Moreton Bay to hand feed the wild bottlenose dolphins which have been visiting Tangalooma Island Resort since the ‘70s. Conveniently for interstate and international visitors, Moreton Island can be accessed via a short ferry trip from a jetty located just 10 minutes away from Brisbane Airport by taxi.
Hinchinbrook Island, Queensland
Pack your camping gear, strap on your hiking boots, and hit the trails on Hinchinbrook Island, one of Australia’s most rugged continental islands. Hinchinbrook is a global icon yet it’s easy imagine you’re an early explorer here, discovering the island’s cloud-covered mountains and dugong-filled bays for the very first time. Bring your own water and a sense of adventure. What Hinchinbrook lacks in accommodation, it more than makes up for with superb scenery and outstanding natural beauty.
Bruny Island, Tasmania
Bruny Island in Tasmania is home to four of my favourite things: native wildlife, fabulous local produce, fascinating history and stunning scenery. It’s just 30 minutes’ drive from Hobart, plus a 20 minute ferry ride. A day trip to Bruny Island makes for a great day out. Along with being incredibly beautiful, this tiny island played a significant role in Australia’s history. There is a historic lighthouse to explore and famous seafarers like Captain Bligh and Captain Cook stopped to resupply here. From 1884, passengers arriving in Tasmania served out their isolation period ashore at the historic and fascinating Bruny Island Quarantine Station. Visiting the quarantine station is free and the self-guided walk should not be missed.
Norfolk Island, Australia
It might only be 8 kilometres long and 5 kilometres wide but this small volcanic island certainly packs a punch thanks to its rugged natural beauty and fascinating history. While it is technically part of Australia, Norfolk Island is closer to New Zealand’s northern most tip. This remote island was once home to the most notorious penal settlement in Australia. These days, the convict ruins and elegant Georgian buildings are yours to explore, along with pristine beaches, National Parks, botanical gardens, and charming stores and cafes. The dining is surprisingly impressive as most of the produce used at the restaurants and cafes is locally grown. Menus are seasonal and absolutely delicious.
Lizard Island, Queensland
When Kate Hudson called Lizard Island “just ridiculously luxurious”, she wasn’t kidding. Lizard Island Resort is world-renowned and rivalled only by the island’s stunning natural beauty. Rainforest tumbles down rugged hillsides, idyllic rocky bays beckon and shimmering, crystalline blue waters beg to be explored. Here you can inhale the soft scent of the sea while sipping champagne on your private daybed and watching the sunset bathe the sky in soft pinks and lavender blues.
Rottnest Island, Western Australia
Rottnest Island is home to one of Australia’s cutest marsupials, the quokka. These adorable critters are highly inquisitive and largely unafraid of humans. It’s easy to see why they are so chilled out when you step off the ferry and discover the island’s 63 stunning beaches, superb snorkelling sites and laid-back holiday charm. It’s a 90 minute ferry trip from Perth’s Barrack Street Jetty to Rottnest Island or you can catch the express service from Fremantle which takes 25 minutes. Tours also operate year round.
Bedarra Island, Queensland
Approximately 140 kilometres south of Cairns you’ll find Bedarra Island, a boutique island getaway which can be reached via a 30 minute launch transfer from Mission Beach. Bedarra Island Resort is the ideal spot to play Robinson Crusoe in the lap of luxury. Cosy candlelit dinners, an impressive drinks list and gourmet picnics with French champagne are included in the rate. Stand-up paddle boarding, snorkelling, tennis and fishing are also included but this idyllic island is more about romance and relaxation than adventurous pursuits.
Christmas Island, Australian External Territory
Located in the Indian Ocean off Western Australia, Christmas Island is officially part of Australia despite being closer to Indonesia. This island has some truly amazing sights from coral reefs and whale sharks to diverse fauna and flora, secluded beaches and its red crab migration when thousands of crabs cover the island and head to the sea. Flights from Perth start from $1,200 return but accommodation is affordable at around $120 per night.
Heron Island, Queensland
Sir David Attenborough loves this place and Jacques Cousteau listed the Heron Bommie as one of his top ten favourite dive sites in the world. Heron Island really is something special. Nature lovers can hold sea creatures on a (free) tour of the University of Queensland’s Research Station or take to the waters just offshore to hang out with turtles that are often close enough to touch. Heron Island is a significant breeding area for these gentle creatures which nest on the island each year, much to the delight of guests who can watch this natural wonder unfold from November to February.
Daydream Island, Queensland
Watch a movie at the outdoor cinema, go snorkelling around the resort reef, hit the beach, snorkel or paddle or challenge each other to a laughter-filled game of coconut bowls at Daydream Island Resort and Spa, a family friendly resort where too much fun is never enough. This island has an easy to access fringing reef but if snorkelling sounds like a bit too much effort, ask a staff member to throw fish pellets in the water and simply sit in the shallows and wait for the fish to come to you. It’s a great way for littlies who are still too young for snorkelling to experience the Great Barrier Reef first hand.
Magnetic Island, Queensland
More than 70 percent of Magnetic Island is National Park and it’s filled with furry residents, including almost 1,000 chilled-out koalas and a posse of rock wallabies that live among the granite boulders overlooking Horseshoe Bay. You can’t go three steps without spying some sort of animal here, but if you want to stay somewhere surrounded by koalas, don’t miss the bungalow accommodation at Bungalow Bay Koala Village.
Disclosure: The writer loves visiting Australia’s islands and enjoys swimming, bushwalking and exploring as much of them as she can while she’s there. Her favourite island on this list is Lord Howe Island.
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