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Thorsborne Trail, Hinchinbrook Island

On the best Queensland island holidays, the mundane of the everyday is replaced with romantic strolls on deserted beaches, aquatic adventures, seafood feasts, and more turtles than you can poke an underwater camera at. Here are some of the best islands in Queensland for a memorable holiday.

Bedarra Island

Approximately 140 km 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 very boutique and the ideal spot to play Robinson Crusoe, albeit it in the lap of luxury. Cosy candlelit dinners, an impressive drinks list and gourmet picnics (with French champagne, of course), are all included in the daily 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.

Bedarra Island Resort
Bedarra Island Resort

Fitzroy Island

Fitzroy Island’s calm sheltered waters and easily-accessible coral fringing reef make this tropical paradise a family favourite. 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 and affordable to visit Fitzroy Island for a day from Cairns.

Fitzroy Island Secret Garden track
Fitzroy Island Secret Garden track entrance

Fraser Island

Fraser Island is the Lara Croft of Queensland 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 it but you’ll need a 4WD so hire one on the island or join an organised tour and dive into the waters of an ancient lake fed by underground aquifers or float down Eli Creek. This fast flowing watercourse pours around 4 million litres of water into the ocean every hour, creating a natural flume ride.

Exploring Fraser Island’s lakes

Moreton Island

Your legs might be begging for mercy but nothing will stop you climbing the 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 wild bottlenose dolphins which have been visiting Tangalooma Island Resort since the 1970s. Conveniently for interstate visitors, Moreton Island can be accessed via a short ferry trip from a jetty located just 10 minutes away from Brisbane Airport by taxi. Senior travellers on Moreton Island are also spoiled for choice when it comes to things to see and do.

Sand tobogganing on Moreton Island
Sand tobogganing on Moreton Island

Daydream Island

Watch a movie at the outdoor cinema, go for a swim, snorkel or paddle or challenge each other to a laughter-filled game of coconut bowls at Daydream Island Resort, a family friendly resort where too much fun is never enough. See fish in every colour of the rainbow and feel a stingray’s velvet-soft kiss at the island’s famous Living Reef, one of the world’s largest man-made coral lagoons. In addition to the paid activities, there are plenty of free things to do like swimming in the large resort pool, spotting kangaroos and rainforest walks. With so much free fun to be had, you can spend as much – or as little – as you like and still have ‘the best holiday ever!’ 

Daydream pool area with a view
Daydream pool area with a view

Hinchinbrook Island

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 as what Hinchinbrook lacks in accommodation, it more than makes up for with stunning scenery and natural beauty.

Thorsborne Trail, Hinchinbrook Island
Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island

Lizard Island

Lizard Island’s luxe resort is world-renowned and rivalled only by the island’s stunning natural beauty which has been named a designated national park. Boardwalks meander through thickets of eucalypt and acacia, revealing tantalising glimpses of sparkling ocean while simultaneously hiding the chic individual beachside pavilions at Lizard Island Resort. Wade into Watson’s Bay where colourful clams over a metre wide shimmer like the contents of an underwater treasure chest or join a snorkel trip to the outer reef, sunset cruises, guided walks and reef discovery talks. If you can’t afford to stay at the resort, you can also camp here but you’ll need to bring (absolutely) everything with you.

Lizard Island
Lizard Island

Heron Island

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. Nature lovers can hold a dazzling variety of 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 let swimmers cruise alongside them. 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.

Heron Island beach
Relax and disconnect at Heron Island

Hamilton Island

From budget to blowout, ‘Hammo’ offers accommodation for all. Luxury lovers can rub shoulders with Hollywood A-listers at qualia, an elite hideaway on the northern-most tip of the island which spells its name with a lower case ‘q’. The chic stand-alone pavilions have been placed to make the most of the amazing views but also with complete privacy in mind, something which holds undeniable appeal for famous visitors. For a more affordable stay, there’s the Reef View Hotel, which offers sweeping views of the Coral Sea, or the family-friendly high-rise Whitsunday Holiday Apartments. Independent holiday homes are also available for rent. Parents will never hear the dreaded words ‘I’m bored!’ as all non-motorised water sports are free for Hamilton Island guests and there are dozens of great Hamilton Island day trips available as well.

Soak up the sun on Hamilton Island

Hayman Island

Don’t be surprised if the turtle you are snorkelling with gives you a sidelong glance. It’s probably wondering how famous you are. InterContinental Hayman Island Resort, a stunning 5 star resort which can be accessed by launch, sea plane or helicopter from Hamilton Island, is a favourite with celebrities such as Katy Perry, Elton John, Anthony Hopkins and Mariah Carey. Along with accommodating movie stars, the resort also welcomes families with a kids club available for under 12s.

InterContinental Hayman Island Resort
InterContinental Hayman Island Resort

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Lady Elliot Island

Located on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, this is the closest Great Barrier Reef island to Brisbane. Even in the middle of winter, you will see guests at Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort with masks and fins swinging from their fingers, eager to get into the water which remains surprisingly warm throughout the year. Huge manta rays drift lazily around coral-covered bommies, slowing occasionally to let a turtle or double-headed Maori wrasse pass in front of them. Spotted eagle rays cruise above the ocean floor together with yellow Angel Fish the size of dinner plates. From July to October you can also see Humpback Whales frolicking in the calm waters surrounding the resort. Stay overnight or do a day trip from Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Brisbane or the Gold Coast.  

Couple getting ready to snorkel off a coral beach

Magnetic Island

More than 70 percent of Magnetic Island is National Park and it’s filled with friendly furry residents, including hundreds of chilled-out koalas and a posse of rock wallabies that live amongst the granite boulders overlooking Horseshoe Bay. You can’t go three steps without spying some sort of animal here and the snorkelling is superb. Plus the island is easy reach by ferry from Townsville.

Want to travel smarter and save money? Check out our tips for flying a low cost airline, keeping your luggage safe, visiting Europe in peak season, getting a great car hire deal, avoiding travel scams, saving money at the airport, staying at an Airbnb, finding cheap five star hotel deals, catching public transport overseas, staying safe in a big city, getting the best round-the-world airfares, making the most of a five star hotel stay, travelling during low season, visiting a theme park in peak season, packing a carry on bag, visiting a wine region, planning a romantic getaway, early morning flights, visiting the Great Barrier Reef, multigenerational travel, travelling in a motorhome, buying the best souvenirs, going on safari, visiting the Eiffel Tower, travelling with pets, holidaying with adult children, travelling with teens, and sleeping on a plane.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.